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Event Highlights the Importance of Families, Fatherhood

Ken Bedell, Senior Advisor at the Education Partnerships Center, describes his highlights from a recent conference at the Department of Education.

When ETS is mentioned I think of educational testing…and I remember the anxiety of taking my own SAT and GRE exams!  However, last week I saw a different side of ETS through a day-long conference on The Family: America’s Smallest School.  Speakers and panels discussed recent research on what is happening with American families, successful programs that are effective in supporting families, and family policy strategies.

President Obama, this Administration and the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships have done a tremendous amount of work supporting strong families.  For example the Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Center at the Department of Education conducted seminars at historically black colleges.  The Department has also published a resource for parents called Parent Power.

The keynote address was delivered by Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education at the Department of Education.  She set the tone for the discussion by describing the role that her family played in supporting her own education.  Particularly moving was the story of her grandmother, who was a teacher in Mexico.  After retiring from teaching she refused to join her daughter and granddaughter in the United States because she was so much a part of the community where she had taught for years.  As Dr. Meléndez’ story illustrated, families teach children to value education.
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn from the Teachers College and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University reported on the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. She talked about the importance of structure and stability in children’s lives.  According to Dr. Brooks-Gunn, these studies provide the only data we have on the influence of fathers on children’s lives over time.
The conference helped me understand why the President’s Fatherhood initiative and the Department of Education parent involvement work is so important.  Here are a few resources that may be helpful to those who are interested in these initiatives:

• A description of the Fatherhood Initiative can be found at
• The Department of Education has a resource for parents that is available at
• The Office of Special Education also has resources at

Ken Bedell is the Senior Advisor at the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.