Thursday, May 3, 2012

Delaware needs an effective, independent parent watchdog group

It would be sort of the educational equivalent of Common Cause, or any number of other groups that kept and independent record of what was happening in Delaware education, and made sure that the public had access to solid information not already laundered through a slick public relations process.

Coolspringer clued me in to the fact that one such group, the local affiliate of Parents Across America, already exists.

PAA and the Delaware version--Communities 4 Education--don't present themselves as neutral in the education debates.

The Delaware affiliate opposed the expansion of Newark Charter School and is calling for a moratorium on new charters until the law can be revisited.

The national umbrella organization lists a specific set of positions:

Proven Reforms: We support the expansion of sensible, research-based reforms, such as pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten,  small classes, parent involvement, strong,experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.
Sufficient and Equitable Funding: Resources do matter, especially when invested in programs that have been proven to work.
Diversity: We support creating diverse, inclusive schools and classrooms whenever possible.
Meaningful Parent Involvement: Parents must have a significant voice in policies at the school, district, state and national levels. We are not just “consumers” or “customers” but knowledgeable, necessary partners in any effective reform effort.
Privatization: A strong public education system is fundamental to our democracy. We oppose efforts to privatize public education through the expansion of charters, vouchers or other privately-run programs at the expense of regular public schools.
High-Stakes Testing: Excessive reliance on standardized exams narrows the curriculum, promotes teaching to the test and leads to unfair and unreliable evaluations of students, teachers and schools.
School Closings: Closing schools wreaks havoc on families and communities, and too often fails to deliver on promises to create better opportunities for children. We believe in improving the schools we have, rather than shutting them down.
Ignoring Poverty: The nation’s educational “crisis” is made worse by the widening gap between rich and poor. Along with investing in our schools, we should also be investing in families.

I'm not quite there with all aspects of this agenda, being a believer that, under the right conditions, charter schools and school choice can be powerful tools for positive change in public education.  I also do not know, at this point, who is involved in Communities 4 Education and what their agenda is.

On the other hand, there need to be more people at the table in education reform in Delaware.  Contrary to what we too often hear in carefully manicured press releases, the debate about how best to serve Delaware children is NOT over, we are NOT simply in the implementation phase, and people who raise questions and objections are NOT simply obstructionists.

But, as I have pointed out before, people with questions and skepticism lack an organized voice, and something like Parents Across America and/or Communities 4 Education perhaps gives us a glimpse into creating that voice.


pandora said...

"I'm not quite there with all aspects of this agenda, being a believer that, under the right conditions, charter schools and school choice can be powerful tools for positive change in public education."

Which is why you don't come under the dreaded heading of True Believer. You, Coolspringer and I see the good and bad in both agendas. There is room for a balanced approach.

My concern with Choice, (and Charters are an offshoot of choice) is that it isn't really a choice anymore.

When I wanted a good education for my children, I had to choice out of our feeder. It wasn't that my neighborhood school was good, but I simply preferred another school. Nope, I had to Choice, because what I was offered was educationally unacceptable to me.

And that's my problem with Choice. It creates winners and losers, "good" schools and "bad" schools. Parents in the know get out, parents who can't get out, for many reasons (Don't own a car to get their children to and from the choice school, etc.) are stuck.

If we were serious about Choice, we'd make sure everyone had the capabilities to make a choice. And as more and more "superior" schools fill up and close to choice we are actually limiting choices.

In order for choice to be implemented fairly we would have to remove the obstacles to it, meaning:

1. We would remove the socioeconomic barriers to choice. Transportation is a biggie, and parents (like me) who can afford to base their child's education on education alone have an advantage.

2. No school would ever be closed to choice. Yeah, I know. But if we are approaching choice with parents voting with their feet then wouldn't the end result be "good" schools filling up with students while "bad" schools are empty?

But "bad" (hate using that word, but it's early so bear with me) schools aren't empty. There are children inside those walls.

So... is Choice really a choice if you don't have the means to make it? Does it really work for all children if it creates dumping ground schools, that certain groups dismiss by saying, "Well, they should be involved parents, do what I did, and choice out."

Choice will only be fair once we acknowledge its unfairness. And I'm not sure that's possible given the expense.

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate Choice. I just think that it should only involve good choices - which means improving all our schools to a level where parents don't feel they have to choice.

Because as soon as you have to choice, it isn't a choice anymore.

Coolspringer said...

I can't better state my reservations about Choice than Pandora has.

And what a brilliant idea to have an outfit that could explain and visualize the administration of education in Delaware, map the flow of players and money...I love it!