Nothing raises our hackles quite like the phone ringing with a caller ID display for the school, especially if its not the first time they’ve called.

We’re taught from an early age the key to a good middle-class existence is to work hard and grab the gold that follows the diploma. So when a youth is not doing well in school, or worse yet refusing to go to school we see it as a reflection of poorly instilled values on the parent’s part.

In fact, setting the impact of poverty on school performance aside, numerous studies point to parental involvement as one of the primary contributors to children’s success at school.  Many studies focus on the relationship between parental involvement in the child’s education, and correlate a high degree of parental involvement with higher academic success for the student of involved parents and poor performance for those who have parents who are less involved or not involved at all.

Let me hang some dirty laundry out here. As educators we use tend to use parents as a scapegoat. I’m ok with the colleagues who may want to disagree with me. But by and large, when I am working with a school, teachers and administrators will tell me they aren’t getting the support at home to assist the student. Granted, they need that support and so does the student.

Sometimes it’s easier to blame Johnny’s lack of success on family factors than to look at what we can be doing within the educational system to make sure Johnny’s needs are being fully met academically and we are speaking in a way puts parents at ease. If we looked at fixing the educational system to meet the academic needs of the 1.2 million youth fleeing the halls of academia we are trying to turn the Titanic at the last minute. Too much, too late.

Sometimes they aren’t getting the support because the parent has too many other challenges fighting for their attention.

And sometimes they aren’t getting the support because the parent just doesn’t know what to do next. They have tried everything they know and in their natural quest for individuation, their teen is not responding.

What I don’t like about this finger pointing is if we blame the parent for a teen’s lack of success in school, then good grades and attendance are not the school’s responsibility and we can continue to argue over meaningless school reform efforts instead of instituting practices and policies that take into account all the information we have gained about how young people learn in the last 15 years.

Regardless of who is at fault, youth lose, as is evidenced by the numbers of youth – 1 in 4 – who will not graduate.

Usually, the educators are right, but for the wrong reasons. Few parents speak schooleese. Going to the school to talk to the principal is like going for a root canal. You know it must be done and you just want to get through it. Often parents are angry with their teen for their behavior and they arrive at the office in defensive mode.  For some going into the principal’s office is an all-too-familiar place they would rather forget. Unfortunately, for most of us the principal’s office is associated with our short-comings.

But over the years I’ve noted academic success isn’t just not about parental involvement. Parents who are highly involved in their teen’s school activities still have teens barely scratching D’s to pass.

I’ve met very few parents who, when it came to their child, were not absolutely interested in supporting them in school. I have met several who did not know HOW, and even more whose parenting style actually interfered with their best intentions.

Consider the following scenario. Fifteen year-old Tashia is not going to school. Her side of the story “The teachers don’t care.” The school points to Tasha’s home life, a fairly familiar family constellation. Tasha’s mom is head of household, raising two girls with support from a distant father who has started a second family in his new marriage. Mom works and really depends upon the girls to take responsibility for themselves, including making sure the homework is complete and they are getting to and from school via the bus.

Tasha’s mom has an indulgent parenting style. She is responsive and warm in the presence of her girls. On the outside their relationship seems to work. She clearly works hard to make up for the perceived lack resulting in not having a father in the home.  She allows considerable self-regulation of the girls’ activities feeling that natural consequences are the best teacher. Natural consequences parenting style seems to work for her on the surface because it avoids conflict with the girls and she doesn’t have time, and not time with her full-time management job to be monitoring them.

A natural consequence for not doing her homework has put Tasha in a hole where she sees no way out, except to drop out of school.

Now, several studies are surfacing which indicate an authoritative parenting style where parents are accepting, encouraging, warm, engaging towards their children, but firm in enforcing clear standards of behavior for their children have children who do better in school. Adolescents who perceive their parents as authoritative are more likely to earn high grades than adolescents who perceive their parents as non-authoritative.

Tasha’s mom feels guilty about not being more involved in the girls’ school but now they are out of the elementary years where parent involvement was easier, she has drifted away from her volunteer efforts.

That, according to researchers, has less impact on the girls’ success than Mom’s parenting style.

Maybe educators have been right all along. But it’s not about baking cookies and going to Back-To-School Nights, although these types of involvement are important. It is more about a parenting style that grants autonomy with clear expectations and parent-enforced consequences.

The good news is with a little bit of coaching parenting styles can be modified to embrace the characteristics and skills that support educational attainment. A strategic educational intervention plan will put Tasha back on the road to educational success.