SEATTLE - Blaming teachers for low test scores, poor graduation rates, and the other ills of American schools has been popular lately, but a new survey wags a finger closer to home.
An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what's wrong with the U.S. education system - more than teachers, school administrators, the government, or teachers unions.
Only 35 percent of those surveyed agreed that teachers deserve a great deal or a lot of the blame. Mothers were more likely than fathers - 72 percent versus 61 percent - to say parents are at fault. Conservatives were more likely than moderates or liberals to blame parents.
Those who said parents are to blame were more likely to cite a lack of student discipline and low expectations for students as serious problems in schools. They were also more likely to see fighting and low test scores as big problems.
"Nobody is too busy to raise a child for a successful future," said Wilfred Luise Vincent, 65, of Coppell, Texas. Vincent worked early or late shifts for Delta Airlines during most of his career so his two daughters would have a parent at home after school.
Now he's retired and home after school to help guide his granddaughter while his daughter works.
The problems that children and their parents deal with in and out of school every day are growing, said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a Chicago advocacy group.
Children are tired, hungry, and need someone to help them with homework. Some face violence at home or in their neighborhoods. Some parents are trying so hard to keep a roof over their families that they can't help with school.
More than half of those polled said student discipline and fighting, violence, and gangs were extremely or very serious problems in schools. Nearly as many expressed concern about getting and keeping good teachers.
Most said education in their local public schools was excellent or good, but 67 percent also believed the United States is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to education.
But a majority of parents see improvement in the system since they were in school: 55 percent believe their children are getting a better education than they did, and three-quarters rate the quality of education at their children's schools as excellent or good. Most say their children's schools do a good job of preparing students for college, the workforce, and adult life.
One in 10 kindergarten and first-grade students misses a month of school every year, which can put him or her behind classmates for years, according to Attendance Counts, an advocacy group. By ninth grade, missing 20 percent of school is a better predictor of dropping out than test scores are, said Attendance Counts director Hedy Chang. In the poll, 41 percent said not spending enough time in school was a serious problem.
Educating parents about how the school system works and welcoming them to get involved may also help their children, according to Joyce L. Epstein, research professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, who focuses on school, family, and community partnerships.
The poll was conducted Sept. 23-30 by Abt SRBI Inc. It involved telephone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.