Your doctor might be a Harvard graduate working in a state-of-the-art clinic. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be healthy. If you’re smoking and eating fast food and not taking your blood pressure pills, there’s only so much that guy in the white coat can do for you. Having a healthy country is as much about what happens outside a doctor’s office as inside it.

The same is true for education. Quality schools and good teachers are important to improve education. So is what goes on in the rest of a child’s life.

We were reminded of this during the Iowa Education Summit this week. Speakers focused on everything from teacher quality to academic standards. They talked about paying teachers more and preschool and what other countries are doing.

It was a valuable conversation. What also must be part of the conversation going forward: what goes on when a child is not in class. It is at home where a child’s educational future is largely determined.

A kid with a painful ear infection cannot focus on learning multiplication tables. What do we want a teacher to do with the child who doesn’t get his homework done because his family was just evicted or he’s hungry or he’s being abused? Ensuring kids are fed and safe and have health care means talking about education in a larger context alongside human services and job creation and health care.

They are inseparable. Family income and test data are firmly linked. Being in foster care or having a mental health problem directly affects student performance.

Iowa lawmakers must recognize this reality when they make decisions about funding health care, economic development and social services. These other priorities directly affect how well Iowa’s children do in school.

There’s another factor that affects the classroom performance of our children: our working parents. Compared to other states, Iowa ranks high in the percentage of households where both parents work. That means many children spend afternoons un-supervised before their parents get home. In Des Moines, students are dismissed from school early every Wednesday. Most students don’t spend summer months reading Shakespeare or doing algebra. They play video games. This reality means organizations must step in to help overwhelmed parents. Nonprofits, businesses and churches can all play a role.

Schools are held accountable for low test scores and high drop-out rates. They should be. And so should parents. It is parents who decide whether a child watches television before bed or studies for a history test. Mom and dad don’t have to know how to calculate the velocity of a falling rock to read the physics textbook with a child. Get kids to school on time. Make sure they have breakfast. Check that assignments are turned in.

Education isn’t just a thing that happens to students in a building 180 days of the year. Parents of all income levels and educational backgrounds must take education seriously to improve the academic success of children in this state.

The summit has brought attention to an important issue that affects the future of our young people and the economy of our state. There are changes Iowa schools should make to improve education. Among the ideas that should be considered: longer school days, longer school years and innovation in teaching.

Yet improving student achievement is also about more than what happens in a school. It is about what happens in Iowa families. That is where the foundation for learning is laid — or not.

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