Powerful launch of national parent group

PAA panel

Parents Across America founders with Diane Ravitch (far left)

Parent advocates from across the country converged on New York City on Monday, February 7 for the first national forum of Parents Across America, a parent-led movement to make parent voices heard in the national debate over education reform – and to promote positive, common-sense solutions that will improve public schools nationwide.

A Gallup poll released this week showed that the majority of Americans want major revisions to No Child Left Behind, the 2002 law that imposes rigid testing and accountability mandates on schools.

“Parents are a sleeping giant,” nationally known education commentator Diane Ravitch said at the event. “If the sleeping giant awakens, we can take back education.”

“Parents Across America is an opportunity to use our collective voices on a national level,” said founding member Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent activist, “to inform the policies that drive the decisionmaking in our each of our communities and nationwide. We will no longer allow our children to be subject to large-scale experimentation in the name of supposed ‘innovation,’ without our consent, when we know these policies have no backing in research or experience.”

At the forum, held at PS 89 in New York City’s Tribeca, Ravitch – author of the best-selling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” – warned in her keynote speech about the harm done by excessive reliance on standardized tests, privatization through charter school expansion, and the growing influence of wealthy private foundations on education policies. Those forces, Ravitch said, are undermining education and failing the children who are most in need.

“We need to do what works: early childhood education. Parenting workshops. Lower class size. For teachers, more professionalization, not less,” she told the 350 people who packed the school auditorium.

Founding members of Parents Across America (PAA) also spoke about the issues confronting their local schools, which reflect larger challenges nationwide.

Harper Royal, who works with New Orleans’ Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, described the turmoil created by charter schools, which will soon enroll nearly 85 percent of New Orleans students. “Children with disabilities and behavior issues are being pushed out of schools and are forced to attend the lowest performing schools in the city,” she said. “Under the guise of ‘choice,’ many children with disabilities have attended three or more schools in the five years since Katrina. This was not their parents’ ‘choice’.”

Seattle parent activist Sue Peters echoed Ravitch on the influence of private wealth and venture philanthropy on education policy. “As a parent, I am very disturbed to discover that private billionaires with foundations and agendas and zero expertise in education are largely determining national public education policy right now,” she said. “Why should Eli Broad and Bill Gates have more of a say in what goes on in my child’s classroom than I do?”

Chicago activist Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education spoke about the damaging impact of high-stakes testing on children.

Reflecting on the success parents have had fighting high-stakes testing in Chicago, Woestehoff said, “As parents, we all want what’s best for our own children, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they get it. Parents Across America takes that passion and persistence to the national level. Together, we will do what it takes to make sure every child gets a great education.”

Haimson, founder of New York’s Class Size Matters, emphasized that corporate reformers are advocating for increases in class size, despite clear evidence from research and experience that smaller classes are key to improving opportunities for children.

“We should be looking at the model of Finland’s schools, a system based on cooperation rather than competition, trusting and respecting teachers rather than scapegoating them, de-emphasizing standardized testing and providing small classes,” Haimson said. “Which, sadly, is the opposite direction of the one in which our country is moving now.”

Other founding members of PAA at the event included parent activists Mark Mishler of Albany, N.Y.; Pamela Grundy of Charlotte, N.C.; Dora Taylor of Seattle; Sharon Higgins of Oakland, Calif; Caroline Grannan of San Francisco; Natalie Beyer of Durham, N.C.; and Andrea Mérida of Denver, who delivered the closing speech. Beyer and Mérida were elected to serve on their districts’ school boards.

The audience included Philadelphia parent activist Helen Gym and San Francisco PTA leader Shellie Wiener, as well as members of Rochester, N.Y.’s Community Education Task Force, and New Jersey’s Coalition for Effective Newark Public Schools.

PAA founding member Rita Solnet of Boca Raton, Fla., later summed up the group’s commitment. “Parents will no longer sit on the sidelines and accept the dismantling of their children’s public schools.  Enough is enough!” she said. “These are our schools, and our children, and our voices must be heard.”

“We will persist in our mission to provide every child with a high-quality education.”

Photos of the event are at http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2011/02/parents-across-america-forum-featuring-diane-ravitch

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.

Support PURE!
About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.