A Crossroads for PTA

PTA used to be the wholesome, all-American group.  Parents and teachers united in schools across the country to create better communities of learning and fellowship for children and adults.

Now, I don't know what is happening.

First, the National PTA just revised its rules on charter schools.  It's astonishing and also troubling.   While their previous policy supported the idea of charters as long as they had parent engagement AND local oversight, the new policy (from Ed Week):

...supports giving entities other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools, a new position the group argues will increase its ability to shape policy within the diverse and growing sector of independent public schools.

What they don't seem to get is that by losing local control, the PTA WILL lose the ability to shape policy.  

And why would PTA be welcome in charters?  Parents don't have a real role in most charters - you can see this by how easily students can be exited and parents are helpless.  Follow the charter or leave.  I just don't see what would be in it for parents or teachers to have a PTA. 

Against this backdrop, you have a fight in PTA in Georgia where they oppose a ballot measure in November to set up a state-level commission to approve charters.  (This is something in I-1240 where the Commission is politically appointed, has to swear a blood oath to the greatness of charters and, once appointed, has zero oversight.)  The new Georgia charter commission could create charters over the objections of local school boards (very much the issue in the tony suburbs in New Jersey where they are furious). 

This puts the Georgia PTA up against the new national policy.   

The National PTA describes itself as the largest volunteer child-advocacy organization in the country. Jacque Chevalier, a senior policy strategist at the national organization, said it is encouraging Georgia officials to avoid taking a stance on the issue that contradicts the national policy.

“We hope we can reach a conclusion that’s mutually beneficial,” Ms. Chevalier said. “We’re working through it right now.” She declined to say what would happen if the dispute is not resolved.

“PTA has a role to play,” Ms. Chevalier said. While the National PTA recognizes that the charter school landscape differs by state, and many state chapters have legitimate concerns about specific charter policies, the organization also wants to “position the brand to inform long-term discussions about charters and assist with successful implementation of them.”

Sounds like someone got bought out.  Why would PTA be trying to implement new charters?

Ms. Chevalier, you are moving - just as the Washington State PTA did earlier this year - to wreck your brand.  Who is PTA now?  In Seattle, it feels like a fundraising machine sometimes and little else.  Statewide, it felt co-opted by charter supporters who came out of nowhere.  (And again, kudos to WSPTA for reading I-1240 and realizing it was the wrong initiative for our state.)

Adam Emerson, the director of the program on parental choice at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a pro-charter organization in Washington, said the National PTA’s change in policy is significant and could help dispel the long-standing criticism that the organization’s positions are too closely aligned with teachers’ unions—or that they “focus a lot more on the ‘T’ than on the ‘P’ in the name,” as he put it.

That's just breathtaking.  Who says PTA has been more about the T than the P?  Because in Seattle, I never felt that way at any school my sons attended.  Do teachers dominate the PTA at your school?  Or are Mr. Emerson's words code for supporting the teachers union?

The article also mentions Washington's ballot measure on charters:

In Washington state, meanwhile, the state chapter of the PTA is opposing a ballot measure that would for the first time permit the establishment of charters schools. The proposal would allow a local school board or a new state commission to authorize charters. In a statement posted on the organization’s website, its president, Novella Fraser, said her group opposes that measure because it “did not meet its criteria for local oversight.” She said the organization is also troubled by the lack of a requirement that parents serve on charter school boards. (Washington state officials did not respond to requests for comment.)

Ms. Chevalier said the National PTA would have preferred that the Washington state organization also stay neutral on the ballot item. But she said the National PTA is sympathetic to some of the chapter’s concerns about the proposed charter law, such as the lack of assurances of parent involvement, and thus the national group regards the Washington chapter’s stance as more in line with the national policy than the Georgia PTA’s stance.

Really?  So the National PTA doesn't stay neutral but the state PTAs should?  

Over at the Washington Policy Center, Liv Finne practically crows about how the State PTA could find itself "barred" from the Charter School Commission should I-1240 pass. 

In re-reading the text of Initiative 1240, the ballot measure to allow charter schools, it occurred to me that, if it passes, the state PTA might be prohibited from participating in the state charter school authorizing process. 

Well, if Ms. Finne actually read the initiative, the PTA would not be eligible to be an authorizer.  Also, the PTA would not be eligible to be on the Commission.

What she is saying is that specific members of the WSPTA might not  - gasp! - be selected to be on the Commission because of their terrible vote against I-1240.  (As I said, you need a blood oath to charters to be on the Commission.) 


Charlie Mas said…
Wow. "position the brand". Alarms me like flashing red lights and hooting clarions.
Michael Rice said…
I attended a PTSA meeting last year. I will attend more this year. At Ingraham, the PTSA is all about how can the P support the T to educate the S. Every time I read what is going on at the state and national level, I am reminded about how fortunate I am to teach at Ingraham.
Working Mom said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
I have a meeting tomorrow with NPTA and will share this string. To Working Mom, give it up already.

Ramona Hattendorf
Charlie Mas said…
It seems to me that the PTA should not be in favor of charter schools or opposed to charter schools. They should be in favor of strong partnerships in schools - partnerships between teachers and student families.

Am I wrong about that?

When someone from the National PTA says that they want to "assist with successful implementation of" charter schools, I'm not sure if that's a statement in favor of charters or just saying that if charters are created, the PTA wants them to work well.

I'm opposed to charters, but if any are created, I, too, want them to work well. I do not wish for their failure any more than I would wish for the failure of any school. That would be a tragedy.

I'm having trouble parsing the National PTA's position. The State PTA's position is clear to me and I'm all for it: they stand for strong partnerships. Public, private, charter, online, whatever. Across all platforms, the State PTA stands for strong partnerships and I applaud that stance.

I-1240 doesn't reflect that partnership, so they don't support it. Other charter school laws might, and, if they do, the State PTA could support them.

It is a principled stand and they are making that stand right where they should.

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