President Barack Obama, who is spending billions of dollars to overhaul the U.S. public education system, says there's one sure thing parents can do to help their kids learn, regardless of financial means: Forbid them from watching television on school nights.
Of his own daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, Obama told Essence magazine: "The girls don't watch TV during the week. Period."
The first thing they do after school is homework. If they haven't finished by dinnertime, around 6:30 p.m., they pick up where they left off after the meal. And after that, they can read until they hit the sack. Malia's bedtime is 9 p.m.; Sasha's lights go out a half hour earlier, he said.
The president discussed his daughters in response to a question about what parents can do to help foster learning.
Obama, who said he hasn't missed a parent-teacher conference since taking office, said parents can stay in touch with their children's teachers.
"Very early on, we set expectations for Malia and Sasha in terms of them taking responsibility for their own education," Obama said. They got alarm clocks at age 4 to begin waking themselves up, making their own beds and getting themselves ready to get to school on time.
"We monitor them. But they are expected to be prepared to learn when they go to school," he said.
He and first lady Michelle Obama also began reading to their daughters when they were babies, and encouraged them to appreciate education.
"There's no doubt that Michelle and I have more resources and privileges compared with a lot of parents. We understand that," he said in the interview, appearing in the magazine's March issue. "But I don't care how poor you are — you can turn off the television set during the week."
Earlier this month, Obama sent Congress a budget proposal for 2011 that seeks an additional $4 billion in spending on education at the same time he has proposed a freeze on most domestic spending. The $787 billion economic stimulus bill enacted shortly after he took office also created a $4.35 billion competitive grant program for states that adopt various education reforms.
The March issue of Essence magazine hits newsstands nationwide this week.
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