The Heritage Foundation

Education Notebook on Education

September 8, 2008

September 8, 2008 | Education Notebook on Education

A Parent's Guide to Education Reform: A New Tool in the Fight for Academic Excellence

A Parent's Guide to Education Reform: A New Tool in the Fight for Academic Excellence

print this page

By Lindsey Burke

This week, the Heritage Foundation released a new tool to help parents in the fight to improve their children's educational options. The Parent's Guide to Education Reform serves as a valuable resource for parents as they send their children off to public and private schools throughout the country. The guide not only presents powerful ways in which parents can take a more active position in driving their children's education; it highlights the important and unsurpassed role parents play in its attainment.

The Parent's Guide to Education Reform is one piece of The Heritage Foundation's Leadership for America initiative for education, which works to promote policy reforms that empower those closest to our nation's children-parents, teachers, and principals-with decision-making authority.

This resource comes at a pivotal time in American education: Large percentages of middle and high school students are scoring below basic in both reading and mathematics, performing far below their international counterparts in core subjects, and graduating at a rate around 74 percent. At the same time, federal and state entities are spending more and more money on elementary and secondary funding without seeing appreciable results on student achievement.

In 2006 alone, the United States spent $600 billion on K-12 education, equating to 4.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. At a time when education spending is at an all-time high and achievement levels are alarmingly low, policymakers must address the root of the problem - which is not a lack of funding. Parents will see this problem addressed within the pages of the guide, along with advice about how to take control of their children's educational destinies.

If a student were to bring home a report card with the same caliber of grades that the nation's public schools receive, responsible parents would certainly seek immediate help, which would most likely include something different than the methods that had produced such grades in the first place. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the "nation's report card," U.S. high schools earned a C- in reading, a D+ in math, and F's in both history and science. For a student, such grades would not permit access to reputable colleges.

For many students, however, even graduation is a concern. Students who do not make it to graduation earn less than their counterparts who do, are more likely to need government assistance in the future, and miss many of the benefits a good education affords them.

In order for students to achieve their own academic best, and for the United States to remain viable in a global economy, the K-12 education system must meet the needs of every child. Parents should have the greatest tools available at their disposal to ensure these ends are met: the capacity to exercise their school choice options, and continual involvement in their children's lives.

In the past few years, more and more communities have begun to provide parents with the option to choose the school that best suits their children's needs, even if this means attending one that does not fit within the confines of their assigned zip code. Heritage's guide for parents concisely lays out existing parental choice options and briefs parents on private school choice, public school choice, and additional alternatives on a state-by-state basis.

School choice improves education. As noted in the guide, choice boosts family satisfaction, improves student learning, fosters public school improvement, and has a positive fiscal impact for both families and the U.S. as a whole.

This booklet equips parents and citizens with the tools necessary to be engaged in the educational debate, which is so crucial to academic success. In addition to providing important information on the choices parents have and how to exercise them, this guide answers many frequently asked questions concerning the effects school choice has on the American education system. By reading this guide, parents will be armed with the information they need to discuss other school reform ideas as well. Information is provided on school accountability, teacher quality, and obstacles to reform.

As families hurry to check-off their school supply lists, they should be sure to include the Parent's Guide to Education Reform. The latest graphing calculator will prove useless in a school that fails to meet students' basic needs. The best way to ensure children's future success is to demand that they are in a school environment conducive to safety and academic excellence, which can be achieved only by giving parents all available options.

Download the Parent's Guide to Education Reform at at:

Lindsey Burke is a Research Assistant in Domestic Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author