Voices of the Dropout Nation: Gwen Samuel on the Importance of Good Education Choices
The Tonya McDowell case (and that of Kelley Williams-Bolar earlier this year) have touched on the critical need for parents to have choice. But the cases also show the need for parents to become more-savvy in how they deal with schools and those who run them. For most of the past two centuries, American public education has offered a message that parents can send their child to any school and they will learn. This was never really the case, and the data gleaned over the past three decades — including the revelation of inflated graduation rates that hid the nation’s dropout and education crises — have made it clear that parents must take their rightful places as lead decision-makers in education. And this means parents must make good educational choices for their kids — and no longer tolerate mediocrity and worse.
In this Voices of the Dropout Nation, Connecticut Parents Union* President Gwen Samuel (whose organization is helping McDowell fight this case) argues that parents have to do more than simply trust schools with their children. Read, consider, and take action.
Parents, guardians and taxpayers, why do we allow other people to make all the decisions on behalf of our children in school? Even though we know some of those decisions are fiscally irresponsible or they put our children at risk
Would you take your child to a doctor that you know has a history of malpractice or treating their patients bad? You wouldn’t. Would you knowingly make your children drink spoiled milk, or eat rotten food? You wouldn’t! Yet, we send our children to some schools that we know are dangerous, staffed poorly, extremely low-performing, unwelcoming to families, lacking fiscal and staffing accountability. We send our kids to schools where people are paid regardless of whether the children learn.
Why? We, as parents, don’t want to get in trouble. We don’t want to make waves. We think it will get better one day. Well that day has not arrived and our kids are leaving graduating high school without the skills needed to attend or graduate college. Nor are they educated in ways that allow them to productively navigate life. The reason? The adults are not making children-friendly decisions to help them get a great education. Then to add salt on the wound, if a parent puts their child in a high quality school that may be in another school district they will be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
This is not okay! Parents, we can no longer turn a blind eye or ignore the situations our children face everyday.
If lawmakers and school leaders are not going to demand schools and their staffs to be fiscally and academically accountable for our children, then they should give us choice and attach each child with their per pupil amount. They can’t have it both ways. Either demand accountability of education leadership or give parents choice. If not, parents will take it. These are our babies and their lives are our responsibility.
Quality-blind education will continue until parents demand something different. We must demand access to excellent schools. That means, as parents, we can no longer have excuses for why we don’t visit our child’s school, or support them at home and in the community. If you can not support your child’s homework needs, let’s work together and find someone that can.
Parents want to be team players. We want to partner with educators, teachers, administrators, community and lawmakers to ensure better outcomes for all students. But the days of blind trust in what you do are over. We are learning to read and understand data, and learn and what high-quality schools should look like. Low performance will no longer be an acceptable option for our children. These are our children and we are responsible for their well-being!
*Full disclosure: Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle is an advisory board member of the Connecticut Parents Union.