Tag: Parent Trigger

Best of Dropout Nation: No More Waiting: The Morality of Parent Power

As everyone thinks over revelations of the AFT’s strategy to do end-runs around Parent Trigger laws and Parent Power efforts, it is a good time to remember that the opposition…

As everyone thinks over revelations of the AFT’s strategy to do end-runs around Parent Trigger laws and Parent Power efforts, it is a good time to remember that the opposition to a strong role for parents in education runs deep in its DNA. And the incident that would long-plague the union’s reputation with black and minority parents (as well as end a previous era of muscular school reform) offers numerous lessons for Parent Power activists and school reformers alike. Read Editor RiShawn Biddle’s Best of Dropout Nation piece from March, think through the lessons, listen to podcasts on building Parent Power and consider what can be done to make families the lead decision-makers in education they deserve to be.

The Ocean Hill-Brownsville teachers’ union strike of 1968 is best-remembered as one of the moments when the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association became the most-dominant players in education policy. It showed that teachers unions were willing to mobilize and stop classroom instruction in order to achieve their goal of making teaching the most-lucrative public sector profession. It is also the moment that ended a muscular form of American philanthropy that began earlier in the 20th century with the construction of libraries by Andrew Carnegie; outrage over the role of the Ford Foundation in spurring the school reform effort that led to the AFT strike resulted in the first significant federal regulations over foundations.

But for those studying the history of family engagement in education, Ocean Hill-Brownsville is also a critical moment. The efforts of the AFT and the response of state and New York City school officials to the strike made clear the reality that parents were expected to be seen and not heard. And 41 years later, the lessons for school reformers — and particularly, for parent power advocates — is clear: Those who have influence in education will behave amorally in attempting to keep it (especially if they have legal standing to do so). And it will take mass mobilization, energy and strategic thinking to force parents and families into their rightful role as kings and lead decision-makers in education at every level.

When the AFT began the first of its strikes in May 1968, it was ostensibly over the removal of 13 teachers (along with six administrators) that the mostly-black parent- and community-controlled board Ocean Hill-Brownsville board deemed incompetent and unwilling to go along with the decentralization plan. Even though the teachers were still employed by the New York City Board of Education (and would be allowed to keep their jobs, albeit sitting in offices at the school system’s main offices in Brooklyn), the AFT argued that the teachers were denied due process. The president of the AFT local, future national AFT president Albert Shanker, declared that he would oppose the firing any way he can.

But the strike was just the most-public step in a battle between school reformers of the time such as Ford Foundation — who wanted to give black parents an alternative to the woeful traditional public education system and the ability to be the lead decision-makers in schools — and the AFT, which wanted to ensure that their recently-won influence over school decisions remained intact. The AFT initially supported the effort to carve out Ocean Hill-Brownsville and two other decentralized school systems from the rest of the New York City school district, but then opposed the effort when Ocean Hill-Brownsville and other districts asserted that they had the management right to transfer teachers to and from the district regardless of seniority. Although Ocean Hill-Brownsville was not exactly the place where the mostly-white AFT rank-and-file teachers would want to be, the fact that the district’s board would even dare to assert power just a few years after the AFT won its influence (in an earlier strike) was to the union and its leadership, just too bold to let stand. From where the union sat, its influence (and to a lesser extent, ability to protect teachers from wrongful firings) were more important than the right of parents to actually improve education for their kids by any means necessary.

So when Ocean Hill-Brownsville moved to transfer the 13 teachers most-resistant to the new regime, the AFT demanded their return (the teachers, by the way, refused to even report to work at the Board of Education’s offices). When the community board and district boss Rhody McCoy, refused, the AFT began strikes and litigation to force Ocean Hill-Brownsville to bring the teachers back into their jobs.

Over the next few months, the parent power effort was ground down into ashes. New York City Mayor John Lindsey, who initially backed the creation of the districts, demanded that Ocean Hill-Brownsville reinstate the teachers; the New York City Board of Education’s superintendent, Bernard Donovan, also demanded the same. By June, an independent examiner ruled in favor of the AFT and reinstated the teachers back into the district. Only the refusal by McCoy and the board refused to let the teachers back in prolonged the battle. They had the backing of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville community, who naturally (and legitimately) saw both the AFT and the New York City powers that be as being thoroughly opposed to letting black parents actually have a say in running schools. When Ocean Hill-Brownsville shut down three schools where the removed teachers had worked in order to keep them out (a move which was not smart or good for kids), parents improvised by starting their own schools in storefronts and in homes around the area.

By September, New York State’s Education Department stepped in to mediate the dispute, pushing for both Ocean Hill-Brownsville and the AFT to split the proverbial baby. But neither was willing to do so. But the battle was already lost. Ocean Hill-Brownsville and the parents who backed them were opposed not only by the union and city and state officials. The Big Apple’s white (and often union-friendly) residents, already annoyed by efforts to force integration of the schools their kids attended (and angered by the city’s overall decline in quality-of-life), were more than willing to back the AFT (which they saw as force for merit) than black parents (with whom they often didn’t socialize in settings other than work). The fact that these kids had long been denied a high-quality education as defined at the time didn’t factor into the thinking of these adults (or into that of the AFT and the officials backing them).

By November, the state managed to replace the Ocean Hill-Brownsville board with a trustee and brought the teachers back onto the job. Although the AFT didn’t look good to civil rights activists or black families at the time, it didn’t matter because it advanced its growing influence. Besides getting the teachers back on the job, the AFT also wrung out an agreement that bound all the districts to its version of due process. The Ocean Hill-Brownsville effort fizzled into the New York City school bureaucracy and would get trapped in a cycle of incompetence and academic failure that would only begin to cease a decade ago with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful takeover of the system.

It’s easy to just blame the AFT. But the union didn’t act alone. The school decentralization concept was flawed from the get-go, largely because the central school system never really let go of its power; the teachers were still employees of the system, and the powers to transfer teachers were never really clarified in any way. The better move would have been to essentially pursue what would be now called the creation of charter schools, which would sever the bureaucracy from the operation of schools, forcing those who operate them to actually serve parents and kids. But that idea was not one that would have come to mind at the time. And given the unwillingness of all the players in education decision-making to hand real power to parents, it was a miracle that Ocean Hill-Brownsville even got a chance to exist.

More than four decades later, Ocean Hill-Brownsville still remain as relevant as ever, largely because the same battles fought then are happening now.

Even before Ocean Hill-Brownsville, teachers unions, school boards, superintendents and administrators considered parents and the groups that represented them to be little more than tools for their co-opting. As Temple University Professor William W. Cutler III noted in Parents and Schools: The 150-year struggle for control in American education, parents groups such as the United Parents Association in New York City were often enlisted as partners to further their goals and little else. Giving parents real power — especially the Virginia Walden Fords, Malkin Dares and other noisy parent power activists — was never in their plans. The fact that many of the early groups that arose to represent parents were run by middle-class women whose desire to improve the lot of poor kids were mixed in with their own disdain for their parents also played a part in this co-opting.

By the time of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, a generation of what we would now call Parent Power activists realized that they were getting the short end of the stick in education policy and practice. But at that time, there were few tools available to wage a strong fight. Thanks to the emergence of charter schools, vouchers and the efforts to hold schools and teachers accountable for performance through the modern school reform movement, Parent Power can now become a reality. So has the re-emergence of muscular philanthropy, this in the form of the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. None of this is music to the ears of those currently holding court at decision-making tables.

The opposition of the AFT and NEA to the expansion of charter schools — the most-successful form of school choice, family engagement and Parent Power currently in existence — is as much about the ability of the two unions to maintain their now-dwindling influence over education decisions as it is about the fact that the schools have largely avoided thorough unionization. School vouchers are even less beloved by the unions. For their allies among education traditionalists — including suburban districts and supposed civil rights activists such as Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation — the idea that parents should even have some modicum of influence over instruction and curriculum, much less full power, is an anathema to their limited, often wrong-headed vision of what American public education should be.

As parents in Compton, Calif., attempting to use the state’s Parent Trigger law to force out the school district’s control of McKinley Elementary School have also found out, the battles will not be easy. Beside the combined resources of the district and its AFT local, there is the reality that state laws and regulations governing education often act as much protection for the status quo. As seen in other school reform debates — including over the use of reverse seniority layoff rules — it doesn’t matter that kids are hurt by keeping bad policies in place. This isn’t to say that defenders of traditional public education practices don’t care about children; you have to take people at their word and besides, I think many of them do. But the choices and the policies they support belie their convictions.

Let’s be plain and clear: The efforts to deny parents power in education is absolutely shameful. After all, traditionalists often demand parents to be fully engaged in education, yet are so unwilling to let them play roles beyond staffing field trips and working with kids on homework. It is wrong from both a civil rights and systemic reform of education perspective. If education is the greatest civil rights and human rights issue of our generation, we can’t improve the system without bringing parents and families on board as leading players; from a systems theory perspective, you also need parents in order to make things happen.

Most importantly, from a religious and ethical humanist perspective, denying parent power in education is purely immoral and unethical. Parents and families are charged with being the nurturers and caretakers of their children; arguing that this role doesn’t extend into actual decision-making in education (even as they are bashed by status quo defenders for a lack of engagement) violates every tenet in every religious and ethical text on the planet. And considering that this denial of parent power hurts children from poor and minority families — the ones subjected to the worst public education offers — worst of all, it is means that these kids are being sentenced to poverty and prison.

As Dropout Nation declared in this Sunday’s podcast, our kids get one shot every day to get the high-quality education they need to write their own stories. Their parents cannot on the sidelines waiting for so-called experts to spur reform. They must exercise power in education. And there is no basis, moral or otherwise, to deny it to them.

For parents and other grassroots school reformers, along with reformers in the Beltway and running charter schools, they have the moral right (along with the right as taxpayers) to reform American public education. But they must heed the lessons from Ocean Hill-Brownsville to be successful: They must be as masterful in understanding and shaping the legislative and rule-making processes as they are at getting signatures for petitions. They must fully educate parents about what high-quality education should look like and how to expand influence. It is as important to play the public relations game as it is to pursue what is right. And it is critical to hold politicians accountable for school reform; those who oppose reform should be voted out swiftly.

It is high time for parents to be seen, heard and felt in education. We can’t wait for traditionalists to open doors. It’s time to blast them open. And it is important to take the lessons of Ocean Hill-Brownsville and use them to build Parent Power.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Five New Questions Every Parent Should Ask

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how parents can use five new questions to spur reform of American public education and improve schools for their children step by…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how parents can use five new questions to spur reform of American public education and improve schools for their children step by step. By asking the right questions — including about math instruction and school discipline policies —  parents can change the way their kids are taught each and every day.

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, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Take It and Shake It

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how we should look at American public education as an Etch-A-Sketch and shake up the status quo. More than ever, we must…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how we should look at American public education as an Etch-A-Sketch and shake up the status quo. More than ever, we must take the opportunities to overhaul a system that fails at least 150 kids every hour (and millions more every year).

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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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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On the Move: Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle, Congressman Chaka Fattah and Byron Garrett Headline State of Black CT Alliance’s Building Blocks of Educational Excellence Event

If Connecticut is to close the nation’s worst achievement gap between white and minority children, it must get at least 20,000 black and Latino boys and girls to read at…

If Connecticut is to close the nation’s worst achievement gap between white and minority children, it must get at least 20,000 black and Latino boys and girls to read at advanced levels. On December 16, join the State of Black CT Alliance (the grassroots activist group that advocated for the nation’s second Parent Trigger law allowing families to restructure the schools that their children attend) in rallying Connecticut’s parents and leaders to make that a reality by helping to kick off its Building Blocks of Educational Excellence Campaign with an awards ceremony and fundraiser.

The event, which will be held in Stamford, Conn., at the Hilton Stamford Hotel, will rally parents, leaders and activists for improving education. Speakers include your Dropout Nation Editor, RiShawn Biddle, along with:

  • Congressman Chaka Fattah: Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Byron V. Garrett: The first African-American man to serve as CEO of National PTA
  • Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder: Co-author of the nation’s second Parent Trigger law
  • Sonja Manjon: Wesleyan University Vice President of Diversity and Strategic Partnerships
  • Stewart Hudson: President of the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation

The event will also honor individuals and groups that have helped build a strong Connecticut and nation, including: CNN commentator and Capital Prep Principal Dr. Steve Perry, John H. Jackson of the Schott Foundation for Public Education, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, California State Sen. Gloria Romero (who helped pass the nation’s first Parent Trigger school reform law) and Parenting Magazine. Education Trust Artist-in-Residence Brooke Haycock will also perform a documentary drama focusing on the critical need for education reform.

Building Blocks of Educational Excellence will be held at the Hilton Stamford Hotel, One First Stamford Place, Stamford, CT. Tickets to attend the event are $125. For more information on this event, contact Gwendolyn Samuel at gwen@stateofblackct.org or visit http://www.stateofblackct.org/events.html.

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