This is second in a series of ten summertime articles mapping the common ground upon which parents, educators, and communities can unite regarding one of the most divisive topics in America: public education. 

The leader of a major school software company once claimed he can predict the success of any student in his system. He did not need any of the demographics, grades, or other records stored in his vast computers. He just needed to know if anyone logged in to check on a child’s progress – not daily, weekly, or even monthly. Just once, he claimed, to check on that child. To think, all my nagging as a parent, wasted!  

Although an infinite number of factors impact a child’s education, we know children excel most when a supportive adult is actively involved, and they don’t always need helicopters circling overhead. They just need to know that their education matters to someone – anyone. I cannot responsibly reduce educational success to a click of the mouse, but I can confidently summarize troves of educational research as well as my entire experience as an educator into one simple principle: The parent is the most important educator in a child’s life. 

The parent is the educational foundation and backbone of not only a child’s education but the entire educational system. This is true for public school, private school, and home school, from preschool to university. Schools can assist in a child’s education, and we can advise and support parents, but we can do very little without parents’ support. Such a statement would not have been controversial just a few years ago, so before you cancel me, let me explain. 

When I use the term parent, I obviously mean parent in the traditional sense, but parent also includes the countless grandparents, relatives, and others providing the invaluable service of nagging their beloved children to get their homework done, to get to school on time, and to behave. We don’t think of it as nagging, but that’s how our kids see it, and children generally know who loves them most by who nags them to be their best, even if it is a simple click of the mouse. (Despite some students’ claims, it is not cyberbullying to check their grades.) Sometimes, however, parents need some help, because without someone gently nagging these kids, none of this works.

I am the youngest of seven, and my dad died before I could know him. My single mom cared deeply about my education, but she did not nag me much because she was either at work (often nights) or too tired, despite how much she deeply loved me. From the earliest age, I took full advantage of the situation to become a very accomplished delinquent, so to most teachers I resembled a feral cat more than an actual child. Nevertheless, in each of the fifteen schools I attended before graduation, at least one adult lovingly nagged me. Sometimes it was my teacher, but sometimes it was the custodian, the cook, or the bus driver. Even when my mom needed a nap, I knew someone was watching over me. 

When I assert that the parent is the most important educator in a child’s life, I understand that the definition of parent varies greatly. I also understand that the smallest contribution of a caring adult can exponentially multiply a parent’s efforts. We educators can assist parents but only with their support, and if we ever forget this, we have lost our way. Thankfully, 80% of parents and 80% of educators agree on 80% of the issues, making this partnership possible. Exceptions exist to any rule, but parents and educators working together can rule any exception, especially when we focus on a child’s needs before politics. Most importantly, however, we must never forget who is the most important educator in a child’s life. 

Tom Deighan is a public educator and currently serves as Superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. He may be reached at