NOT your mother’s PTA

New “insurgent” groups are “organizing, educating and mobilizing parents” to fight for K-12 reforms,writes Bruno Manno in NOT Your Mother’s PTA on Education Next. He takes a closer look at Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children.

 

After Superman, what?

Done Waiting hopes to use Waiting for Superman as a catalyst for a grassroots education reform movement.

Education Reform Now is managing the coalition, which will advocate for “greater access to excellent public school options, like high-performing charter schools, for all families; putting a highly-effective teacher in every classroom and treating them as a valued professional; and, above all else, placing the best interests of children ahead of those of politicians and special interest groups.”

These are pie-in-the-sky goals: How should we give all kids access to excellent schools or find an excellent teacher for every class? What does it mean to put children first?

Rick Hess is dubious about the “Take Action” page on Superman‘s site, which is mostly devoted to promoting the movie and a companion book.

The page on “what parents can do” offers five items: “get local school ratings and parent reviews on GreatSchools.org,” “demand world-class standards for all students,” “talk to your teachers,” “do what’s best for kids, not adults,” and “make a teacher’s job easier.” The page on what “you” can do adds: “help students succeed” by supporting “All4Ed.org,” which amazingly “helps ensure every child graduates from high school prepared for college and for life;” “pledge to see the film;” “help your local school;” and “attend a school board meeting.”

This is “vague, tepid, and remarkably inconsistent with their revolutionary declarations,” Hess writes. Those trying to leverage Superman‘s impact should “focus on the concrete and actionable,” he suggests.

GOOD: Getting e-mails of departing viewers who will put up yard signs for reform-minded school board candidates, encouraging supporters to work the phones, their neighbors, and their e-mails to push their state legislators to take the lead on specific changes in statute.

BAD: Pledges to care more, to be “engaged,” or to write letters on behalf of “reform.”

Instead of trying to get everyone to care more, focus on lobbying key decision makers, such as legislators who might vote for “mayoral control of troubled inner-city schools” or stripping down “licensure requirements and tenure protections.”

Voting for reform-minded politicians is all very well, writes Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. But educated, middle-class parents can make a direct impact on the system: Choose a diverse public school for your own children.

In schools with a critical mass of middle-class children, everyone does better. If Davis Guggenheim and his friends all sent their kids to urban schools, those schools “would improve overnight.”

. . . all around the country, affluent families are choosing to send their children to racially and socio-economically integrated schools, in places like Cambridge and Berkeley, but also in less likely spots such as Alexandria, Virginia; Stapleton, Colorado; and Miraloma Park, California.

This is no easy decision, to be sure. I live in Takoma Park, Maryland, a very diverse suburb of DC, and my wife and I are agonizing about whether to stay or go, mostly because of the schools. (Our oldest son is only three, so we have some time.)

As long as reform means fixing the schools of “other people’s children,” it’s not going to get very far, he argues.

It’s a lot easier for middle-class people to buy a Prius than it is to send little Emma and Aidan to a school with a lot of poor kids.

Not everyone predicts a Superman-inspired movement. The NEA decided against $3.5 million campaign to counter “the media propaganda of this summer’s series of anti-teacher union documentaries,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

In the end, union officials decided it wasn’t worth it, said John Wilson, executive director.

“I think the films are a blip. They will come and go, but the union will still be there, our members will still be in these schools,” he said.

Tom Lehrer warned that caring isn’t enough.

Update: “You don’t send your child to a school to improve the school,” writes Checker Finn in response to his colleague, Petrilli. “You send your child to a school that will improve him (or her).”

You should drive past bad schools in search of a better one for your kids — and the great dual crime of American education policy is (1)  there are far too few truly better schools and (2) far too many families lack the means (or, in many places, the right) to opt into those schools.

Improving bad schools and starting great new ones is hard work for educators, policy makers, political leaders and advocates, he writes. Parents’ first job is to do what’s best for their own children.