Parent Activists (Is That Like a Community Organizer?)
From the article:
"For a new generation of well-wired activists in the Washington region, it's not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance."
This reporter, Michael Chandler, then refers to these parents as "parent insurgents". Hey!
"In recent weeks, parent-led campaigns helped bring down a long-established grading policy in Fairfax County and scale back the unpopular practice of charging fees for courses in Montgomery County. They have also stoked debates over math education in Frederick and Prince William counties.
In Loudoun County, parents are gearing up to topple a grading scale similar to the one overturned in Fairfax. Another Fairfax group is making headway in a drive to push back high school start times."
(Ah, course fees. Yet another topic for another time but it's on my radar as well.)
And why is this happening?
"What binds them is impatience with the school establishment and an aptitude for harnessing the power of the Internet to push for change.
"We are not our moms, who were just involved in the PTA," said Catherine Lorenze, a McLean mother who helped organize Fairgrade, the parent-led campaign to change the Fairfax grading scale by lowering the bar for an A from 94 to 90 percent.
"We worked for a number of years before we had kids," she said. "We know how to research and find information and connect the dots. To expect us to show up and just make photos or write checks does not sit well with this generation. If you are going to invite parents in the door . . . it should be more of a partnership." (italics mine)
(That reminds of a recent article in the National PTA magazine entitled, "Is Your School Using Your PTA Like an ATM?" I have felt and heard this from a number of parents who either feel pushed out of decision-making by principals or feel that teachers expect the parents to be funding many things (without much apparent gratitude). I learned recently that a very good elementary school doesn't have any parents on their BLT because teachers don't want them there. This flies in the face of what a BLT should be especially if teachers at that school now want parents' help with principal problems. I'm always surprised at how much can be expected of parents and yet parent concerns or opinions about what happens at school then get brushed aside.)
Back to the article. I find this true of parents I have met recently during closures. I'm talking about parents with elementary school children who do have an impatience with the process. When my children started school, Internet use was in its beginning stages. I think today's ability to find information (and demand it be available on websites) on the Internet is huge for parents. And, as any present-day grandparent will tell you, parents are a lot more involved with their children and their education than they were as parents.From the article:
"Former Fairfax superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said outspoken, savvy parents can be crucial allies in the fight for school funding. "The other side of the coin, of course, is you have to produce, because they are going to hold your feet to the fire," he said."
I would say that's as it should be. We are willing to help with time and resources and advocacy but don't ask for that kind of investment without something in return.
"Schools need to be more concerned about the digital divide than ever before, Hunter said. "We don't want to create two levels of power, those with access to information and those without it," she said."
What is interesting to me about that statement is the Cooper said they had little time to organize and didn't have the parent power that Arbor Heights did but yet their website was very good. Having said that, I would say there is a digital divide and as a PTA officer, I worry a lot about parents who don't have e-mail or who don't speak (or read) English well.
Change may be coming. From the article:
"A strategic communications team in Fairfax monitors the blogosphere and online message boards for misinformation or rumors, seeking to update the school system Web site and drive traffic there. The school system also is trying out new ways to include parents in important or controversial decisions from the earliest stages."
I have been told that several district staffers read this blog, both for personal reference but yes, to monitor the pulse of parents. (I do know that both the Board and staff are well-aware that this blog and any large influx of parent communications does not always accurately reflect parents as a whole. While they listen and welcome parent communication, they are keenly aware that many parents may be silent and are silent for difference reasons.) I do think our district is trying to keep parents in the loop sooner if only to not be on the defensive if something gets out here before the district announces it.
The Post article said that many of these parents were advocating only for their own children which raised the ire of the parent who wrote the letter, Sue Katz Miller. Here is what the parent letter has to say on this issue:
"Frankly, parents should and must advocate for their own children in the baroque bureaucracy of Montgomery County Public Schools. But those of us who join e-mail groups, sit through meetings, testify at hearings, uncover and post documents, and crunch data are almost universally motivated by a passion to help all families and all children.
In particular, we are trying to help families who do not have the courage, stamina or skills to figure out the system for themselves."I like to think that last sentence is what this blog tries to do. My personal hope is that information we put out does get widely disseminated so that parents who don't have those attributes mentioned above can learn more about the district.