Obamas set good example for parents

Bill - Charlotte, North Carolina
Entered on November 29, 2008

Barack and Michelle Obama have set a great example for parents.

In the days since the election, the Obamas have demonstrated for the nation and the world their commitment to education. On the Thursday following the election – not even 48 hours after being elected President — Mr. Obama and his wife met with their daughter’s teachers for parent conferences.

And since the election, we have seen several images of both Mr. and Mrs. Obama picking up and dropping off their daughters from school. And in a recent interview, Mr. Obama admitted that the morning after election night, Mrs. Obama’s first question was “Can you take the girls to school?”

Then, when the President Bush invited the Obamas to visit the White House, the Obamas again made education a priority. Rather than spending that time measuring the White House drapes, Mrs. Obama visited a variety of schools in the D.C. area – looking for one that would be right for her daughters.

Some argue that, with the nation watching, the President-elect and his wife should have chosen to send their two young daughters to a Washington D.C. public school. Instead, the Obamas chose to enroll their daughters at Sidwell Friends, a D.C. independent school that has a history of enrolling the children of elected officials who live and work in our nation’s capital. (Chelsea Clinton attended Sidwell while her family lived in the White House.)

I believe that the Obamas have sent a very positive message to parents all over the country. They revealed to the nation that the education of their children is a priority in their lives. They are actively involved as partners in their daughters’ education and learning. They care about where their daughters go to school – and they are willing to look for options if their neighborhood school isn’t the right fit for their children.

The Obamas took the time to research the school options in their new community. They visited a variety of schools in the metro D.C. area – meeting with school administrators and teachers, observing classes, and asking questions about the mission and philosophy of each school. In the end, they chose a school that they feel will best serve their daughters’ educational needs.

That, I think, is the kind of parent involvement that will make a difference in a child’s life. And that, I believe, is the first step in holding our schools accountable for the education that they offer.

Indeed, our nation’s public schools need an overhaul. No Child Left Behind did not work. Gigantic schools in huge school districts will not work. And it will take the support and involvement of influential civic leaders and parents to move forward with meaningful and effective school reform.

But rather than criticize the Obamas for selecting an independent school for their daughters, we should look at their actions and ask what we — as parents and community leaders — can learn from them.

How can we encourage more parents to take an active and supportive role in the education of their children? How can schools, public or private, meet the needs of children – and of parents who want to be active partners in their child’s education? What is it about independent schools like Sidwell Friends and others that make them appealing to parents who are committed to education and lifelong learning?

I believe the answers to these questions can be the starting place for school reform. We can not – and should not – simply rely on symbolic gestures from elected officials. We need to work together as parents, teachers, students, and citizens and ask ourselves “What is the best school for our children?”

Then, go out and find it.