By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Math and science educators across the country spend their summers learning how to make calculus more engaging and biology more relevant, but there's a problem: What if high schoolers never even signed up for those classes?
What if a tough ninth grade algebra class meant they hopped off the high-tech train, and couldn't find a way back on later? What if nobody answered when kids asked, "But I'm not going to be a chemist - why do I need this?"
For all the reasons teens find to stop taking math, science and technology classes, a study published online in the journal "Psychological Science" found a relatively simple way to make them continue: Convince their parents first.
The study, “Helping Parents to Motivate Adolescents in Mathematics and Science: An Experimental Test of a Utility-Value Intervention,” showed a simple intervention with parents led students to take, on average, one additional semester of math and science in their last two years of high school.
"These are the critical years in which mathematics and science courses are elective, and our results indicate that parents can become more influential in their children’s academic choices if given the proper support," the study says.
How simple was that support? Just a couple of brochures, a web site and a little guidance about how to use the information.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and James Madison University mailed parents of 10th graders a glossy, 16-page, photo-filled booklet touting math and science education. The brochures offered up talking points to parents about how to discuss science and math classes with their kids, and examples of how those subjects might be relevant to their lives now or when they're considering careers. If parents were convinced of the value of science and math for their kids, researchers thought moms and dads could convey that utility value to teens.
By Trina R. Shanks, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Trina R. Shanks is an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan and a Rhodes Scholar. She was appointed to serve as a member of Michigan's Commission on Community Action and Economic Opportunity from 2010 to 2012. This essay was written in association with The Op-ed Project.
(CNN) - I am the granddaughter of an elementary school cook and a woman who cleaned other people's homes. Both my grandmothers worked hard and didn't earn much money, but they encouraged their children to get an education.
Although starting from limited economic circumstances, my parents both earned a college education and were able to attain a middle-class lifestyle to raise me and my siblings. I, their daughter, went on to receive a Ph.D. Unfortunately, this type of upward mobility is much less likely for the children of maids and school cooks today.
A decent job and a decent life should be a possibility for anyone who makes an effort. As a nation, this was more likely in our past than in the present. A college education should be affordable to anyone who is willing to do the work, but that is no longer our reality. As the likelihood of a college degree and economic security becomes less attainable for a significant portion of the population, the future of the United States will be in jeopardy.
Late last month, Congress passed a bill that will keep student-loan interest rates from doubling, just days before the deadline. It's an important step in keeping college affordable, but student-loan interest rates are only one piece in a complex puzzle that shapes how income level and educational opportunity are linked - and the effects begin years before a student might apply for loans.