US education chief asks fathers to play larger role

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / September 24, 2009

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MANCHESTER, N.H. - Getting fathers involved in their children’s education will take turning off the television and opening the school doors to them, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday.

“Both sides have to move toward the middle, toward each other,’’ he said in an interview after a forum attended by representatives of dozens of nonprofit groups, churches, and government officials from around New England.

“What’s fascinating to me is that both sides need each other so badly,’’ he said. “Educators desperately need parents to be more involved, particularly fathers, and fathers desperately need to be involved in their children’s education. There’s just this tremendous untapped potential and power here.’’

The event was organized by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and was part of the “National Conversation on Fatherhood’’ that President Obama announced in June.

Duncan said fathers must move outside their comfort zones and get involved with their children, perhaps in ways they did not interact with their own fathers.

“When fathers step up, students don’t drop out,’’ he said. “. . . When fathers step up, young folks have greater dreams for themselves.

“We need to turn those TVs off at night. We need to engage with our children; we need to read to them.’’

Duncan, who often says American children need to spend more time in class if they are to compete with students abroad, said lengthening the school day, week, and year also would allow nonprofit groups to get more involved in education.

“You guys should be in our schools,’’ he told a woman who runs a program that offers classes on healthy romantic relationships in Boston. “Schools should be open 12 to 13 hours a day with a wide variety of programming.’’

Thomas Brennan, superintendent of Manchester schools, agreed.

He also said that administrators, teachers, and other staff have not been taught to value fathers and their role in education and that he himself has not considered that some fathers may not feel welcome in schools.

“We haven’t done a good job, not because we don’t want to do, but I think it’s out of ignorance, which is kind of sad when we’re talking about the education system,’’ he said.