Most important educator for kids

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As a new team takes the field, parents are still the key to success.

EDUCATORS OFTEN REMIND non-educators that reading too much into school test scores should be avoided. Let's stipulate that last week's Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction release of test scores is a snapshot, one factor among many, when it comes to evaluating a given school system.

What is significant is the pattern, with trend lines moving in the wrong direction statewide. The percentage of pupils scoring in the higher categories of proficiency has been slipping across Wisconsin. The same can be said in most states.

The School District of Beloit continues to demonstrate a serious need to get better, and we're encouraged that a new team is in place this year with a strong focus on improving. Obviously, the new team is not responsible for numbers released on last year's testing. The goal is to get the needle moving in the right direction when next year's figures come out.

Meanwhile, the Beloit Turner district continues to generally outperform the state average. Even so, the scores suggest some areas for focus going forward.

HAVING SAID THAT, let's return to a point we've made repeatedly in the past.

First, let's also stipulate this: Today's kids are not being born dumber than yesterday's kids.

So what else is driving these trends?

Anyone who is waiting for the teachers and administrators - in Beloit, in Wisconsin, in America - to fix all that ails the education experience is on a fool's errand.

Consider the math - yes, adults ought to be able to understand numbers, too.

• There are 365 days in a year, or 8,760 hours.

• Schools usually are in session around 180 days a year for something like 7 hours a day, which may include non-academic periods like lunch or recess. So let's say students spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,250 hours in a learning environment.

• That means educators and administrators have about 14-15 percent of a kid's time to school them properly.

QUESTION: WHERE are the kids the rest of the time and what are they doing?

That's where parenting is either the answer ... or the problem.

Kids that come from households where basic needs are met, where there are high expectations, where learning is a top priority, almost certainly will do well in school.

Early on, kids in such circumstances tend to develop stronger language skills with a head start on verbal expression along with picking up a habit of reading and comprehending.

This was true in education a generation ago - or five generations ago - and it remains true today: Life-long learning begins with mastering language skills, for reading, writing and verbal exchanges.

That's why Beloit has gotten behind early literacy efforts and must continue to support such programs.

What goes on at home is crucial, and largely will determine if a kid succeeds or fails. Parents, if you want to see the most important educator in your child's life, look in a mirror.

THERE ARE THINGS every kid needs - love, stability and security, encouragement, discipline, expectations and, yes, consequences. Young minds are capable and eager to learn, if pointed in the right direction. Sloth and indifference are acquired traits.

None of that is new. It's always been so.

But today's world requires more taking control on the part of parents during those long hours spent away from the education system. There are more distractions. Televisions with 200 channels. Smartphones glued to kids' hands. Video games that make goofing off far more fun than reading a book.

There are also more dangerous influences. Parents used to be able to keep kids away from friends of whom they did not approve, and protect kids from pernicious material or predators by maintaining a safe home. Now that smartphone means unwanted and dangerous influences are not outside - they follow your kids home.

BY TAKING CONTROL, and by creating a learning-friendly atmosphere at home, you can almost assure your children will have the best opportunities to learn and succeed in a tough and competitive world.

Indifference and failure to do so can virtually guarantee the opposite outcome.

Administrators and educators have a huge role to play, and as a school year begins we urge Beloit to support some of the most important people in our community.

But this is a fight educators can't win without good parenting partners at home.

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