Combine accountability in public education with entitlements.
Ask any high school teacher you know ''What is the most important factor influencing your students' success?'' and nine out of 10 will respond, ''good parents'' or ''a good home.''
Education researchers are in agreement when ranking the top three factors determining success or failure of schoolchildren (success here is the ultimate achievement of a desired college degree):
1. Parental support throughout the education process.
2. High attendance rate.
3. High percentage of assignments completed (homework).
Interestingly enough, neither the IQ of a student nor the high/low quality of a student's teachers or school breaks into the list of the top five factors.
From here, the problem within the problem emerges clearly. How can education reform ever hold parents accountable for poor parenting of America's future (children)?
No politician wants to touch this problem with a 10-foot pole, but the solution is fairly straightforward. Do not reward individuals and/or families who freeload generation after generation. According to a Census Bureau report, it costs taxpayers $11,200 per year to educate a young citizen. The least we could do is require them to do their homework!
When I turned 18, my father told me ''Take this as a fair warning son, you can continue to live under my roof free-of-charge so long as you continue to better yourself.'' With no uncertain terms, my dad gave me an ultimatum: better yourself or pay the consequences of stagnation.
My options were few:
I could attend college full-time with good results.
I could get a job and go to college part time.
I could get a full-time job, while saving 50 percent for a down payment on my own home.
Otherwise, I would pay monthly room and board.
''There will be no free-loading under my roof!'' he clarified.
The 2010 census report revealed one out of seven Americans are on food stamps. Millions of citizens honestly need help, but too many are freeloading generation after generation.
Many free-loading parents are the same parents whose children rarely show up at school and when they do, their homework is rarely completed.
Society needs to find a way to attach strings between social entitlements and parental support of our nation's schoolchildren.
America can no longer afford a no-strings-attached entitlement program. And while we're at it, let's have drug and alcohol tests for all parents and teens accepting entitlements.
If they fail the tests, they must enroll in a program to get help or risk losing all but the most basic life-preserving entitlements. And if their children are truant or failing school, they must show up with their children for an array of after-school programs that nurture successful parenting and learning.
Now that we understand the root cause of our problem, we should understand that chaotically ''privatizing'' (with public funds) public education will not improve student achievement any faster than throwing more money at the schools. Although there is a huge accountability problem in our schools, it is primarily our nation's schoolchildren who must be held accountable by their parents. If parents are not doing their job, they need to be held accountable. The simplest means to this end is likely the carrot and stick method.
When a parent fails to get the kids to school on time (or at all) with their homework completed, we should grade their efforts accordingly. We'll give the family the lowest level of entitlements or Grade D-level entitlements - including loss of privileges to eat expensive meats or seafood and the total loss of child-tax credits. They would also experience restrictions across the supermarket on junk foods, snacks and fancy prepared foods. Plus government medical benefits would be downgraded for bare necessities and generic medicines.
Next, how can we encourage parents who usually get their kids to school but without homework done or halfheartedly attempted? Grade C-level entitlements would include only half the child tax credit and half of other privileges. As such, B-level would be a notch above C-level.
Finally, to help disadvantaged parents who are doing everything in their power to improve their lives and make productive citizens out of their children, we'll offer Grade A-level entitlements. All currently existing entitlements should remain for these families plus further incentives will be added on. For example, the child tax credits withheld from bad parents could be transferred as incentives to good parents.
Adding further entitlements to low-income families who are doing their best would be a worthwhile investment.
Let's speak with no uncertain terms, America. An efficient society must require all of our citizens to attempt to improve or suffer the consequences. This is no time in world history for us to be soft.
Herman is a Warren resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.