‘Parent University' is good idea – if executed well

Right on schedule, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system plans to launch a “Parent University” this year. It was a feature of Superintendent Peter Gorman's 100-day plan for improving CMS that was unveiled in the fall of 2006, his first year on the job.

The plan called for a parent university in 2008-09 that would give parents tools to support students in reaching their academic potential. It's a good idea if executed well. Along with effective teachers, parents are key to students' academic success. Students who don't have parents, or other committed adults, to help them with school work and issues face difficulties achieving. Over time, many give up on school and drop out.

The idea of a parent university is not new. Several studies have pinpointed training and help for parents as a critical factor in boosting student achievement and keeping students in school. One national study from nearly two decades ago called for creating school parent centers to offer GED, literacy, English as a second language and other classes for parents as well as training in how to help their children with school work.

That's what CMS aims to do with the Parent University. They've wisely planned the classes for more than just schools. Courses would be offered at libraries, houses of worship, businesses, government offices and nonprofit organizations.

They would also be wise to offer courses at times other than 9 to 5 weekdays. In Prince George's County, Md., a half-day parents' workshop was held on a Saturday with experts providing parents tips on basic math help for their children, on basic computer literacy and on personal financial accounting. Houses of worship could plan similar one-hour sessions after worship services for parents who may work everyday except Sunday.

Many of the parents who could benefit from the classes struggle to make ends meet, sometimes with two or three jobs. Finding ways to make these offerings accessible to them is essential.

It also would be wise to acknowledge that not all parents who would benefit from such classes have low incomes or are non-English speakers. Some classes should aim to help all parents learn how to make the most of their child's potential in school and how to get engaged in helping build an academically strong school system for all children.

CMS is right to initiate this effort. It needs more tools to help students stay in school and meet their potential. Providing this training for parents promises to help this community reach that goal.