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Raise a Smarter Kid!

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The U.S. Secretary of Education shares his back-to-school success secrets for your family.

For him, it's personal. As the parent of a first-grader and a third-grader, both of whom attend public school in Arlington, VA, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (above) has a really big stake in this country's school system. He's got some serious priorities in Washington, but he's also set some goals for parents like you. Follow his five suggestions and watch your child's future soar:

1. Friend your child's teacher Have an ongoing conversation; don't chat just once or twice a year. If the only time you show up is on report-card day, something is wrong. “I am in awe of what teachers get done every single day,” Duncan notes. “I would not underestimate the power of parents and students going to the teacher and saying ‘Thank you.’ They did not go into teaching to make a million dollars—they did it for that personal human connection.”

2. Power down “Technology can accelerate learning, but it can also be a huge distraction that can make kids passive,” Duncan says. “Parents are stressed and distracted, too, and it becomes too easy to turn on the TV. I grew up without a TV in my house—I used to sneak over to my friend's to watch it—and we try our best to keep the TV and video games turned off in our home now, too.”

3. Make some time Even if you can't run the PTA fund-raising committee or be the class mom, there is a way to help. For loads of suggestions on simple ways to do your part, see “The Busy Mom's Guide to Helping at School,” page 118.

4. Have family dinners often It doesn't matter what's on the table (yeah, even the Duncans have pizza night!); what matters is that parents and kids score time to unwind and chat without any distractions.

5. Read out loud—together “We sit in the living room and read as a family—sometimes it's twenty minutes, sometimes it's an hour. It depends on when I get home, soccer practice, if it's a weekend. It's about the routine, and it's something I loved as a kid,” Duncan recalls fondly.

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