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PARENTS' ROLE IS ESSENTIAL TO EDUCATION, AUTHOR SAYS

"We are on a crusade," Sherry Ferguson says of herself and Lawrence Mazin, coauthors of a book called "Parent Power." Visiting Salt Lake City to promote the book, she does speak with the passion of a crusader.

Who's to blame for American students' declining or stagnant test scores? Should we hold parents or schools responsible for a dropout rate of nearly 30 percent? Ferguson's voice rises when she answers questions such as these. She's a mother of two (12- and 14-year-old boys), a former teacher and the current superintendent of the Pinal County School District in Pinal County, Ariz.She's convinced a child's education is the responsibility of parents. "I wrote this book because I was frustrated," she says. "Every time the legislators meet they give us new things to teach, but no more time in which to do it."

As it is now, Ferguson says, the average time spent on math in the elementary classroom is 37 hours a year. On reading it's 90 hours a year. Teachers don't have time to teach values, nor are they trained to do it. Parents should be the ones educating children about drug abuse, dental hygiene, honesty and AIDS, she says.

And they should be laying the foundation for math, reading, spelling and other basics; checking homework; disciplining; and limiting television, too.

"It's hard to be a parent," she says. "It's hard to make sure your children succeed in school, but the rewards are worth it. And it is the most patriotic thing you can do for your country."

Ferguson and Mazin have set up a nonprofit organization through which they plan to channel the proceeds from their book back into "Parent Power" workshops, in which they teach the principles of their crusade.

Parents from all economic and social levels come to their workshops, Ferguson says. Middle-class families aren't the only ones who care about education. "Everyone wants their children to do better than they have done."

In her book and workshops, Ferguson explains that parents have much influence over their children's education and gives tips on how to be their coaches.

She tosses out some sobering statistics:

-The average high school graduate has spent 15,000 hours watching TV, only 11,000 hours in school.

-Reading is required in 80 percent of all classwork, yet 90 percent of the nation's fifth-graders read less than 4 minutes a day at home.

-The average 12-year-old communicates with his or her parents for 14 1/2 minutes a day. About 12 1/2 of these minutes are spent receiving reprimands, discipline and criticism.

Being more actively and positively involved in our children's lives, Ferguson promises, will help them do well in school. Her book is full of ideas and checklists on how to parent powerfully.

However, if you could only do one thing to help your children succeed in school, Ferguson says, this would be it: Tell them as they walk out the door each morning, "This is the most important thing you have to do with your life right now. School is your job. Learn all you can."