Parent “choice” is not parent voice

Parents Across America’s Response to Testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee

Hearing held May 16, 2012

Exploring State Success in Expanding Parent and Student Options”

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing which was promoted as a discussion on “state efforts to expand parental engagement.”

However, the title of the actual hearing (see heading above) and the testimony of three of the four invited speakers, made it clear that the leadership defines parent engagement solely as parental choice.

In his opening comments, subcommittee chair Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) essentially equated parental empowerment with expanded charter schools, parent trigger laws, and school vouchers, i.e., the privatization agenda of corporate reform

Chairman Hunter even tried to tie those strategies to the research showing the many positive outcomes of true, comprehensive parental involvement – despite the data showing that charters, trigger laws, and vouchers have failed overall (see, for example, PAA fact sheet, “Research showing NCLB doesn’t work and PAA positions do.”)

Parents Across America (PAA) believes that House leadership has incorrectly defined parental interests in education, and are therefore promoting inappropriate, ineffective solutions that are more likely to weaken than strengthen our public school system.

PAA has repeatedly and so far unsuccessfully asked to be invited to speak at House and Senate education committee hearings to voice that perspective, which is in alignment with the opinion of the majority of parents in the US.

For example, 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.

We know that charter school parents actually have very little voice in the policies or programs of these schools, and few serve on their governing boards.

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).

We appreciated the testimony of Dr. Maria A. Fletcher, president of the New York State PTA, whose comments yesterday most closely represented the opinion of the majority of U.S. parents:

Public school choice is a good thing – but choice shouldn’t be viewed as an engagement strategy. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question – instead of asking how to empower parents by providing alternatives to their neighborhood school, why aren’t we empowering parents by engaging all stakeholders to ensure that every neighborhood school lives up to the quality promise we’ve made to educate all students? ….’Your school is broken – send your child here instead’ isn’t tantamount to effectively engaging parents in education.

Parents should not have to “choose” to obtain a good school for our children, every child should have the right to a quality education no matter what school he or she attends; and the goal of system-wide improvement is what the privateers seem to have forgotten or abandoned.

PAA knows that many schools are broken. But 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. (Please see our position paper, “The Empowerment Parents Want: The LSC Model for School Reform)

There is strong evidence over the years that LSCs have been a successful element of effective school reform. PAA understands that parent involvement and the LSC model are not magic bullets. Chicago’s schools, for example, continue to struggle despite the best efforts of LSCs.

However, the research-based LSC model is a vastly superior “choice” for 
involving parents when included in a comprehensive set of proven 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 are empowered, and children better educated, only when parents 
are full partners in education policy making.

We hope that the next time the House or Senate education committee calls a hearing, we will be able to share that perspective.

*Please see these related position papers

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