A New School Year is Starting. Make Sure YOUR Child Isn't 'Left Behind'

The House and Senate have put forth competing plans to overhaul the No Child Left Behind act and the arguing continues in Washington. But 54 million U.S. kids simply can't wait for the grownups to sort things out: School is starting soon whether they like it or not. As a parent you may find yourself wondering what you can do right now to make sure your child gets a great education.

Let's start by what needs to happen at home. A good night's sleep is no substitute for a top-notch school, but it's essential to helping your child focus in the classroom. The National Sleep Foundation recently released updated guidelines for the amount of zzz's kids need, and those ages 6 to 13 should get 9 to 11 hours a night. You'll also want to investigate any health surprises that might undermine academic success. Up to one in four school age children have a vision problem that could impair learning, according to the American Optometric Association. Other to-dos:

*Turn off the devices during homework time and keep screens out of your child's bedroom

*Ensure your child eats a good breakfast before school

*Get your kid to school on time

*Help make sure the homework gets done

Next step? Go to school yourself. Talk with teachers and administrators. The U.S. Department of Education just released a checklist to help guide that conversation. Focus not only on academics but also on how your child's school handles everything from bullying to school lunch. For example, if my school had a zero-tolerance discipline policy that extended to kindergarteners, I'd want to change that. Don't forget to ask about recess and gym. "The very high-performing schools I visit almost universally understand this and find ways to keep exercise happening," says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The DOE also recommends asking administrators how they know a teacher is effective. "There is a huge variation in how schools determine teachers' effectiveness," Duncan says. "Ask your administrator, How do you help teachers get better every year? Professional development should be part of the fabric of a school." If your child doesn't seem excited about and engaged in school, that's a red flag.

Finally, do some homework of your own. Attend a local school-board meeting to get a sense of what's going on in your community. "There are 15,000 local school boards and whether it's recess or discipline, decisions aren't made in Washington but by local boards," says Secretary Duncan. "We need more parents stepping up."

Secretary Duncan, incidentally, isn't super-optimistic about Congress sorting out the competing education plans this year. "No Child Left Behind has been broken for years. Congress has been broken for years," he says. So expect education debates to be ongoing during the presidential election cycle. "Whether you're Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, it doesn't matter," he adds. "If we had more parents in the voting booth voting around education I guarantee our nation would be stronger and better."

Dana Points is Editor in Chief of Parents. Her two boys get most of their homework done.

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