Talk about Old School.

In 1957, Chuck Berry had a hit that started, “Up in the mornin’ and out to school!” Fast-forward to the present and you’ll find that sentiment sorely lacking in our city.

The St. Louis public schools started the new year Monday, and only 72% of the kids showed up. On Tuesday, the attendance rate jumped to 84%. That’s a difference of almost 4,000 students.

Where were they on Monday? It wasn’t a holiday, the Cardinals weren’t playing a day game, there was nothing special going on. So why didn’t their parents make sure they were at school, ready to go? How can the superintendent of schools call that a successful start? And what’s keeping the other 16% of kids away?

These are the kind of questions that have to be asked, but never are. If St. Louis wants to thrive again as a city — if any American urban area wants to turn the tide — it must have good public schools. Without that, you’ll never get families back in town, and without families, you’re lost as a city.

There’s been so much news and too much noise about the school board, the superintendent, and all the rest. It’s the typical litany of distracting arguments and infighting that don’t focus on the number one problem in education today — lack of participation by parents.

I’m not talking about joining the PTO. I’m talking about parents doing what they’re supposed to do, instilling in their children that school is a MUST, not a choice — that education is the key to everything in life, that there’s no excuse for not showing up — and then making sure their kids get there every single day, starting on Day One.

But it can’t stop there. Parents have to stop asking the schools to handle every problem their kids might encounter. This is not just an urban problem. You’ll find it in the suburbs, too, and virtually every school district in the US. The reason many kids don’t succeed in school is because they don’t have a home environment that stresses the importance of learning and studying. If your kid doesn’t do her homework, whose fault is that? Don’t point the finger at anyone inside that brick building. Point it at the mirror.

Teachers want to teach, but when they chose this career path, they didn’t sign up to be your child’s psychologist, drug tester, discipline instructor, clothing inspector, probation officer, and nutritionist. Those are the responsibilities of parents. If you want teachers to perform all those extra duties, then pay them for the other five jobs you’re making them do.

Are schools completely blameless? Of course not. In some cases, money is squandered, bad teachers aren’t fired, students are promoted from grade to grade who haven’t learned a thing, and lunch consists of tater tots and French toast on a stick.

On the other hand, some teachers have to pay for supplies out of their own pockets, haven’t seen new textbooks during their entire tenure in the classroom, and work in facilities that haven’t been upgraded since Laura Bush attended library school.

However, none of that detracts from the central problem in our educational system, the fact that Mom and Dad have to step up and do their job first (if, in fact, there are both a Mom and Dad at home). Just as parents helped their child take those first steps as a toddler, they must never relinquish the role as the ones who urge that child to keep moving forward.

That starts with getting them to school in the first place. Not just on the first day, but every day. Even the best teachers can’t help a student who isn’t in the building.