Just 18 percent of parents think that the government listens to them when it comes to their children’s education. Only about 33 percent of parents polled by a national PTA group said that they understood the changes that the government was making to education.
These research results were reported by BBC News education reporter Judith Burns two months ago. Oh, you thought these results were about parents in the U.S.? The results are from the UK, but they could just as easily have been from the U.S. Although our systems of schools and the way those schools are governed are not exactly the same, the parental complaints seem sadly similar.
No one who just watched the uproar over the implementation and testing of Common Core Learning Standards could disagree. No one who just watched 20 percent of New York State parents opt their children out of the State tests could disagree. The government didn’t listen, lots of U.S. parents would say.
PTA UK executive director Emma Williams was quoted by the BBC News as saying, “The two primary influences on children’s education is that of the school and their parents. However, the parent voice has, up until this point, been largely absent from the national education debate…. PTA UK believes that as primary stakeholders in their child’s education, parents should be consulted and that schools should be accountable to parents.” Yes, of course. Who could disagree with that?
While I am concerned about governmental responsiveness to parents at our federal and state levels here in the U.S., I am more concerned about governmental responsiveness at our local level—that is, in our local school districts, where virtually all of K–12 education actually happens and where so many crucial education decisions are made every day. And, fortunately, it is much easier to make your voices heard, parents, at the local level—much easier to make sure that the government is listening.
The BBC News story goes on to mention that PTAs are often associated with conducting fundraisers for their schools. Are you surprised? Not if you have a PTA in your school district. Indeed, more and more school districts are benefiting from their own related nonprofit organizations designed to do just that: raise money. While raising money for schools can be a useful activity for parents to engage in, I doubt that it is more influential in improving the quality of education in schools than finding a significant way for parents to participate in the decision-making process about curriculum and instruction and assessment—whether that participation is at the district or individual school level. It might be easier for parents to do, but is probably not more influential. It might be more welcomed by administrators, but is probably not more influential. So shouldn’t you spend your time and effort where you can be the most influential?
It is time to take a look at how well your local government education agency (that is, your school district) listens to parents:
All parents: Ask your school board to talk about its current policy on how parents should be involved in important decisions. How does the school board hear parent voices—through surveys, through series of issue-specific public meetings, through advisory committees, or some other way? What is the role of the PTA in the decision-making process? Does the PTA speak for the parents in your district? Do you as parents feel that your voices are being heard?
This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity to meet with the superintendent in advance to understand how the board’s policy is being implemented and how it is being monitored for effectiveness.
Ask your principal if there is a separate process for how parents are involved in important decisions that are made at the school level. If there is a separate school-level process, how is it related to the board’s policy? What is the role of your school’s PTA in that process? Does the PTA speak for the parents in your school?