Our View: The missing piece in education reform? Dads
The writers warn that dads shouldn't think of their kids' schools as "mom's territory." Their presence helps.
February 11th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Our View: The missing piece in education reform? Dads

By Christopher Brown and Vincent DiCaro, Special to CNN

Courtesy National Fatherhood InitiativeEditor’s note: Christopher Brown is executive vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Vincent DiCaro is vice president of development and communication of the National Fatherhood Initiative.

(CNN) - There is no shortage of answers about how to improve our nation’s schools, including more charter schools, school vouchers, standardized testing, lower teacher-student ratios and performance-based hiring, pay and promotion of teachers.

Courtesy National Fatherhood InitiativeHowever, what we find lacking in almost every debate about education reform is the role of families - especially fathers - and the support they can and should provide to ensure children’s educational success.

If parents, educators and reformers are to make a difference in improving children’s educational success, we must expand our definition of education reform. We must move beyond the myopic focus on education systems and implement tactics that include a more prominent place for parent involvement in schools.

The omission of “the father factor” is especially troubling in light of research released last month that examined family trends in 45 countries and how children’s educational success is affected by their parents. The “World Family Map” report by Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, found that even when controlling for income, children in middle- and high-income countries who live with two parents have better educational outcomes than children living with one or no parents.

Specifically, children in two-parent homes were more likely to stay on track in school and have higher literacy, both of which are critical to overall educational success.

The findings of the “World Family Map” jibe with reams of research from the past three decades that show that children in father-absent homes do not do as well in school, on average, as their peers living with both parents.

At the same time, new research shows that marriage – the most effective societal glue to bond fathers to their children - is in rapid decline. A 2012 report from the Pew Research Center said barely one-half - 51% - of adults today are married, down from 72% in 1960. A debilitating “marriage gap” has formed along class lines; the sharper decline occurred among people with high school diplomas or less, rather than among college graduates.

The decline of marriage, the rise of divorce and the increase in out-of-wedlock births - now 40% of all births - has contributed to the reality that more than 24 million children in America live in homes absent a biological father, Census data shows. Nearly two in three African-American children lived in such homes last year, and Hispanic children represented the fastest-growing segment of children living without biological fathers, 2012 Census Bureau data showed. One-third of all children from father-absent homes have no contact with their dads, studies show.

As fewer children grow up with their fathers in the United States, educational success will continue to erode, regardless of reforms that specifically address education systems.

We can’t simply throw more money at education systems in the hope that they’ll improve. That’s because educational success on a national scale - and indeed a worldwide scale - depends greatly on children growing up with their two parents.

While most experts on education reform acknowledge that parents need to be more involved in their children’s education, efforts will ultimately fall short if we do not see a major turnaround in father involvement at home.

There are things fathers can do at home and in school to help their children succeed: Go to school and class events, or even spend a day in the classroom – your presence communicates something to your child and to their teachers. Read to your children every day. Help with school work. Don’t let mom do all the work. Some believe that school is “mom’s territory,” but fathers are just as important to their children’s educations as their mothers.

Schools can change their ways, too, to increase involvement by fathers. Many schools have added parent-involvement coordinators, many of whom do great work with few, if any, resources at their disposal. Unfortunately, it would take an army of these coordinators to have the impact necessary to improve students’ overall success in school.

Schools should work to create father-friendly environments, including posters, reading materials and visual cues that show dads are welcome. Distribute parenting resources targeted to dads, as well as moms. Hold seminars for staff members to remind them how important it is for dads to be involved. Create dad-centric events, like “Dad and Donuts Day” where fathers join children at school for breakfast.

Changing parents’ and schools’ views of parental involvement are part of education reform. But most importantly, we must also address and reverse the two most disturbing trends of the past half-century - the increase in the number of children growing up in father-absent homes and the decline in marriage. These two issues are inseparable and have a direct impact on our children’s success in school.

The opinions expressed are solely those of Christopher Brown and Vincent DiCaro.

Filed under: Education reform • Home Front • Parents • Voices
soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. grand

    It is in reality a great and helpful piece of info. I am happy that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

    February 13, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  2. Male Matters USA

    The male side is usually not even considered. This will explain:

    "Wives Belong at Home with the Kids"

    February 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • KECIA

      I am glad to see what you believe. However, that is not the reality of the society that we live in. I enjoy fairy tales too, but I am a realist. I prefer to get my news from more realistic sources.

      February 14, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  3. cristy R

    Schools need to be more receptive when dad's do try to be involved. my husband has asked several times to recieve mailings updates etc and got nothing finally he called the principal and introduced himself and said I have the right to know what is happening with my kids in school. I attend events etc. It has gotten somewhat better but there are still times that we don't get notified on special events. But we sure do get notified when the kids need lunch money...which is taken care of!! Gets a little frustrating. The Ex-wife would really like to give the impression of "poor Us" dad isn't around blah blah but...we aren't going to let that happen.

    February 13, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
  4. Marie

    While I 100% agree that fathers are just as important as mothers when it comes to education. At my children's school the only male there is the janitor. All of the teachers are female and there is absolutely no discipline what so ever. The lack of male authority figures in the faculty and administration is just as detrimental to our kids. Why is there no public out cry for gender equality when it comes to this issue? I know there are plenty of male applicants that are qualified to teach our children, why is it that women are prefered over men in elementary age children?

    February 13, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Janet

      I agree that there are many qualified men who could teach, but it is difficult to take care of a family on a teachers current salary. Many men start in the classroom and then go into administration to be able to take care of their families.

      February 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  5. Steph

    "As fewer children grow up without their fathers in the United States, educational success will continue to erode.."

    As evidenced by the shoddy editing in this article. Really? An article about poor education and the editors can't even check for double negatives, which completely contradicts the point of the article?

    February 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Truth

      @ Steph, you're missing the point!

      February 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • ColoradoDad

      🙂 didn't catch that one. Funny!

      February 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  6. Charles

    I think this goes a bit deeper with families of divorce and the legal aspects of custody. Generally, women receive more custody of the children, which takes away the father's time with the children. I try to spend as much time as I can with my children, however, my ex-wife has custody for 70% of the time (even after me going back to court for more time), so it's difficult for me to have consistency with my children. I will never be given an opportunity to spend even a week with them during the school year. She makes a lot more money than I do, yet travels for work on average about 3 days a week, and goes out for dinners or events during the week when she's home. So their high-school educated nanny often ends up helping (or not helping) them with their schoolwork. I try to read with each of them on the weekends, but it's often difficult with activities, parties and just spending time with them and catching up on everything.

    February 13, 2013 at 2:21 am |
  7. jonat

    Whats missing in black households...dads. That's why they aren't in school either

    February 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • NClaw441

      My boy/girl twins are in college now, but I remember when I visited them in elementary school (did not visit in middle school or high school, that would have been too embarrassing, I guess) that the black kids, especially the boys, would swarm around me. All they seemed to want was a little attention from a man. I'd shake their hands or rub their heads or just aske their names. They ate it up. It was enough to almost make a man weep.

      These kids, especially the boys, need role models desperately. Where are their dads?

      February 13, 2013 at 9:02 am |
    • ColoradoDad

      Also proper health care, proper nutrition, proper education (compared to non black children). There are many things missing, not all are so easily fixed by simply having a father around. This discussion can go on and on about the disadvantages minorities face, especially those in poverty.

      February 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
      • Miguel

        I think you missed the point, which is that kids are more likely to have all of these things if the father is in the home.

        February 13, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
  8. M.P

    GEE, doesn't anybody think maybe it has something to do with the fact "they" eliminated Corporal punishment, and dis-allowed parents to 'discipline' their own children, and now we have generations of children who do Not respect authority figures because they have learned they don't have to!! there really isn't any repercussions !?!?!!

    February 12, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • johnharry

      yep glad they got rid of it, NO one has the right to abuse anyone. Discipline your child in your own house. The teachers job is to teach. the administrators job is to run the school.

      February 13, 2013 at 6:28 am |
      • NClaw441

        The teachers' job should be to teach, but schools thrust so much more onto them. They have to teach them manners, decent behavior, right and wrong, etc. etc. Teachers are often more parent-like than the parents. I grew up in schools that allowed corporal punishment, but it was pretty rare. Saw more of it in shop class and PE in junior high school than anywhere else.

        February 13, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Sy2502

      Right, and the reason women are getting all uppity instead of staying in the kitchen where they belong is that the law isn't allowing husbands to beat them when they disobey.

      And if you don't get why physical assault is wrong regardless of the age, it would be a waste of time to try to explain it to you.

      February 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  9. ann

    THIS ARTICLE IS SO VERY TRUE .... these single mothers just keep dragging these children from one boyfriend's home to another boyfriend's home to grandma's house to girlfriends house and that means they go from one school to another school and don't have time to make committed friendships and ...... oh that's right .... this article talked mainly about fathers .... hmmmmmm .... let's see .... where are they? Nowhere to be found or in some other single mother's pants who has kids to some other guy or guys .... you think this country is screwed up now .... wait ...... in 20 years the pressure cooker is going to explode ... it's ridiculous how these so called parents only think of one thing .... "me, myself and I" ....

    February 12, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • sharon

      There are plenty of fathers out there as you say, who are nowhere around. BUT there are thousands upon thousands of Dads relegated to the "visitor" status in their children's lives by having every other week visitation; fathers who are fighting for the chance to spend more time with their children. The fact that there are lots of dead beat dads out there who pay no child support, hold no jobs and are nowhere to be found, unfortunately overshadow those fathers that want to be in their children's lives. You have no idea (or maybe you do) how many fathers are fighting for the chance to be full time co-parents in the livesof their kids but thanks to vindictive mothers and corrupt courts, don't get to have that luxury.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  10. Mary in the Northeast

    What little bit my real father did have to do with me, he was verbally and physically abusive. If I got an "A-" say on a paper or on a report card, I never heard how I did a good job for getting the "A" but I did hear "What the hell was the minus for? You need to do better." II entered the science fair once in Middle School - I chose to take my Grandfather because my mother was laid up in traction for her back - and I came in 2nd place in the Earth and Space Category out of like 20 people. I was thrilled. When my father heard about it, he was disgusted that I didn't work hard enough to get first place. So don't go preaching how we all need 2-parent households. My first husband (and father of my children) did NOT involve himself with homework or anything else regarding school when we were married nor when divorced. My children's step-father is a great father to my kids and has been and helped them occasionally when they asked or if it was something he might know when I didn't, but the truth is, I'm the one who has been primarily involved in school and homework. My husband wouldn't even be able to tell you what teacher's the kids had - mine or his own kids. That doesn't make him a bad person. It just is what it is. Both of my children are high honor roll students and one is now in college doing very well (Dean's List) and my son starts college in the fall. I think all children should have two parents if able to, but it's not the ultimate answer to everything for those that think it is. We did just fine on our own too. As for schools, I have NO idea where these supposed schools are with "parent coordinators" but we don't even have enough money at our small town schools for adequate security systems to be put in place or for books that aren't 20 years out dated. Perhaps these special people are in private schools??? School's here really don't want any parent involvement either - although they'll deny that and preach that they do. But the truth is they don't, especially if it's anything negative. So, basically this whole article is great in theory and in fairy tale land but it really doesn't hold much weight and it won't change things - and I'm not even sure it should.

    February 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • aescott23

      I feel sorry for you. I dont mean that in a negative way. Your comment seems to have a lot of bitterness behind it because of your relationship or lack there of with the men/fathers in your life. Its not a fairy tale and this article is 100% on the money. Just because there is a lack of fathers doesnt mean that they are not important in a childs life. The fact remains that if fathers are present that can make all the difference in the world. I have chiildren and Im a school teacher so I can relate and see first hand the issues and problems of a fatherless generation of children. Everyone needs to step up and stop making excuses. That goes for fathers and mothers.

      February 13, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  11. Claude Hine

    It is amazing that a liberal rag like CNN would even run a piece like this. The Bible stated this principal more than 3500 years ago and has the same message today. God formed the first family more than 6000 years ago. It has never changed and never been improved. This is the concept of a man and woman entering into a formal relationship called marriage. It was not to be broken after God has sanctioned it. From that unit they were to multiply themselves by having children. They were to raise them in the fear and admonition of The Lord. For too long man has tried to change God's plan and we see the awful results spreading through out our nation.

    February 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Marie

      God has nothing to do with this issue no matter how you try to force it in there. The point is not that the mother and father should have to be married or live in the same home. It is simply that to encourage that our children are getting the most of there education a father(not husband) must be present and must help their children to learn.

      February 13, 2013 at 11:38 am |
      • Miguel

        Wrong. Read again. Married biological father in the home improves outcomes significantly.

        February 13, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • Sy2502

      The Bible also tells parents to kill their children who give them lip. I sure am glad we are NOT following the Bible when it comes to parenting advice.

      February 13, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • ColoradoDad

      Perhaps the failures, as evident here, are that academia are failing at all levels. Hint... there were families far further back than a mere 6000 years. And the Pentateuch were written "nearly" 3500 years ago, which is distinct from "over" 3500 years ago. Believe as you wish, it is your right, but please keep those religious BELIEFS outside of discussions regarding the education of our children. If the discussion topic was religious education then there's a place for your comment, and I wouldn't say a word about it. But public education must in all cases exclude any form of religion, belief, spirituality, and any other form of mysticism.

      February 13, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  12. samjones

    hmmmm, the liberal agenda has incentive's for fatherless children in our country like free food, a free place to stay, free bills being paid, free healthcare and free schooling, thus enabling this epidemic even further. Then we have a president like we do, the same guy raised by his grandparents, who climbed to the highest office in the world, who refuses to take this issue on, way not, is taking guns away from law abiding citizens or a healthcare system that the majority of Americans disapproved of more important to our society's future? As a black man, why would he not reach out to the black community concerning this issue? I am not saying black men are the cause of this but, a good portion of black households in this country are without fathers. The simple answer is, why not...why not continue to esculate the decay of the moral fabric of our society, why not continue to cater to behavior most find irresponsible, they will continue to vote for the people who continue to give them what they want and need. Liberals love single mothers because they are almost always good for a vote.....very sad, but very true...

    February 12, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • M.P.

      I like that response. personally I know several "single" mothers who get "assistance" and are coached on how to get the most, most have jobs, but limit what they make to get the most from "programs", and the husband uses another address so his wife can get the most benefit

      February 12, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  13. Patty

    My father was involved in my school activities more so than my mother. He did HW with me and went to all parent teacher conferences. I don't think that feminizes men in any way... that showed me he cared.

    February 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  14. Le Penseur

    why are fewer children growing up without their fathers?

    February 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  15. Teri Orlando, Virginia, USA

    My son's father was a military jet pilot that died when he was only 7. My son now has his Master's Degree and a great job. I worked my butt off, and never dated to make sure they had a stable home. (I was also 3 months pregnant at the time) The news will never cover this, but I'm proud of what I did... I wish other single Moms did the same. They don't. I know, because their kids were always at my house while they were out partying....

    February 12, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  16. Mike

    What about children from 4 parent households?

    February 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Amber

      Excellent point!

      February 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  17. empresstrudy

    considering most men would be tased and arrested on sight if they set foot in any school do you have to wonder?

    February 12, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • johnharry

      wow, what did you do?

      February 13, 2013 at 6:29 am |
  18. xve

    It is another excuse to blame men for everything with the family. Men are to sacrifice everything, Bah! marriage is a big problem because of divorce rips men off. They are too busy working to make all the payments. The future is coming when more couples won't need each other financially. As it is the school rules the child. After school they monitor and punish so what are we having this discussion why not go with boarding schools instead.

    February 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  19. Sy2502

    Ok let's open the floodgates to the whiny men who will throw a tantrum on how demanding the father's involvement in their children's education is just one more example of the "emasculation of modern man", the "feminization of society" and all the other infantile reactions we can't seem to do without in this kind of articles.

    February 12, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
  20. msp

    The presence of a father and his high expectations are very important to the children's education. My own father never set foot into any schools I and my siblings went to but he made it very clear that we were expected to do our best in everything we chose to do. There are 2 PhDs and 1 MS out of us 3 kids. Be a constant presence and make you expectation unmistakable. It is no surprise that children generally live up to your expectations.

    February 12, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  21. Frank

    What about the school system
    In the northeast that banned the father daughter dance because girls without fathers felt left out? That's the trend our baton is following. No fathers is the new norm and is being pushed as acceptable and even preferd. Our nation is getting what it asked for and deserves.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  22. Jorge

    My daughter decided to take high school auto shop this semester, she tells me that the brilliant piece of work in charge of the class didn't find it in his good graces to teach her tool safety before he gave her a grinder to scrape the tread liner off the bottom of his boat, and that he leers and grimaces whenever she asks him about proper procedure in doing a task. My daughter has learned more about tool safety, automotive science and workmanship just hanging around me and giving me a hand when I work on the family cars than she ever expects to learn from this teacher, who incidentally makes about $55,000/yr, and you're trying to tell me that what's lacking in the contemporary classroom are fathers????

    February 12, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • Samson

      I think the main point of the article is to say that in the nation as a whole, fathers are more absent than they should be. Sure there are some bad teachers and some bad dads. I know, personally, some amazing teachers but I also know some not-too-great-fathers.
      It is more of a broad issue than an individual or local issue.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Thanks for commenting, Jorge, and sorry to hear your daughter had a negative experience in that class. One thing the authors pointed out are that parents, and especially dads, don't always feel that they're made welcome at schools, or opportunities for them to help and be present aren't clear. Do you feel like your daughter's school made it easy for you to get involved?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Marie

      Well now Jorge, your her father, have you ever taught her how to use tools. I think signing up for auto shop class would require that a person has at least a little knowledge of the use of tools. I also was a teenage girl and took classes like woodshop, but my dad taught me how to use tools and helped me develop some basic knowledge. Plus I had to show all those cute boys I could use a band saw. It's kinda like the boy that takes home ec just because he wants a class with all girls. Teenagers are not to be trusted, I know my parents shouldn't have trusted me so much. I was devious and sneaky. She probably pays more attention to flirting than to learning and that would get her leered at because she is a distraction to the entire class and make his job more difficult than if she truly wanted to learn what he has to teach. Go to class with her one day, don't tell her ahead of time either. Check it out for yourself. It might be enlightening for you.

      February 13, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  23. earl breaux

    Dicipline is whats missing in schools

    February 11, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  24. Kylie

    Parent involvement is important, not only for dads. Parents should know how their kid(s) are doing in class to make sure they are on task and are comfortable with the learning material.

    February 11, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  25. dmc

    Proofread this, as I believe it is incorrect as applies to the authors intention: "As fewer children grow up without their fathers in the United States, educational success will continue to erode, regardless of reforms that specifically address education systems."

    February 11, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  26. Dan

    More kids in the US are living without their family of origin than one might think (http://empiricalmag.blogspot.com/2013/02/february-excerpt-second-time-foster.html). Many are without even their mothers. So needless to say, many of our problems in school could have something to do with that.

    February 11, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
  27. Haf Nguyen

    Reblogged this on Hanguyenf and commented:
    I love this article 'cause I have great father. He taught me that how wonderful to learn and to be educated at school.

    February 11, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  28. Mary Leonhardt

    Yes, fathers need to read to children but, even more importantly, they need to read for pleasure themselves.

    When I interviewed the avid readers in my high school classes, to see what common denominator I could find that had sparked their love of reading, it was clear with my boys that the common denominator was a father, or sometimes a grandfather or brother, who loved to read.

    One boy talked about staying up for most of every Friday night taking turns with his father reading aloud from his father's science fiction collection. Another told me how his father had a large bookcase filled with comics, and they read them all together. Another told me his grandfather had a large collection of fishing magazines that they read. Another told me his father used to put him on his lap in the morning to read the box scores in the newspaper. He grew up to love sports writing.

    All of these boys were great readers, and great students, by the time they walked into my class.


    February 11, 2013 at 8:26 am |
    • Marie

      I agree. Since my boys were very young I always took them to the library once a week. Now I get home later from work each night and their dad takes them to the library instead of me. Since he has taken over that task, all of them have begun to show more of an interest in reading. My youngest is 7, he was struggling at the beginning of the school year with reading and was in the lowest level of skill in his class. He is now reading on a thrid grade level and is in the highest level of skill in his class. While I know he has worked his little buns off, I really believe that his dad plays a major role in that.

      February 13, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  29. mrmattpieroni

    Reblogged this on Mr. Matt Pieroni (per-row-knee) and commented:
    "...the increase in out-of-wedlock births – now 40% of all births – has contributed to the reality that more than 24 million children in America live in homes absent a biological father."
    The numbers in this article are a real eye opener. I realized that divorce was high, but never imagined how high the rates of absentee fathers are. A fathers presence in the classroom or school does "communicate something to their child and teachers".

    February 11, 2013 at 7:39 am |