If you’re worried about the state of your own child’s report card, then you might also be concerned that most American children don’t learn very much in school.

Since 1969, our government has kept track of how well children are learning.  Visit www.nationsreportcard.gov.  The numbers you see are the “percentage of students at or above proficient.”  Suppose you want to know the percentage of 8th graders doing reasonably well in math.  It’s 33%.

If 33% of 8th graders are proficient in math, then 67% are not doing reasonably well in math!  It’s appropriate to be concerned.  But how to make a difference?

As a nation, we’ve tried to make changes in how schools do their job.  Modest improvements have resulted.  But the massive improvement we’d all like to see won’t come solely by changing educators.  We also need to change the children.

That’s where parents like you come in.  Here’s how you can make a difference.

Rethink Your Goals for Your Child

Parents want their children to be well-rounded.  They encourage participation in many in- and out-of-school activities.  Schools, too, pursue well-roundedness by offering a wide range of extracurricular activities and courses.  Everyone says that gaining skill in career-building STEM subjects is critical.   But if we watch how children actually spend their time, we get a different picture.

Parents whose children receive the highest marks, again and again, know that academic excellence and well-roundedness are not compatible goals.  Yes, well-roundedness is a reasonable goal.  But its ever-expanding demands on time and energy interfere with children’s mastery of key skills.

Ask yourself:  If school learning truly had the highest priority among my goals for my child, what changes would I need to make in how she spends her time?

Rethink Your Beliefs about Children’s Abilities

In comparison with parents in other nations, Americans believe more strongly that the most critical determinant of academic prowess is the natural abilities that each child acquired at birth.  Their job as parents, then, is to discover her potential and ensure it’s fully attained.

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Parents whose children consistently rank at the top know that children have varying aptitudes, but that doesn’t interest them.  They also know that by far the largest factor distinguishing one student from another is a willingness to devote persistent effort to study.  They and their children believe that one’s potential is not fixed by the accident of birth, but is capable of expanding through effort.

Ask yourself:  If my child and I accepted that her future is far more about her dogged determination and effort than about the abilities she received at birth, how would my behavior change?  How would hers?

Rethink Your Response to Your Child’s Poor Test Scores

We live in a success-oriented society.  We applaud our child’s high test scores.  We help her regain her self-esteem when a test score was disappointing.   That’s because we believe that the foundation of mental health and long-term success is strong self-esteem.

Parents whose children excel in school know that academic distinction is not an outcome of high self-esteem.  They also know that a poor test score requires rapt attention to diagnosing and remedying what their child hadn’t well understood.  A poor test score potentially reveals where your child needs to concentrate her study efforts.  Then as a result of top performance, her self-esteem can grow organically.

Ask yourself:  If I combined (a) helping my child to diagnose and remedy the causes of her poor test scores, with (b) allowing her self-esteem to grow solely due to outstanding academic successes, what might be the result?

Rethink Your Beliefs about Who Is Responsible

Whom do you believe is mainly responsible for your child’s performance in school?  Most parents believe that the school has primary responsibility.  That’s why Americans repeatedly make changes in how educators do their jobs – while never thinking of changing the children.

Parents whose children receive top marks know that primary responsibility for learning belongs in the home.  Yes, you and your child have more responsibility for her academic excellence than her teachers do!  Teachers are important, of course.  But think of them as technical experts who make much easier the responsibility shared by you and your child: to ensure her mastery of career-relevant skills.

Ask yourself:  If my child and I jointly accepted primary responsibility for her classroom learning, how would my daily behavior change?  How would hers?

Where Do These Insights Come From?

They come from patient observations by social scientists of a large group of students who long ago become legendary for their consistently high academic performance.  Fortunately, the researchers examined what was going on in the students’ homes as well as in their schools.

The students were those in East Asia – China, Japan, and Korea – where over 500 studies have been carried out since 1970.  The outcome of this 50-year effort is that we now know that those students excelled because of what was going on in their schools – but even more so because of what was going on in their homes.  The suggestions above describe common activities of East Asian parents.

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      Ask yourself:  If I’m really convinced that educational excellence is supremely important for my child’s future, what is preventing me from…

  • behaving like my top goal for her is mastery learning, not well-roundedness?
  • assuming that her school performance depends on her effort, not her aptitude?
  • responding to her disappointing test scores with diagnosis and remedial action?
  • allowing her self-esteem to grow solely due to her outstanding performances?
  • accepting that she and I share primary responsibility for her academic success?
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Learn more and connect via The Drive to Learn WebsiteTwitter, and  Facebook

Cornelius N. Grove, managing partner of the consultancy Grovewell, is also an independent scholar and author of iconoclastic books on education.  His latest book is The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel.

After attaining an M.A.T. at Johns Hopkins, he taught history in White Plains, NY; worked in educational publishing; traveled abroad for two years; and earned an Ed.D. at Columbia.  While employed by a student exchange organization, Dr. Grove taught a course on “cross-cultural communication in the classroom” at two universities.  He then taught in Beijing and co-authored Encountering the Chinese (3rd Ed., 2010).  In 2005, he delivered in Singapore a major conference paper on instructional styles worldwide.  This inspired him to begin providing Americans with historical and cross-cultural perspectives on their children’s classroom learning.

In The Aptitude Myth (2013), Dr. Grove revealed that the origin of Americans’ thinking about how children learn lies in the imaginations of ancient Greek philosophers.  He then was invited to write entries on “pedagogy across cultures” for the Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence (2015), and the International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication (2018).

In The Drive to Learn (2017), Dr. Grove focuses on the contrasts between U.S. and East Asian cultures, yielding fresh insights about the strong influence of parenting on a child’s classroom success.  For detailed information, visit www.thedrivetolearn.info.

Purchase books by Cornelius Grove

The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us about Raising Students Who Excel

Encountering the Chinese: A Modern Country, an Ancient Culture

The Aptitude Myth: How an Ancient Belief Came to Undermine Children’s Learning Today