Key Things Parents Can Do To Make Sure Their Children Are Prepared For The 21st Century

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

 We live in a world where technological innovation and global competition are increasing at a pace never before seen. Now is the time to invest in our children to make sure they are prepared to succeed in the 21st century.
— U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

Make sure your child understands the importance of math in elementary school, and encourage your child to take more math, science and critical language courses in high school.

  • In the increasingly competitive global economy, it is crucial for American students to be well-trained in math, science and critical languages (such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Russian).
  • U.S. students are currently performing below their international peers in math and science.
  • In 1983, the landmark education report, A Nation at Risk, recommended that high school students take a minimum of three years of math and three years of science. Yet today, only 22 States and the District of Columbia require at least this amount.
  • Currently, only 44% of American high school students are enrolled in a foreign language class. And less than 1% of American high school students study critical foreign languages.
Take Action:
  • Encourage your elementary school child in his/her math homework. Remind him/her of the importance of learning math for success in high school, college, and beyond.
  • Learn your State's math and science requirements for high school graduation.
  • Encourage your child to take four years of math and four years of science in high school, even if it is not required.
  • Find out what kind of critical language courses your child's school offers. Encourage your child's school to offer them and encourage your child to take them.

Encourage your child to take more Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school.

  • Nearly 75% of high school graduates enter college, but only 12% of these students have completed a significant college-prep curriculum. Research shows that students who take rigorous courses in high school stand a far greater chance of succeeding in college.
  • AP students are much more likely than their peers to graduate from college in four years or less. The four-year college graduation rate for students who take two or more AP courses is 32 percentage points higher than for those who don't take any AP courses. And the rate for students who take just one AP course is 16 percentage points higher than for those who don't take any.
Take Action:
  • Find out what AP courses your child's high school offers. Make sure they meet the true definition of Advanced Placement and are not simply "honors" courses. If the school does not offer any, encourage it to do so.
  • Encourage your child to take AP courses.

Encourage your child's teacher to take advantage of the Department of Education's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative.

  • Research has shown that students taught by effective teachers greatly outperform those taught by ineffective teachers.
  • The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires teachers of core academic subjects to be deemed "highly qualified" by their State. This means that they have a bachelor's degree, full State certification, and demonstrated competency in each core academic subject they teach.
  • The Department's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative supports educators' professional development by engaging the nation's best teachers and principals to share strategies for raising student achievement.
Take Action:
  • Find out if your child's teacher is "highly qualified." Find out if your child's middle school or high school math and science teachers have degrees in their field.
  • If your child's teacher is not "highly qualified," make sure the district and school have a plan in place to help him/her become highly qualified.
  • Encourage your child's teacher to take advantage of the U.S. Department of Education's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative. Through the Teacher-to-Teacher website,, your child's teacher can participate in free "eLearning" professional development courses, sign up for regular email updates on teacher-related issues, and learn about what the Department is doing to support teachers.
  • Your State may allow the Department's free "eLearning" courses to count toward a teacher's professional development credit and toward meeting the "highly qualified" requirements. Find out at:
  • Find out if your child's school has a program that allows well-qualified individuals outside the public education system to teach courses in high-need areas as adjunct teachers. If they do, and if you have skills in math, science, or critical languages, consider teaching a course.
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