Parents are critical for improving students’ preparation for science, engineering and health careers

The first time I ever saw a resolution by a state legislature honoring a deceased person was at my mother’s funeral in January.  My mom helped manage many legislative campaigns in Connecticut, and one of the legislators she worked with wrote on her funeral web site that my mom “had great political instincts and rock-solid ethics.”

My mom was aware of my work in Florida over the last eight years to promote math and science in Florida.  When it became clear that my feeble political efforts in this regard were useless, she urged me to appeal directly to parents by telling them how the math and science courses their children take (or don’t take) in high school affect their economic opportunities.  Given my mom’s political instincts, I knew that I should take this advice seriously.  My mom enjoyed what many in the political sphere consider to be a grind – organizing at the precinct level by recruiting and deploying one volunteer at a time.  Appealing directly to parents by talking with small groups of them seemed to my mom to be the educational equivalent of precinct organizing.

During a meeting with Bay County school officials a few weeks after my mom passed away on January 1, I was invited to meet with parents at Mosley High School.  I don’t remember even skipping a beat with my response:  Of course I would enjoy doing that.  I still had my mom’s advice bouncing around inside my head, and even considering the possibility of saying no to such an opportunity would have seemed like a betrayal.  The folks who issued the invitation seemed surprised that I would so easily agree.  They had no idea what I was thinking.

I had that meeting with a group of about thirty Mosley parents on Tuesday night,  and it was an energizing experience – for me, that is.  The parents seemed engaged as well, and I was told afterward by my host that the event had been a real success.

The message I brought to the Mosley parents (and another group of parents I met at Orlando Science School the week before) was that we have a responsibility to make sure that when we send our kids to college they are prepared to choose any major – even majors in engineering, science and the health professions.  And to be prepared for majors in those areas, students should take chemistry, physics and calculus (or at least precalculus) in high school.  By doing that, students keep their career options open.

Parents are important not only because they have the greatest influence over their own children, but also because they are a powerful constituency in the schools.  Any effort to improve math and science education in a school or district can be undermined by opposition from parents.  Therefore, it is important for any such reform effort to include a campaign to convince parents of the importance of high level math and science courses.

At least I think that’s what my mom – with her excellent political instincts – would have said.  In fact, I’m sure of it.

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