Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced members of his New York State Education Reform Commission.

One part of this commission’s charge is to examine “parent and family engagement in education.” Mindful of the importance of teacher quality, we must also acknowledge the extremely important educational role played in the home. It is no secret that students who get proper support at home will do better on the whole than those who do not get this support. This is particularly true for mathematics.

A parent’s role in mathematics education is critical. Yet in our society, it seems to be chic to admit weakness in mathematics. This is clearly counterproductive to students’ success in mathematics achievement. 

Success In MathematicsIn the rare instance when you meet an adult who mentions his weakness in reading or who tells you he has trouble writing cogent sentences, your first reaction is one of sympathy. You may think that such weaknesses would put a person at a severe disadvantage in our society. Why then, don’t most people feel that way when someone volunteers his weakness in mathematics? For many, it appears to be a “badge of honor” to admit to having been weak in mathematics in school. Think about the impact, especially as we get deeper in this technology-dominated age where math is a must.

Positive behavior toward mathematics must begin in the home. Parents need to promote a love for mathematics among their children — even if they have less-than-favorable recollections of their own experiences with the subject. When a child comes home with a mediocre math-test score, parents should not accept it as the norm any more than they would a poor grade on an English or science test. Too often, parents condone mediocrity in math because they didn’t fare much better themselves. This essentially undercuts the concept of high expectations — one of the most important factors affecting academic performance. The higher the expectations, the more our students will approach, and usually attain, higher goals.

First, we must provide forums for parents to become familiar with the material students are learning in school, as well as the way they are taught the material, the underlying concepts behind what is being taught and, above all, the parental role in supporting the school instructional program when students do their homework. This support should be both substantive and emotional. Parents need to be able to answer students’ questions and know what children are expected to do.

Even parents who have a very limited educational background can be of help to their children. First, they need to provide a quiet and appropriate environment for them to do their homework. Then they must insist that after completing their homework, their children must explain what they did to their parents.

Even if the parents have no clue about the content of the work being explained to them, they should be attentive, even ask questions and provide praise when appropriate. There are at least two very definite benefits to this approach. First, the student — knowing that she or he will be asked to explain her work upon completion — will be sure to understand the work, and not just do it to “get it done.” Second, by explaining their work, students will have another chance to solidify their understanding of the topics covered.

Parents must get away from such negative thinking as, “My kids don’t need to know arithmetic since they can use a calculator.” Or, “When will they ever use geometry in real life?” Some even ask, “Why teach mathematics at all?” Essentially the higher the expectation of parents, the better their children will perform. Never should it be said that a parent wasn’t good in mathematics, and therefore mediocrity is accepted from their children.

Mathematics educators must persuade the public that there is power and beauty in mathematics, and that it is perhaps one of the best ways to learn critical thinking skills and prepare for an increasingly more technological age. Toward that end Mercy College is about to launch a Parent Center at its Bronx campus to serve the borough of the Bronx and to simultaneously serve as a paradigm for the rest of the city (and beyond) as a way to prepare and engage parents as genuine partners in the education of our youth.

The focus on such programs, together with Mercy College’s cutting-edge leadership in establishing the Parent Center in support of the parent-school relationship to foster these values and many others, should show dramatic results in student assessments, as parents assume their critical role in the “education equation.”  

Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier 

Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier is the Dean of the Mercy College’s School of Education. Based in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Mercy College is a private, nonprofit college offering more than 90 undergraduate and graduate programs (877-MERCY-GO).

Dr. Posamentier is also the author of more than 50 books on education and mathematics, most recently Secrets of Triangles: A Mathematical Journey (coauthored with Ingmar Lehman and published by Prometheus during July 2012).