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Answering Obama's call?

Parents as the nation's education stimulus package

By Carol Lloyd

Six months since President Barack Obama urged Americans to volunteer in their communities, a new report by GreatSchools and Harris Interactive suggests that some parents may be taking his message to heart. According to a survey of more than 1,000 parents, this year parents plan to increase their volunteering in schools by 20%. “The Economy’s Impact on Back to School” also found that 64% of parents believe that it is more important to volunteer now than before.

What’s behind this increased interest in volunteering?

Beyond the inspirational speeches of the nation’s father in chief, bleak economic times may have played a part. In the midst of the worst recession in 70 years, the nation’s schools face devastating budget cuts — threatening everything from enrichment programs to classroom supplies.

According to the report, some parents — especially lower- and moderate-income families living in urban school districts — expect the current economy to have a destructive effect on their children’s schools. For some parents, the new interest in volunteering is far more pronounced. This year 60% of African American parents say they intend to volunteer — up from 23% in 2008.

Could increased parental involvement provide a much-needed glimmer of hope for the nations’ schools? Project Appleseed, a nonprofit that attempted to measure the economic stimulus of increased parent volunteering, concluded that "if every public school student had at least one family member volunteer 10 hours, the minimum dollar benefit to children and schools would be $17 billion in volunteer capacity." Though the potential payoff of more parent involvement is great, the question remains will it materialize?

According to the report, while many parents recognize the importance of being actively involved in their children’s education, only 44% volunteered in schools last year.

What keeps parents from attending those fun-filled PTO meetings, chaperoning all-day field trips, and working in the classroom? Not surprisingly, most parents (71%) report that the primary obstacle to getting involved is time. But the second most cited obstacle may provide a wake-up call for educators: Half of parents note that the lack of opportunities provided by schools or teachers is a major impediment to their involvement.

What’s more, the report finds that the best parental intentions don’t always translate into best practices, especially when it comes to back-to-school preparation. According to the study, at least three-quarters of parents alter sleep schedules and buy supplies, but fewer than half focus on more substantial preparations — such as finding out what subjects their kids will be learning, or reducing television time.

Conducted by GreatSchools and Harris Interactive, “The Economy’s Impact on Back to School” questioned 1,086 parents of school-aged kids in the United States.

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/18/2009:
"I work in an urban school; it is helpful to our children to understand that the President of the United States cares enough for them and their future to want to see more help in the schools for them. Some parents are so busy trying to make an honest living until they allow their responsibility to their children school to slide to the back burner. Our president has the right to request all children to understand that the future of our country depends on them doing their best in school. They will someday fulfill the United States’ need to keep our country a leading component in the future. I trust the integrity of one of the most esteemed universities in the United States that prepared our President to be intellectual enough to lead us. The image of Harvard is being threatened because people in our country will not accept their decision that our President earned his higher education degree and is qualified to help others who does not have that background. Smaller thinking people can only see the color of his skin; in theirs minds they cannot understand how a man of his background can recognize theories, projections and life experiences to lead our country and all its people toward success. We need to roll up our sleeves, help our children and the community to do all we can do for a future we all deserve. Now, is not the time to show how intimidate some can be when their abilities do not match this President of the United States "
09/2/2009:
"I am so confused! I no longer have a child in the school system, but when I did I volunteered many, many hours and loved every minute of it(as did all other parents, both men and women, that I enjoyed working with)! So, how does this compute that I did it without the recommendation of the present 'father in chief?' Father in chief???? (Say What?!!!!)"
08/27/2009:
"No, parents are not answering any call from Mr. Obama. They are answering the call of their children's well being. It's sad and pathetic that some are so quick to label others as 'haters' for their opinionated views simply because they disagree. What 'churns' my stomach is the author of this article attempting to glorify an unqualified, unverified, social actavist radical Chicago thug who is attempting to 'change' our country to conform to his ultra-liberal socialist views. We as parents had better be involved with our children's education to ensure they are educated and not indoctrinated."
08/19/2009:
"I think it is more of an urge to help make changes in our school systems. I know I have been pushing for 4 years to be involved beyond fund raising. There seems to be a sense of urgency with education in our state. Obama has nothing to do with it."
08/19/2009:
"All the hatred spewing (and bad spelling) from these 'wonderful' parents, makes my stomach churn."
08/19/2009:
"unfortunately this is the reality, there are lots of haters out there"
08/18/2009:
"I don't know about other parents, but my desire to volunteer has absolutely nothing to do with Obama. I volunteer at my children's school because I love them and want to be involved in their lives. I don't think that Obama is affecting the actions of individuals much, beyond the visible frustration, anger, and fear that we see all around the country right now."
08/18/2009:
"OK,to ALL that think this is a CONSERVATIVE issue, sorry you need to re-read. This is ABOUT OUR KIDS, and the voleenter issue. I am getting so tired of the way people have been looking at issues and giving the ones that make comments a name 'like conservative, Republican, racist, mob..' Sounds like kindigarders calling names..so lets call it for what it really is...Teachers are the greatest asset that we have, I use to work FULL TIME, I might not of gotten involved during the school hours, but I did go to meetings that concerned the school issues, and I am sorry, but for the TEACHER that thinks parents think you are babysitters, you want to know something? YOU SPEND (and are PAID) for 8 hrs a day,(and then some when they arnt in school), You see these kids more than a parent does and you have a responsiblity just as parents that work do to teach these kids. I WORK with the inner-city kids, and BELEIVE ME it ISNT always the PARENTS FAULT that KIDS SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS!! BUT whom ever said the OBAMA was the FATHER and CHEIF is realy out of touch with THE PEOPLE..IT is very true that he probaly doesnt see his kids as often as our parents see theres, but it is true his kids do more RUNNING AROUND THE GLOBE than ours do...and as a PARENT,we DO LISTEN to OUR KIDS!! I personaly DONT NEED SOMEONE TO TELL ME TO GET INVOLVED..ESPECIALY ONE THAT DOESNT LISTEN TO ANYONE BUT THEMSELFS! BY THE WAY, THIS ISNT HATE THIS IS REALITY!!"
08/18/2009:
"parents, this writer was taking this from the USTODAY, regarding a poll of black parents voleentering more than white..EXCUSE ME!! WITH THE ECONOMY as it is, there is more time to do it..but dont use us as a follow-up for the media that DOESNT KNOW HOW TO TELL THE TRUTH AS IT IS!! GOOD-BYE TO GREAT SCHOOLS, you are one of them.."
08/18/2009:
"Forget the PATHETIC references to Father-in-Chief. There is a reason that his initials are 'B.O.'. Based on the many comments already posted, which I agree with, our job, as parents, is to teach and support our children in their educational pursuits, as well as their humanity. By volunteering, we show them that we are there for them and displaying that we are better and stonger for helping others, not expecting others to do for us as Obama supporters belive is their 'right'. My wife and I volunteer as much as we can. Nothing to do do with the O. It is right and prudent. The current administration will nuture generations of 'woe is me', 'that's not fair', and 'what's in it for me' attitudes if we allow it to stay on it's current path. Our country is founded on principles that Obama and his followers are indeed 'clueless' about. When things get tough, our heritage is full of stories of how we, as AMERICANS, regardless of race, cultural heritage or economic position, rally to! right the ship. To even presume that BO has anything to so with this uptick in volunteerism is preposterous."
08/14/2009:
"Lots of hatred here."
08/14/2009:
"Obama is not my 'father in chief'. I help out in my sons class and on the PTSO because I care about my childs education. You can not rely solely upon the teacher. It is a parents responsibility to make sure their kids are getting a proper education. Doing their homework with them is a great way to see how they are doing. It is so important to be involved and know what is going on at the school. It sure makes you child feel special and also know that school matters cause it matters to you."
08/14/2009:
"parents should have always been involved in their children's schooling and volunteering in the classroom. To get back to doing that seems natural, not at the urging of one man."
08/13/2009:
"Really? To the parent who works full time and badmouths the parents who do not, you need a major time out and wake up call. First of all, I am an educated professional who has made the CHOICE to work part time (outside the home) in order to avail myself to family. I know you will relate to this when I say that I am our family's CFO (Chief Operating Officer). Parents who have to work full time because they do not have a partner/spouse to help out financially, it is understandable that they can not volunteer during their work hours. However, this does not make them exempt from contributing their time. Volunteering can be done before and after work hours, at evening school events or simply taking some time to grade papers at home for your child's teacher. You have made a serious assumption that 'stay at home' moms have nothing better to do with their time or to suggest that they are less valued than someone who has a 'real job'. You are wrong. I am not only an educated pr! ofessional myself, but I have worked alongside many parent volunteers who are highly educated and professionals themselves. Have you personally experienced staying home full time with your children? You do have children, right? Having worked worked both full time outside the home and now part time out and full time in, I would say, hands down, my current situation is incredibly more difficult and challenging. I clean my own home, make the meals, run all errands, organize our family's social calendar, handle the bills, volunteer at school and church and care for my children. These are just a FEW of the things I must do with all that 'spare time' in my life. "
08/13/2009:
"This is no new concept, volunteering in the classroom. I have done so for more than 20 years and alongside countless numbers of other parents. There is always a 'core' group of parents who do pretty much everything because there is a much bigger core of parents who have no desire to volunteer or fear assimilation into our culture. Why all this 'hail to Obama' stuff when parents have already been volunteering in great numbers for years? Charter schools are are on the rise and they usually require parents to volunteer a minimal number of hours each month (i.e. my daughter's school requires a 10 hour minimum/month). Maybe this accounts for the 'rise' in parent volunteers? Or perhaps it's because so many parents are out of work. hummm... "
08/13/2009:
"To the working mom admonishing me for not working, staying home to care for my children is harder than working outside the home. I could work outside the home and pay someone else to care for them but I have a son with autism and he needs me to advocate for him which requires lots of time getting him the help that the public school should do but does not do for him. I had a very lucrative career but the government isn't supposed to take care of my children for me. Living in a Republic requires responsibility, you may think that having a job and drawing a check is taking care of your responsibility by paying someone else to care for your children, which you may feel 'entitled' to tell those of us who choose to stay at home and volunteer in our communities without pay, that we're just sitting home eating bons bons and watching t.v. I dare you to spend a month in my shoes and then tell me I DON'T WORK!!!! By the way, most of us that stay at home and volunteer are middle class Americans and in my community, lower middle class families are very involved and choose to be stay at moms that choose to be with their children."
08/12/2009:
"I cannot believe that you have politicized this publication.. shame..and did you really say 'father in chief'. Shame again.. many of us have volunteered all of our lives in schools and charities.. how dare you give O the credit.. especially where none is due.. Great Schools has been well received in this household but no more."
08/12/2009:
"I take offense to the reference of 'father in chief' to President Obama. He is my President not my father nor my children's father. While he is a father of two adorable girls that doesn't make him any different than any of the previous fathers that have occupied the White House. I am an avid volunteer in my children's schools and I also mentor a child in my daughter's elementary school."
08/12/2009:
"You're kidding, right? Mr. Obama has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I volunteer at my kids' schools. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he's getting credit for yet something else that he has hasn't done. I volunteer because I love the kids and are concerned about their futures...which is more than I can say about the president!!! And why bring the race card into it once again!!"
08/12/2009:
"The Joker-In-Chief has NOTHING to do with our involvement in our 3 sons Roman Catholic education . We are involved because we CARE & we trust our Parish schools to continue to educated our kids to the level that blows by the state SAT & ACT scores PLUS have the kids a solid foundation in morals, ethics & compassion for others. Giving Globama any credit for an increase in volunteering is absurd ! btw - I am sure my e-mail address wil be forwarded to the Orwellian thought police OUR White House ! "
08/12/2009:
"I, too, have volunteered for years and will continue to do so because I think it sets a good example. Hopefully, our illustrious President won't MANDATE we volunteer.... "
08/12/2009:
"Pleeeeze! Studies have shown that there are ebbs and flows when it comes to volunteerism within any given time frame. Obama's calling for volunteerism and ensuing higher numbers of volunteers can be directly attributed to more people having more time because of job losses. It is a sorry tribute to a President who had promised more jobs and in effect, because of his policies, unemployment is now at a 25 year high. Nice try!"
08/12/2009:
"Maybe more parents are volunteering in schools because they lost jobs in this economy."
08/12/2009:
"I have been extremely involved in my daughter's humanistic charter school, where parent participation is highly prized, since well before the time Obama came to office. My observation from this experience is that no matter how much all parties prize participation in theory, it is extremely hard to make it happen in practice. Teachers need to take the lead and help parents understand what is going on in the classroom and help parents feel welcome. From what I've seen, teachers don't learn these skills in school and don't have the first idea how intimidated parents feel. For their part, I see teachers who don't want to 'bother' parents. I see desire for parent involvement on all sides but, unfortunately, I don't see a meeting of the minds on how to make this happen. Maybe one upside of Obama's attention to volunteerism will be to help organizations with a need (like schools) learn how to make their organizations approachable to the people who want to support, but don't k! now where to start."
08/12/2009:
"Americans have been giving time and moeny to everyone around the world including the poor for nearly 250 years. Americans are the most generours people with their time and money that any other people in the world way before 'The One' came along. It is insulting that 'The One' thinks that it is responsibility to tell Americans what to do with their time and money. I have two elementary school children and all I do is write checks for the school constantly and any free time I have I am helping the school or my children. Charity begins at home. If my children are succesful later on in life because all the time we as parent spend with them and volunterring at their schools...that we hope will translate to adults depending on themselves and not the goverment. Sorry, but 'The One' should have pick up a local paper or two during his adult life and probably would have found out how generous his own people the Americans are with their time and money to their friends, neighbors, schools, churches and the rest of the world. No news here... Mr. Obama "
08/12/2009:
"Ok, I think we have many conservatives here. I'm a teacher and I see that parents thing that school is a daycare. Its up to teachers and to learn from us. Most of them never come to school to see how Johnny is doing. If they do well those are the kids are doing great in school . The ones we need to come to school are the ones are doing bad. What can we do? I wish I had the answer. Those parents' kids fall in the cracks and that is why we have schools that are not doing well. I work in a very low economic area. WE have good teachers but they leave for better areas and we have to start again with traning new teachers. I have been teaching in this area for 12 years and I just love the challenage. NOt too many are like me. So I have seen it through my eyes."
08/12/2009:
"To make the CLAIM regarding this is OBAMAS idea, is outragouse. Parents HAVE been doing it as long as I can remember. I have 1 kids one 29 and another 14. I dont voleenter but I do get involved, in other ways. I have seen plenty of parents getting involved especialy in elementry yrs. WHEN the schools start listening to OBAMA and NOT the parents then watch all the problems get WORSE."
08/12/2009:
"Father in Chief? Kinda like 'Uncle Joe Stalin'? Good Lord."
08/12/2009:
"I take great offense to the reference of my President as 'father-in-chief'. Barak Obama is my President and a father of two adorable girls and he isn't the first man in the White House to be a father. President Barak isn't my father nor the father of my children. His children do not see him as often as my children see their father and their grandfather. Politicians are rarely known to be great fathers. The last President I know of to set time aside to play with his children daily while in the White House is Theodore Roosevelt. President Kennedy allowed John and Caroline to play in the Oval office but I don't know that he set aside time for his children on his daily calendar. Politicians are gone a lot, so don't set him on a pedastal to be revered as the great 'Daddy of all time'. I had no idea that the President had made a call to volunteer in the public schools. I know he, like many of his predecessors, asked for fellow citizens to volunteer in their communities. I have been a volunteer and political advocate for my public schools for many years, even before I had children. My children see me in their schools and I also mentor a child in my daughter's elementary school. My husband works and is home most evenings with his family. As for volunteer numbers rising in the public schools -- I don't see that many new faces at my children's schools but we have had large numbers of parents volunteer in the 8 years my children have been attending school in Oklahoma."
08/12/2009:
"Father in Chief? Like Uncle Joe Stalin? Sorry, but I'm not inclined to take educational advice from a man who was babied his whole life, and refuses to allow his academic records to be released. With higher taxes coming and thinner means to follow, you can expect volunteerism to shrink, not grow. People will be busier than ever making ends meet. As a volunteer myself in other arenas, I can tell you this: between what people SAY they will do and actually WILL do is a great, gaping chasm. The volunteerism I do is in part to supplement the education that should have been conducted already by the public schools, and hasn't been. I support the good teachers out there, and there are many, but the watered-down curricula and unrelenting leftist politics have poisoned the well to the point where often, the only way to ensure one's child's education is either to home school to some extent, or to remove him or her entirely, and place them in a private school that is focused on fundamentals and excellence. "
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