Parents Across America: Parent “Choice” is Not Parent “Voice”

Influential public school advocacy group Parents Across America weren’t invited to Rep. Duncan Hunter’s House Education and Workforce sub-committee hearing on “Exploring State Success in Expanding Parent and Student Options.” No surprise there. PAA explains why:

Yesterday, a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing which was promoted as a discussion on “state efforts to expand parental engagement.”

 However, the title of the actual hearing (see heading above) and the testimony of three of the four invited speakers, made it clear that the leadership defines parent engagement solely as parental choice.

 In his opening comments, subcommittee chair Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) essentially equated parental empowerment with expanded charter schools, parent trigger laws, and school vouchers, i.e., the privatization agenda of corporate reform

 Chairman Hunter even tried to tie those strategies to the research showing the many positive outcomes of true, comprehensive parental involvement – despite the data showing that charters, trigger laws, and vouchers have failed overall (see, for example, PAA fact sheet, “Research showing NCLB doesn’t work and PAA positions do.”)

 Parents Across America (PAA) believes that House leadership has incorrectly defined parental interests in education, and are therefore promoting inappropriate, ineffective solutions that are more likely to weaken than strengthen our public school system.

PAA has repeatedly and so far unsuccessfully asked to be invited to speak at House and Senate education committee hearings to voice that perspective, which is in alignment with the opinion of the majority of parents in the US.

Is the “choice” meme breaking down?

Even ed reform rock star Michelle Rhee throws some skepticism. In a March interview with Education Week writer Sean Cavanagh, Rhee down-played vouchers, one of the keys to the choice movement.

Rhee’s position also matters, because the education advocacy group she now leads, StudentsFirst, wants to become a major player in state education policy. Though Rhee is a Democrat, she says her group will support governors and lawmakers from either party if they share her group’s agenda.

In a recent interview, Rhee told me she supports targeted voucher programs, such as those that offer taxpayer funds to low-income students in academically struggling schools. But she said she sees more expansive, “universal” vouchers as misguided.

“I don’t think it makes sense to subsidize families who are already sending their kids to private schools, anyway,” she said. “I’m not a voucher proponent in the way that some people would want me to be. … This is not about choice for choice’s sake.”

There’s always been naiveté among policy-makers seduced by the “choice” narrative championed by Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque. This from New York PTA president Dr. Maria A. Fletcher:

Public school choice is a good thing – but choice shouldn’t be viewed as an engagement strategy. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong question – instead of asking how to empower parents by providing alternatives to their neighborhood school, why aren’t we empowering parents by engaging all stakeholders to ensure that every neighborhood school lives up to the quality promise we’ve made to educate all students? ….’Your school is broken – send your child here instead’ isn’t tantamount to effectively engaging parents in education.

The PTA remains one of the most respected voices in education, and Fletcher’s testimony is sure to have left an impression with legislators.  Themes eventually lose steam when facts and realities catch up.




About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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