Parents need to help each other. As a parent and former math teacher there are a few tips I would like to share to help your children succeed in school.
It is most important parents are involved with their children's education: examining school work, helping with homework, and checking on performance. If your child goes to a school where too many of the parents do not or cannot help their children with school work, you will probably find your child is at an under-performing school.
Here are some tips regarding the core skills in elementary school, which is the foundation for all education.
ELEMENTARY & MIDDLE SCHOOL
Elementary school and middle school are weak links in the Plano mathematics program. You will see your child does not have enough math homework. You can get supplemental math material to give your child more homework. I use a series called Spectrum Math, published by School Specialty Publishing in Ohio. I have found it at Borders and Barnes & Nobel bookstores. It says it is aligned to state and national standards, and that is important. The series is organized by grade. Here are links to the 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, and 6th Grade books.
According to the TEKS: "By the end of Grade 5, students know basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts and are using them to work flexibly, efficiently, and accurately with numbers during addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division computation." Yes, the TEKS say our children need to know math facts, which are the math tables.
The TEKS say, "the primary focal points at Grade 6 are using ratios to describe proportional relationships involving number, geometry, measurement, and probability and adding and subtracting decimals and fractions." Connected Math is weak on these points, so parents in Plano must provide tutoring.
Multiplication and Division
Third grade creates problems for some children. If you go to the official state curriculum and read what it says about 3rd grade math you will see this: "... the primary focal points at Grade 3 are multiplying and dividing whole numbers..."
Parents: check your child's work. If your child is not getting enough work in multiplication and division, then you must tutor your child on the math facts. Many children enter 4th grade unprepared because their teacher did not put enough emphasis on math facts. The TAKS test checks for concept mastery rather than skills mastery. This means your child can pass the TAKS test, pass for the year, and still not be able to multiply and divide proficiently
You should use flash cards and assign your own homework to your children.
I also use TAKS MASTER, Power Practice for School and Home, Math. I have also use the one for Reading. Here are links to the book for 3rd Grade Reading and 3rd Grade Math. Once you understand the TAKS test, you will see it is very well organized. The TAKS MASTER book organizes problems into sections by the objectives. You might find your child is strong in most sections but weak in one or two, then you can coach your child on the weaknesses. This helps you find where the school has been overlooking material.
I recommend working with your child with material to help them with their first exposure to TAKS tests. The TAKS test is intentionally tricky, especially with "false attractors", answers that are almost correct intended to mislead your child. You can find more tips on the TAKS test in this post in the Plano Parents blog: TAKS Time: Watch Out for the Test Traps, Sunday, March 7, 2010.
In the early grades you must oversee your child's progress in reading. There was not enough phonics content in the curriculum when my daughter was young. We supplemented her instruction with more material on phonics.
At that time a friend recommended "The Phonics Game" by A Better Way of Learning. That company has been criticized for making exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims. They might not be in business now, but the game was helpful with both of my children.
To help my son when he was learning to read I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann. The book is adapted from the SRA DISTAR reading program. The program worked well and I recommend it. When I was a child my school used the SRA Reading Laboratory Kit. I remember enjoying working my way through their color coded reading program.
Grammar and Writing
Public schools do a poor job conveying knowledge to children, and consequently grammar is poorly taught. Parents need to teach their children grammar. Writing instruction is also warped by faulty educational philosophy. Good writing and good grammar go hand in hand. Parents need to take an active role in teaching good grammar and good writing to their children. Talk to college professors and they will tell you the output from the public schools is dismal.
Plano teaches children how to write words, but the school district does not teach penmanship. Teachers will tell you that everyone types now, so penmanship is unimportant.
So if you believe good quality printing or cursive writing is a sign of a well educated person, you will have to teach penmanship to your child. There are workbooks on penmanship at teacher supply stores and at Amazon.com.
Plano teaches children to guess the meaning of words instead of looking the words up in a dictionary. They did it when my daughter was in 2nd grade and they were still recommending it when she was in 10th grade. It was a bad strategy then and it still is a bad strategy.
Parents need to emphasize repeatedly the importance of using the dictionary. You need to buy good age appropriate dictionaries for your home and make sure your children use them. Online dictionaries are also good.
I learned much of my adult vocabulary in elementary school because we were always learning new words, looking them up in the dictionary. Our children are being short-changed.
Do not wait until your child is facing the SAT test in high school to care about vocabulary. In elementary school or middle-school I suggest this book: Picture These SAT Words by Philip and Susan Geer.
The most important contribution parents make to their children's education is their moral eduction. We have a separate web page on this topic.