Posts Tagged ‘parent involvement’

Active in Urban Education: PAA conference in Indy

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Had to photoshop the first sign because of bright sun glare!

The wonderful parent activist Delana Ivey and her Indianapolis Parents Across America affiliate group Parent Power put on a great conference last Saturday called “Active in Urban Education.”

Delana and I

Delana and I

I was eager to attend for many reasons, not the least was to meet up with Delana, John Harris Loflin and Nate Harris, Indy friends and PAA leaders. Nate and I have been online friends for a while, and I met Delana and John at the first Midwest Friends of Public Education meeting in Fort Wayne in February.

The location was a story in itself. It took place in a closed city school. Delana says that district invited her and other community members to help plan use of school which is now a beautiful community meeting and event space. If schools end up closed, this is what every city ought to do with the buildings.

The first presentation was a video of Sir Ken Robinson’s Changing Education Paradigms. One of the questions he asks is why we think that the most important thing children have in common is their age (their “manufacture” date).

Indygrp11-13In our discussion after the video, we agreed. I brought up one of my favorite ideas – non-graded classrooms. Among other benefits of a non-graded classroom system is that it would seriously interfere with the stranglehold of standardized testing and its emphasis on comparing students of the same age to each other.

Sir Ken’s amazing video sparked comments about many other issues including racism in education, divergent thinking, aesthetics v anaesthetics, the culture of compliance, and creating a movement.

The next presentation was by Gale Cosby, a special education teacher who is also a newly-elected school board member for Indianapolis. It’s always refreshing to meet ELECTED school board members! Gale’s presentation was personal, moving and informative. If you can read the slide, you will see what in interesting approach she took to her topic.


I was pleased to do the next presentation on national activism and Parents Across America. Here’s the “Take Action” handout I shared. We talked about federal ESEA reauthorisation, student data sharing, and testing. I shared another of my favorite strategies: going after WalMart’s corporate image! Here’s the handout I distributed, “Why would anyone who cares about public schools shop at WalMart?” I think I convinced some people, too!

IndyNate11-9-13But the best parts of this conference were the people and the discussions. Here’s Nate in an exchange with an Indy student who asked where the solutions are. Nate says we need to come together to address the bigger picture that school systems are designed to serve the majority culture.

And,finally, what we were all really there for.  IndyBabyreads11-13crop


Real parent involvement not bought at Walgreen’s (memories of Field School)

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Parents protest Walgreens' opposition to fair school funding (1993)

So, Rahm Emanuel went swimming at his health club recently and got a great idea – give parents a $25 gift card from Walgreen’s and solve the parent involvement problem! (I guess the pool had already given him enough great ideas for solving Chicago’s homicide epidemic.)

He took this great idea to my old neighborhood school, Eugene Field Elementary, and, with Walgreen’s CEO Greg Wasson, announced that parents at 70 schools with low parental involvement would receive cards loaded with 25,000 “customer loyalty” points (worth $25).

“This is a way, in my view, of incentivizing responsible parenting,” said Rahm.

Right. Because parents have no real incentive for supporting their children’s education.

Setting the press conference at Field brought back some powerful memories, going back 25 years (wow, really?) when our two sons attended the school.

I remember being elected to the first local school council at Field. At the first meeting, we elected the top vote-getter as our chairperson. His daughter’s teacher stood up in the meeting and threatened him in front of the principal and the entire audience. Shortly after that, his daughter decided to transfer to another school, so the father lost his eligibility to be an LSC member.  All of this was done with full knowledge of the district. That was how CPS “incentivized” parent involvement at Field.

I remember when the Field teachers, with the blessing of the principal, came out in force to a PTA meeting and voted themselves in to all the PTA officers’ positions, effectively shutting parents out of any role in the parent-teacher organization. That was how CPS “incentivized” parent involvement at Field.

The LSC got rid of that principal, and hired a new one. She seemed great for a while, but then lots of bad advice from upper management led her to hide in her office and, among other things, deny the offer my husband and I made to run a Great Books program in the school. She actually wrote us a letter saying that the school had “enough volunteers.” CPS officials saw nothing wrong with this letter. That was how they “incentivized” parent involvement at Field.

Eventually the LSC found a better principal fit with Rachel Resnick – and I have no idea how things are for parents under the current principal. Apparently not good enough.

But my perspective at PURE allows me to continue to see how CPS and the mayor “incentivize” parent involvement around the city:

  • CPS allows principals to break federal parent involvement rules by refusing to allow PURE parent workshops to take place, even though the NCLB parent advisory committees have voted to have the workshops.
  • CPS encourages principals to waste hundreds of thousands of parent involvement dollars every year by sending school staff and a few parents to out-of-state conferences (airfare, hotel, meals and stipends included in the cost) while parents at home gain nothing.
  • CPS’s Office of LSC Relations continues to blacklist PURE from LSC training even though LSC members prefer independent training over CPS’s cursory bullet-point sessions.
  • Rahm’s cronies in the foundation and corporate giving world continue to blacklist independent LSC/parent support groups like PURE and Designs for Change, a situation which one of the late Don Moore’s children suggested contributed to his early death.
  • Rahm and his cronies ignore and disrespect elected, parent-run local school councils while pushing education privatizers’ phony “parent empowerment” programs like school choice and the parent trigger.

PURE’s response to Walgreen’s and other corporate sponsors of phony parent empowerment has always been, “Start by paying your fair share of school funding” so that Illinois moves from the bottom of the heap in per-capita school funding. Then we can talk about your gift cards and your swimming pool brainstorms.


The power of parent participation

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Dr. Joyce Epstein, who heads the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University, created the gold standard for parent involvement programs – a comprehensive set of practices that encourage good parenting, strong home-school communication, volunteer opportunities, support for learning at home, a parent voice in school decision making, and community collaboration.

Last night’s parent forum at DePaul really made that package come to life.

On the panel were (right to left in photo) Monica Espinoza and Joanna Brown from Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Lynn Morton from Community Organizing and Family Issues, yours truly, Wendy Kattan from Raise Your Hand, and Latrice Watkins, LSC chair of Piccolo Elementary, who led the Occupy Piccolo protest earlier this year (Cecile Carrol from Blocks Together arrived after this pic was taken).

Together, we represented that full package of parent involvement activity, and, as I pointed out to the audience of about 100 teachers and students studying to be teachers, you get the whole package with parents. We want to be involved in all those areas and woe to the school principal, school CEO, or US Education Secretary who tries to relegate us to cookie baking, science projects, or cover for a school privatization and union-busting agenda.

I talked about the importance of the parent voice in the context of the critical need at this time for parents and teachers to have a united front. PURE was founded by parents and teachers together during the last Chicago teachers’ strike in 1987, to help parents and teachers speak with one voice about who was failing our children: not the greedy teachers or the lazy parents, but the politicians and bureaucrats whose neglect and poor management was forcing failure on our schools.

Things are much worse today. Now, in addition to lazy, greedy politicians and bureaucrats, we also have to deal with the multi-million dollar attack campaign against teachers and public schools coming from the corporate sector, and from both the right- and left wing. Propaganda against public schools and teachers is turning up everywhere – on fashion designers’ billboards, in major Hollywood movies, etc. So the truth has got to be told more loudly. PURE has a long track record of speaking the truth and sharing it in the media, in workshops, and in clear fact and tip sheets so that the public is better educated about education issues. Students and teachers need to help spread the word – your reach is vast and we all need to be on message together.

I assigned homework, too, starting with asking everyone to sign and share the National Resolution against High-Stakes Testing.

My colleagues all had amazing stories to tell. All in all, it was a very inspiring evening.


Parents speaking out in May!

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Don’t forget to come out for the DePaul College of Education Forum this Wednesday, May 2. I’ll be speaking there along with several other parent leaders (details below).

You can catch PURE’s Wanda Hopkins on May 20th at another education forum (see below).

And, I’ll be bringing home the Chicago connection to the great short documentary “The Inconvenient Truth behind Waiting for Superman” on May 29th at 6:30 at Talcott school, 1840 W Ohio (here’s the flyer in English and Spanish). The program will offer Spanish translation; a Spanish-language transcript of the film will also be available.

Here’s the rest of the schedule, courtesy of Raise Your Hand:

May 2nd –DePaul College of Education, “Parents and Schools”, 5:30-7:30pm

Wendy Katten from RYH speaking with representatives from Blocks Together, COFI, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and PURE.

Place: Lincoln Park Student Center, 2250 N. Sheffield,
Time: Tuesday May 2nd at 5:30pm-7:30pm

May 5th – Intuit Art Center- Teachers for Social Justice Event

Jill Wohl from RYH speaking. Other invited groups: KOCO, 19thWard Parents, Dyett Students, Whittier Parents, CTU and more.

Place: Intuit Art Center, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Time: Saturday May 5th at 5pm-7pm

May 20th-Luther Memorial Church- “Critically Thinking About Chicago Public Schools”

Sonia Kwon from RYH on panel with PURE’s Wanda Hopkins and other parent and community groups. Discussion around current status, concerns and future of CPS.

Place: Luther Memorial, 2500 W. Wilson,
Time: Sunday May 20th at 5 pm

Sign up for the Raise Your Voice Lobby Day in Springfield on May 9th. We plan to take the 7am train from Union Station together but if you prefer to drive and meet us there, that is fine, too. More details will be sent out in the next couple of days on specific bills and we will have a training on May 7th to get you familiar with the process of going to Springfield. Feel free to contact us with questions.
Please email us if you want to attend by May 5th at

Parent forum at DePaul May 2

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Please plan to attend a great parent forum put together by the DePaul College of Education featuring yours truly and several other local parent leaders:

For immediate release: Parents Across America hails defeat of Florida’s Parent Trigger bill

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

For immediate release: March 10, 2012

Contacts: Rita Solnet, Boca Raton: (561) 289-7333;
Caroline Grannan, San Francisco: (415) 412-5758;
Julie Woestehoff, Chicago (773) 715-3989;

Parents Across America hails defeat of Florida’s Parent Trigger bill:
A victory of parents over forces that would privatize and profit from our public schools

Public education and true parent empowerment were the winners after a “Parent Trigger” law died on the floor of the Florida State Senate on March 9, said Rita Solnet, a Florida parent activist and a founding member of the national organization Parents Across America, who worked with other parent groups from the state to defeat the bill. Solnet hailed the outcome as a triumph of parents over the forces that would privatize and profit from our public schools.

“I pray this defeat helps other states to avoid a similar attack on our public schools,” said Solnet, a Boca Raton businesswoman and a co-founder of PAA.  “This was a victory for true parent empowerment. By working together with my colleagues in PAA and other grassroots parent groups, including Save Duval Schools, 50th No More, the Florida state PTA, Fund Education Now, and Testing is Not Teaching, we managed to beat the richly-funded corporate reformers.”

The so-called Parent Empowerment in Education Act (SB 1718) was framed as allowing parents at a public school to vote to “turn around” their school by employing several options, including charter conversion. Yet very quickly, Florida parents realized that this measure, which died in the State Senate on a 20-20 bipartisan tie vote, represented yet another underhanded ploy by corporate reformers, including Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee, to hand public schools over to private, for-profit operators.  Many parents drove several hours, hired babysitters and missed time with their children to travel to Tallahassee to lobby against the bill.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined the corporate reformers, chiming in last week in support of the Florida bill. Emanuel told a local newspaper, “Giving parents this power would encourage them to play a larger role in their children’s education, and with greater power would come greater responsibility.”

In response, Julie Woestehoff, PAA co-founder and executive director of Chicago’s Parents United for Responsible Education, countered, “Mayor Emanuel and his hand-picked Board of Education have just closed or turned around 17 schools despite vehement protests of parents who were already deeply committed to their children’s schools. It’s just absurd to pretend that the Florida proposal was anything more than another cynical effort to further expand charter schools and privatization of public education under the guise of ‘parent empowerment.'”

In March 2011, Parents Across America released a position paper opposing “parent trigger” laws, based on the damaging impact of the California law.  PAA members in California have closely followed the Parent Trigger saga there, and when the Florida legislation was first announced earlier this year, Solnet shared their concerns with other parent leaders, legislators and education officials in the state.

California passed the nation’s first parent trigger law in 2010.  Since then, similar bills have been introduced in many states around the country, with language written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), an organization that promotes a right-wing agenda.  But despite the misleading accounts of representatives from the Astroturf organization Parent Revolution, flown in from California to testify before the Florida legislature, the law has never been used successfully in that state or anywhere else.

The Parent Trigger was first conceived by an organization called Parent Revolution, founded by a charter operator and funded by the Gates, Broad and Walton Family Foundations (the latter of Wal-Mart fame). The law squeaked through the California legislature in early 2010 but has had led to no school turnarounds.  Instead, it has ignited chaos and controversy in the two communities where petition campaigns have been tried. In Compton, the effort collapsed amid allegations of fraud on both sides. In Adelanto, parents were asked to sign two different petitions, though only one, calling for charter conversion, was submitted to the authorities (LA Times, 2/19/12).

The outcome of the ensuring controversy is still up in the air, according to Caroline Grannan of San Francisco, a PAA member who has followed the situation closely .  She concludes: “The divisive battles that the Parent Trigger law has sparked in California should cause parents and concerned citizens elsewhere to avoid similar legislation like the plague.”

PAA’s March  2011 position paper pointed out that while the organization “strongly supports true parent empowerment,” the Parent Trigger law “gives them no opportunity to choose among more positive reforms, and fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up. In addition, the process creates huge potential for abuse, disruption and divisiveness to school communities.”

Rather than requiring parents to “trigger” a restrictive, damaging set of reforms, PAA supports real parent empowerment at the school level, as well as involvement in decision-making at the district, state, and national levels. More recently, PAA released a proposal on how authentic school-level improvement efforts can be achieved through local school councils made up of majority parent membership.


Theater of the Oppressed: Play about Chicago parent advocates

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Invitation from our friend, Tania Giordani:

Event: Theatre of the Oppressed on Thursday March 8th, 7:30 pm at Francis W.Parker School, 330 W. Webster Ave., Chicago.  The play,” The End Game at Jansen School” is based on the lives of parent advocates in Chicago.  Discussion will follow.

Please share this with others who may be interested.

As you may know, many students and parents in Chicago Public schools have been adversely affected by school closings and other issues. In some rare instances, parents, community members and students have rallied successfully to keep their schools open.

Research that was completed in 2007 and in 2010 by Tania Giordani, clearly shows that many of these parent and students were inspired to be advocates because they met other advocates and became aware of their successes. This contributed to their belief that change is possible.

Based on interviews conducted in 2010, a Forum’s Theater script was created.

Forum theatre was developed in the early 1970’s by Brazilian director Augusto Boal. Boal believed that theatre could serve as a forum for teaching people the strategies they needed to change their world.

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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.