Press release * For immediate release
January 31, 2012
Julie Woestehoff, PAA co-founder, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago 773-715-3989
Leonie Haimson, PAA co-founder, Class Size Matters, New York City – 212-674-7320
Lorie Barzano, PAA, The Coalition to Strengthen Austin (TX) Urban Schools – 512-447-5577
Karran Harper Royal, PAA founder, Education advocate – 504-722-8174
Parents Across America releases a proposal
for real parent empowerment in schools
An antidote to phony “parental choice”
Chicago, IL and other cities across the US – Today, Parents Across America (PAA), a non-partisan, non-profit national network of public school parent activists, released a proposal for true parent empowerment that authentically involves parents in collaborative school decision making and has a strong research base in improving student achievement. Please see our position paper, “The Empowerment Parents Want: A Real, Effective Voice in our Children’s Education.”
PAA proposes its “LSC model,” a form of elected parent-majority school governance, as an antidote to recent efforts of corporate school reformers to brand parent triggers, school choice, vouchers and other attacks on public education as “parental empowerment.”
We know that these strategies do not reflect what most parents actually want, or what works for children and schools. A 2010 Phi Delta Kappa poll found that 54 percent of Americans think the best thing to do about low-performing schools is to keep the school open with the same staff and give it more support. Only 17 percent wanted to close the school and reopen it with a new principal, and just 13 percent wanted to replace it with a charter school.
Even strong charter school proponent Ben Austin, of the Parent Revolution, recently said that parents at most of the schools his organization is working with are not interested in turning their school into a charter school, but rather want to focus on improving their existing schools (EdSource Extra, 1/12/12).
According to parent Lorie Barzano of the Coalition to Strengthen Austin (TX) Urban Schools, PAA’s newest affiliate, “At every meeting I have attended in the past year, at least one parent speaks out that ‘we want to fix our public schools, not bring in outside contractors or untested experiments.’ ”
It’s not that parents aren’t concerned about bad schools. We are. But, as explained in a recent report by Public Agenda, “What’s Trust Got to do with it?,” parents and community members give tremendous value to their local public schools. Closing their schools feels like a body blow – as though the community itself is being written off.
Parents also doubt the ability of elected officials and district leaders to make the right intervention and policy decisions; in fact, Public Agenda found that a strong majority of the public trusts the judgment of parents and teachers far more.
This lack of trust is reinforced when public officials cozy up to wealthy hedge fund operators, venture philanthropists, and school privatizers, take their marching orders from astroturf advocacy groups, or “rent” supporters, as recently happened during school closing hearings in Chicago.
“Parents in New York City and elsewhere are furious about the way in which their children’s public schools are being forced to close, or share space with charter schools,” said Leonie Haimson, a co-founder of PAA and the head of Class Size Matters. “School choice does not really exist when the priorities of thousands of parents to strengthen their local public schools, rather than write them off, are completely dismissed by policy makers.”
In New Orleans, parents’ efforts to have a voice in charter schools have been blocked. “(Louisiana State School Superintendent) John White wants us to believe that we can give input to those charters and they will run the schools based on our input. There is nothing in law that requires them to hear us. In fact, the time to engage the community should have been before the charter was written, not after. This is fake community engagement; input after you write a charter is not authentic community engagement,” said New Orleans parent Karran Harper Royal, a founding member of PAA.
Rather than requiring parents to “trigger” a restrictive, damaging set of reforms or shop around among wildly divergent charter schools, PAA supports the kind of empowerment which involves parents authentically at the ground level and in district-, state-, and nationwide policy discussions about how to improve schools.
To provide the opportunity for such authentic parent involvement at the local school level, PAA recommends adoption of a school governance model based on Chicago’s Local School Councils. LSCs are duly-elected, parent-majority bodies at nearly every Chicago public school. They have real power – including hiring, evaluating and firing a school’s principal. LSCs oversee a school wide process of program and budget evaluation, planning, and monitoring that offers the kind of collaborative effort researchers say is needed to make local reform succeed.
Chicago’s LSCs have proven to be a positive element of effective school reform for nearly two decades (for details, please see the fact sheet, “Research Shows that Local School Councils Help Improve Schools!”.
“Anyone interested in learning about and advancing democratic, participatory models of parent representation and governance needs to understand the operational history of Local School Council (LSCs) in Chicago, Illinois. As a teacher, organizer, and parent advocate, I highly recommend those interested in improving conditions in public education investigate the LSC model as an archetype for change,” said Mark Friedman, a PAA member from Rochester, NY.
PAA understands that parent involvement and the LSC model are not magic bullets. Chicago’s schools, for example. continue to struggle for a variety of reasons — despite the best efforts of LSCs.
However, the LSC model is a vastly superior “choice” for involving parents when included in a comprehensive set of research-based reforms including equitable and sufficient funding, pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten, small classes, strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.*
We believe that parents will be truly empowered, and children better educated, only when parents are full partners in education policy making.
LSC FAQ here.
*Please see PAA’s position statement, PAA on Reforming NCLB