We don't need parent trigger laws or only teacher-led reforms: We need a new coalition of solidarity among urban teachers and urban parents
If reform is to reach deeply into classrooms, it might well require a new coalition of teachers and parents to create a fresh agenda that supersedes corporate interests. Such a parent-teacher alliance can be the strongest force shaping the future of public education in history.
-- Dorothy Shipps, School reform, Corporate Style
According to Prof. James Olivos in his book, The Power of Parents, working class, poor, and minority parents are not blind to the injustices found throughout the history of the public school system. Many sense the public system is not failing, but is doing exactly what it was created to do. Thus, many realize they too must participate actively in the struggle for educational justice.
What is lacking, Olivos asserts, is a culture of collaboration and solidarity between them and the educators who serve their children that will reshape the destiny and transform the school system to meet their needs and highlight their strengths. For him, educators have been distanced and suspicious of urban parents for far too long. This kept teachers from understanding the power these parents possess as agents of change and social transformation.
There is a need to transform the public schools so that they meet the needs of all children, particularly those who have historically been neglected. Understanding the importance and role of working class, poor, and minority parents play in their children's lives, Olivos has developed a transformational paradigm of parental empowerment. He uses a participatory and problem-solving approach.
In his model, parents do more than support their child's/children's school:
·parents are empowered.
·parents create a cultural democracy, and
·parents are action researchers and agents of transformative change in their school, community, and the entire school district.
This is transformational public education: parents as those who pose problems and seek solutions which foster inclusion, voice, and representation in shared decision-making about public education at all levels from the classroom to district offices.
What authentic parental engagement?
Olivos joins many others who believe parents hold a fundamental interest in having the schools succeed: the academic and social success of their children. Therefore, he exposes the limited ways parents have been asked to participate in their children's school(s). All too often urban parents have been invited into schools using models and approaches which have been contradictory to authentic involvement. True empowerment happens as urban parents are invited into the schools with the understanding that they and the educators that serve their children are social equals. Both have the responsibility and power to transform the public schools.
If this does not happen, Olivos believes the public school system will continue to confront what is quite possibly this nation's greatest contradiction, the inability to close the educational achievement gap between specific social groups.
In doing so, Americans may have to, as Prof. Duncan-Andrade notes inThe Art of Critical Pedagogy, "At some point...come to grips with the fact that we are not a nation of opportunity for all but a nation built upon stories of opportunity for all."
Parent trigger laws
There is no question that children who need help should get it now, yet are the answer parent trigger laws? [Parent trigger laws, defined in a recent CNN.com article, "are designed to empower parents to take action on failing schools by firing staff, transferring students or creating a new school."] According to Caroline Grannan there have been no successful parent triggers anywhere. Only two parent triggers have been attempted, both in Southern California. In fact, Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss ("The Answer Sheet" 08.20.12) noted in Florida earlier this year, an effort to pass a parent trigger lawdied afternot a single major parent organization, including the PTA , endorsed it for fear it would lead to the takeover of public schools by for-profit charter management companies (EMO).
We can't let parent trigger laws enable for-profit EMOs like Charter School USA to infiltrate urban districts like IPS and take their earnings back to Florida instead of investing them in the neighborhood surrounding the school. For-profit EMOs could become corrupted when driven by their bottom line, and when they have no stake in the communities they claim to serve. The business model is good for making and selling widgets, but running a public school as a business compromises the process.
In addition, one-way teacher efforts such as the current Missouri HOME WORKS! program, which trains and organizes teachers to visit parents in their homes in order to gain their support (Mathews, 2012), are limited. At this stage of the game, such efforts are simply not enough. This is not parent and teachers working for district-wide reform or on neighborhood social justice issues.
What is needed are:
·teachers forming an IPS chapter of Teachers For Social Justice,
·local teachers reviewing how Teaching for Change goes about organizing teachers to work with parents. (See: "Tellin' Stories" approach www.teachingforchange.org/), and
·IPS teachers supporting/joining Parent Power (www.facebook.com/pages/Parent-Power-Indianapolis) an organization that is reaching out to teachers to work together in the type of "coalition of solidarity" suggested by Dorothy Shipps.
What to do?
Teachers, parents, students, administrators, and community members have the knowledge and experience necessary to create excellent, equitable public schools. All that's needed is the support and funding necessary to make these visions a reality. This can be done by parents and teachers organizing as activists to challenge and remove the structures of inequality which constitute the foundation of public schooling in the United States.
Therefore, be it proposed that both IPS teachers and parents/grandparents/guardians support the transformational paradigm of parental involvement suggested by Prof Olivos. In this model 1) poor, working class and minor parents with students in IPS, 2) the teachers that teach their children, and 3) the urban communities where schools are located can all work together to generate the conditions that will create a equitable and democratic schooling experience in society. The Education-Community Action Team has endorsed the Local School Council concept as an example of this model. See http://tinyurl.com/LocalSchoolCouncils.
For teachers who work in the IPS communities, Olivos suggests that their engagement with these urban parents should, therefore, become a liberating act of humanization and transformation. One cannot merely stand idly by watching a low income and minority parent struggle alone to protect the future of the children in a United States school system that has a history of being domineering and exploitative.
Thus, educators, teachers and administrators must step forward and carve out ways of authentically and dramatically engaging working class, poor, and minority parents in a matter that will once and for all end the dehumanizing relationship that belittles those whom society has deemed disposable.
The barriers to parent/teacher activism for change must be recognized and overcome:
·Compared to the business/corporate world, civic/community groups and teacher unions have fewer organizational resources and must spend extra time and energy to join broader coalitions
·A history of top down school control, cross-class insensitivities, and mutual finger-pointing make it difficult for parents, community members, and teachers to trust one another
·Schools and teachers must move to change the definition of parent participation in the education process, to not just include the academic achievement of individual students, but also to view them as co-activists in long-lasting, social-transformation of the school district and the community.
·The use mandated high stakes standardized tests must be challenged. The history of standardized tests show they were a part of the eugenics movement and are discriminatory, actually perpetuating educational injustices (Stoskopf, 2000).
·Both teachers and parent(s)/grandparent(s)/family relative(s)/guardian(s) fail to see and treat each other as social equals (Fine, 1993).
These barriers must be removed by educators and parents who understand the importance of building a political community of advocates and activists which will transform not only the schools, but society as well.
John Harris Loflin
Education-Community Action Team
Fine, M. (1993) [Ap]parent Involvement: Reflections on Parents, Power, and Urban Public Schools
Teachers College Record. Volume 94 Number 4, p. 682-729.
Mathews, J. (2012, May 31). Try parent visits, not parent takeovers of schools. www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/class-struggle/post/try-parent-visits-not-parent-takeovers-of-schools/2012/05/31/gJQAxaaX3U_blog.html
Stoskopf, A. (2000). The forgotten history of eugencis.Failing our Kids: Why the testing craze won't fix our schools. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.
The problem is not parents; it's a crisis in democracy
Traditional arguments explaining poor school attendance, lack of student engagement, and thus low graduation numbers situate the source of these problems as the parent(s). This explanation requires an alternate view to the assumption parents don't participate in their children's schools because they're either disinterested or incapable. These deficit notions lack any systematic analysisof how parents are viewed and the subordinate roles required of them in many schools which limit how they participate.
There is a local group called Parent Power whose members believe education is the parent's total responsibility. These parents do not define involvement as parents supporting school policies and instructional practices without question. Parent Power conversely defines parent responsibility as true dialogue and cooperative, genuine, and meaningful involvement in all school decisions with parents as partners and critical friends whose questions and suggestions are expected. And the result of that dialogue makes for better school policy and instruction.
Hoosiers cannot forget those to whom we refer here are not only parents, but also citizens who vote in/out the school boards, and taxpayers who pay the wages of teachers, school officials and boards. In fact, doesn't it seem more appropriate in a democracy that these public school parents in the triple role of parent/citizen/taxpayer should be in charge? But, today they are not. They are not respected as such, and not being prepared for such responsibilities. Instead, they are at the bottom of our school governance hierarchy.
Many critics want total accountability without giving parents any real power to be accountable for. The problem is not parents. The problem is what parent involvement is and who should define it. In other words, the lack of real empowering parental involvement and total responsibility is actually a crisis in our democracy.
By complaining "the problem is parents," we ignore the disingenuous manner in which parents are often treated by dismissing their concerns, coercing their participation or limiting participation to trivial matters like answering the phone or making copies. This also keeps us from realizing the incredible power and force held by parents if they were only to receive the preparation and opportunity to participate and contribute in meaningful ways.
That's why I support the idea of parents as activists. Activism is needed to break a longstanding tradition of what our community has come to believe parents, particularly low income parents, are capable of understanding and entitled to do. Indeed parental support of student achievement is vital, but so is helping parents understand and promote their personal process of empowerment and efficacy.
It's impossible to make schools work without opening them to the real participation of parents in determining the destiny of public education.Hence, society's work with parents must be understood as one of the most significant democratic acts all stakeholders, and teachers, in particular, can perform. Parents, together with teachers,must create a political community to challenge the undemocratic structures of schooling. In this way, parents offer the most honest and powerful support of teachers.
Parents are in a position to demand culturally responsive curricula, qualified teachers, and trustworthy principals and administrators. Few parents are finding their voice in the dialogue, and this is particularly true for low-income parents. Thus, to the extent we do not equip these parents with the tools for effective engagement we contradict the very democratic purpose of public education.
Jose M. Evans
Councillor, District 1
City of Indianapolis/Marion County