Tag: Giving Parents Power

Education’s Status Quo to Parents: How Dare You Use Parent Trigger and Make Decisions!

When it comes to the role of parents at the education decision-making table, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, school districts and folks such as Diane Ravitch…

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

When it comes to the role of parents at the education decision-making table, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, school districts and folks such as Diane Ravitch think parents should be like kids: Barely seen and definitely not heard. If you don’t believe it, consider the reaction by the Compton Unified School District, the AFT’s local affiliate and such commentators as Valerie Strauss and Larry Ferlazzo to the move by parents at McKinley Elementary School to make use of California’s  Parent Trigger law and oust the district from management of the school.  From where the status quo folks stand, the McKinley parents exercising Parent Trigger are either dupes for nefarious charter school operators and evil, money-hungry foes of public education such as Ben Austin; or the parents are evil for daring to toss out decades of abysmal school management and classroom instruction. In their minds, it’s simply not possible for parents to actually be able to make their own choices.

Yet evidence abounds that when parents are highly-informed about the quality of education in their schools, driven to kick mediocrity and abysmal education to the curb, and given the tools to help their kids, they will certainly do so. Minorities and parents in high-poverty districts, for example, were more likely than middle-class parents to request a teacher for their child based on how teachers improved student achievement, according to a 2005 study by University of Michigan researcher Brian Jacob and Lars Lefgren of Brigham Young University. The growth of the charter school movement, the continuing presence of Catholic schools, the growth of online and alternative education options such as Sylvan and Kaplan, and the work of such organizations as the State of Black CT Alliance in rallying support for school reform, are also signs that parents should be given their rightful places as kings and lead decision-makers in education.

Despite the evidence, the Ravitches and Ferlazzos  maintain an attitude that parents should stay at the kid’s table when it comes to actually making school decisions. And it isn’t limited to Parent Trigger. Whether one is in a middle class suburb or in a big city, the attitude is generally the same: Parents should stick to field trips, homework and taking blame when test scores and graduation rates are revealed to be abysmal or mediocre.

This is especially so in urban districts, where poor and minority parents — many of whom have suffered in the same dropout factories and failure mills their kids are now educationally imprisoned — are shunted aside as so much garbage. More often than not, many teachers look down at these parents as being their inferiors instead of treating parents as equals. The experience of Virginia Walden Ford, who launched the school reform movement in Washington, D.C., is echoed in a study by Sage Colleges professors Peter McDermott and Julia Johnson Rothenberg, who noted that urban and low-income parents often perceive schools to be unwelcoming and interactions with teachers to be “painful encounters.”

Certainly this attitude among the status quo is manifested in other ways: The opposition to charter schools among the Gary Orfield-Richard Kahlenberg crowd (most recently expressed in a Miller-McCune interview with Erica Frankenburg and Gary Miron) on the ground that they foster resegregation; Miron in particular, ignores the reality that parents seek charter schools as high-quality options by declaring that “parents choose based on race and social class”. Then there is the embrace of the Ruby Payne-promulgated poverty myth — that poor parents are simply incapable of playing strong roles in education — among teachers and administrators. The low regard for even middle class parents among teachers, who label these families as “Burger King Parents” and “The Grass is Always Greener” for daring to demand more on behalf of their kids.

Certainly the reality that the players within the status quo — teachers union bosses, ed school professors, school administrators and even many teachers — don’t want to give up their power and autonomy is one reason for this opposition to parent power. The other reason lies with their conceit (one they share with some school reformers) that experts should actually make education decisions. After all, an ed school professor and a teacher with an array of grad degrees should have more knowledge about what kids should learn (and how it should happen) than some parent. Yet, as we have seen over the past 150 years — from the comprehensive high school model (created because of the misguided belief that immigrants and African Americans were incapable of mastering college prep work) to the array of new math theories that have fallen flat and even the traditional system of teacher compensation — the experts aren’t so good at this thing called education. Combined with other problems among status quo circles — including the rampant anti-intellectualism, willful ignorance of economics and unwillingness to consider the developments in sectors outside of K-12 — and this conceited view of parents turns from mere condescension to outright hostility.

Yet the rise of the modern school reform movement — and the emergence of charter schools, school choice and Parent Trigger — has all but assured that parents will be playing a stronger role in education. The underlying infrastructure for exercising decision-making — easy access to useful information through guides, organizations or Web sites; actual mechanisms for exercising choice that exist outside of home purchases — is just coming into existence. Many parents are just beginning to realize that the old concept of education — that the school can educate every child without active engagement of families that goes beyond homework and field trips — has gone by the wayside. But as I wrote at this same time last year, the school reform movement (like the development of cellphones and other consumer goods) is fostering choice. And choice begets choice; once parents are exposed to having real power and engagement in school decisionmaking, they will not want the so-called experts — including NEA and AFT bosses and the Ravitches of the world — in their way.

What McKinley represents is a response to the status quo: How dare you argue that families can’t think for themselves! How dare you limit our kids only to the proverbial sky! And by the way: Work with us or get out of the way! You’re either part of a better future or just boulders to be pushed aside.

The hostility against parents among education’s status quo is essentially anti-children. What these experts are tacitly arguing is that the educational, economic and social destinies of kids — especially our poorest children — don’t matter a wit. It’s time for parents to shunt these folks aside and take the power that is rightfully theirs.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Building Cultures of Genius Block by Block

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I explain why we need churches, iron men of success, parents and our other grassroots players to lead the overhaul of American public education….

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I explain why we need churches, iron men of success, parents and our other grassroots players to lead the overhaul of American public education. More than ever, parent trigger laws and sheer force of will is compelling grassroots activists to challenge the status quo and improve the quality of instruction, leadership and curricula in our schools. But we need more people to play their part.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, the Education Podcast Network and Zune Marketplace.

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Michelle Rhee’s School Reform Opportunity

If you are, as my colleague, Steve Peha, still disappointed in former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee for not sticking it out after her patron was ousted as Chocolate City’s…

If you are, as my colleague, Steve Peha, still disappointed in former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee for not sticking it out after her patron was ousted as Chocolate City’s mayor,  you will certainly have high hopes for her newly-launched Students First initiative. And if you are a general fan of work, as this editor is, you can’t help but support the initiative’s goals of rallying parents and community members to embrace and demand reform America’s teaching corps — and ensure that every student is given high-quality instruction.

At the same time, Students First is in some ways, less than satisfying. Why? Because Rhee’s initiative still doesn’t hit the sweet spot when it comes to school reform: Merging policy savvy with hard-core, take-it-to-the-streets activism and entrepreneurial (and operational) drive.

Right now, there is a divide of sorts within the school reform movement between the Beltway reformers (who spend plenty of time on policymaking and working the halls of Congress and statehouses), the grassroots activists (who do the tough work of rallying support door by door) and charter school operators and reformers working in state agencies and school districts (who put ideas into practice). While the three sides share the same goals and concern for reforming education so that every child can write their own story, they don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to getting things done. More often than not, the three parties often fail to understand the shortcomings of their own approaches and the importance of the work their colleagues are doing.

The biggest offenders are the Beltway-based reformers. As seen in the reaction earlier this year from big-named players such as Rick Hess to the Los Angeles Times’ special report on the low quality teachers in L.A. Unified schools,  the Beltway reformers  seem to prefer bloodless talk about reform than taking the steps  to make reform a reality (including publicly naming laggard teachers and the institutional leaders who protect them). Beltway reformers are also more comfortable with theory and policy than making things work and rough public battles with teachers unions and other defenders of traditional public education. They fail to understand the key lesson of every reformer, activist and revolutionary of any sort: You don’t accomplish anything without afflicting the comfortable within the status quo.

This problem extends beyond the sparring matches. Beltway reformers fail to understand that it takes more than policy to make reforms work.  Save for a few outfits such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (which actually authorizes charter schools), most are unwilling to do the unglamorous, difficult task of working with families and communities — from listening to concerns, providing time and other resources,  and dealing with the messiness of families (many of which are struggling with a litany of other issues) — in order to make reforms a reality. Although organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform are now playing more-prominent roles in political campaigns, they haven’t mastered the brutal art of election politics; so they end up conceding ground to teachers unions and other status quo defenders.

At the same time, grassroots activists and school reformers on the ground fail to understand the importance of policymaking, which often includes winning over politicians with carefully-worded jargon, working those legislative committee rooms, and crafting legislation that achieves the politically possible. As important as their shock troop work is to winning reform on the ground, they must still understand that the ground game is one part of the war over reforming American public education.

As for charter school operators and in-district reformers? Their problem lies in the fact that they are often too focused on operations and mission than on thinking about how their work can help make the case for reform. More-importantly,  as Rhee herself admitted in October in a Wall Street Journal she co-wrote with her former boss, Adrian Fenty, reform-minded operators don’t always realize the importance explaining to community members how their efforts will improve the quality of education for their kids. Nor do they dare to actually question their opponents within traditional public education on their essential anti-intellectualism and misunderstanding of such matters as economics and management theory. The operators can certainly teach the ed school profs and the teachers union bosses a few things about what the real world actually looks like.

Yet all three groups are important to making school reform a reality. Working together, they temper each other’s excesses, force one another to consider flaws in thinking, and inform each other’s work. The school reform movement needs thinking activists, men and women who both know how to work the corridors of power and get their hands dirty in the trenches, skilled at policymaking, bomb-throwing and implementing all at once. This need is why Dropout Nation discusses both policy and practice; they all must come together in a continuum of actions in order to foster a revolution (and not an evolution) in public education. Reformers can’t just stay in the Beltway , work the streets or operate schools; they must get involved in all three areas.

Rhee has shown success in the policy wonk and school operations arenas; she has also displayed her flaws in rallying grassroots support. Students First offers her an opportunity to get her hands dirty in all three areas, learn from her mistakes, and put some of the lessons she has learned into practice. And she can show all three groups within the school reform movement how to not be limited by their respective perspectives.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Ending the Poverty Myth in Education

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I take a look at the myth perpetrated by defenders of American public education’s status quo that poverty is the root cause of the…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I take a look at the myth perpetrated by defenders of American public education’s status quo that poverty is the root cause of the nation’s educational failure and dropout crisis. Contrary to such arguments, poverty isn’t a factor in low student achievement; it is the systemic problems in education (including low-quality teaching and curricula) that has caused so much damage to our poorest kids.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. And the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

1 Comment on The Dropout Nation Podcast: Ending the Poverty Myth in Education

Rewind: The Dropout Nation Podcast: Building a Culture of Genius in Education

As a further elaboration on Tuesday’s Dropout Nation commentary on the anti-intellectualism within traditional public education circles, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast on the importance of fostering a culture…

As a further elaboration on Tuesday’s Dropout Nation commentary on the anti-intellectualism within traditional public education circles, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast on the importance of fostering a culture of genius in education. Playing off John Taylor Gatto’s famed declaration, I discuss how schools and teachers should educate kids from the perspective that almost all children are geniuses. The emergence of high-quality alternatives to traditional public education, along with research on child development and teacher quality shows that all children can succeed if we foster a culture of genius in American public education.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, access it on Viigo if you have a BlackBerry.

1 Comment on Rewind: The Dropout Nation Podcast: Building a Culture of Genius in Education

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