When a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing declares that it will focus on “Ensuring the Education System is Accountable to Parents and Communities“, one would expect to see a list of witnesses including Gwen Samuel of the Connecticut Parents Union, Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, Matt Prewett of the Texas Parents Union, and even the folks at Black Alliance for Educational Options. But today, the House subcommittee conducting this hearing didn’t include any of these advocates for making parents the lead decision-makers in education. Shameful. The committee and its chairman, John Kline, have missed an opportunity to make Parent Power efforts — including Parent Trigger laws already passed in three states — a critical element of federal education policy, and actually spur systemic reform.
Given that the hearing also focused on Kline’s obsession with gutting the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (and his equally wrongheaded opposition to Common Core standards), it isn’t surprising that the subcommittee holding the hearing invited fellow-travelers such as otherwise admirable University of Arkansas scholar Jay P. Greene. But somehow, for some reason, Kline and subcommittee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), failed to invite any of the leading lights of the growing Parent Power movement, and, in the process, made the hearing rather incomplete.
After all, as Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times points out in his column today, the Golden State’s Parent Trigger law has already begun making an impact, forcing school districts to pay attention to the demands of families — especially those from poor and minority communities — for high-quality teaching and curricula. In the process, these laws, along with school voucher plans, inter-district school choice efforts such as that being pursued in Michigan by Gov. Rick Snyder, and charter schools, give parents and caregivers real voice in shaping the educational destinies of the children they love. Given that Parent Power activists are also among the leading players among the new, emerging civil rights activists replacing the old-school NAACP crowd — along with the rhetoric of Kline and company about making education a truly local concern — Parent Trigger laws are key in expanding the ability of parents to improve schools in their own communities. And as revealed last month by Dropout Nation, the very existence of Parent Power groups have also proven to be a threat taken seriously by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association; any reform effort considered a real threat by education traditionalists is one to which a congressional committee should pay attention.
The good news is that Bill Jackson of GreatSchools.org did mention the efforts of the Connecticut Parents Union. But that isn’t enough. By ignoring these activists, Kline, Hunter and their fellow congressional Republicans on the committee have ignored an area in which federal education policy can help encourage and expand. No Child’s school choice provisions, which required school districts to allow students in failing schools to move to better-performing operations, may have not been implemented well by districts which often had no high-performing schools to send those kids to them (and didn’t want to actually comply with that aspect of the law in the first place). But the provision, along with the federal Race to the Top initiative, has served as a catalyst for pushing states into passing school choice laws and expanding the reach of charter schools. This time around, Kline could have used the hearing as the opportunity to force Senate counterpart Tom Harkin and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the table on crafting a new No Child that would require states and districts to implement Parent Trigger laws. This could take place either in the petition format embraced in California or the slightly less-powerful version found in Connecticut. But Parent Power should be a part of those conversations.
Once again, Kline and his gang have proven to be less than serious when it comes to federal education policy. Luckily for families, the Parent Power movement will grow long before congressional Republicans finally give it serious consideration.