recent American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report that its authors and publishers
describe as an evaluation of opportunities for and barriers to "parent power" is
instead a one-sided briefing paper for a particular approach and ignores the
full range of grassroots parent activism, a new review of the report concludes.
AEI is a right-leaning think tank.
Parent Power: Grass-Roots Activism and K--12 Education Reform, by Patrick
McGuinn & Andrew Kelly, was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review
project by Michelle Fine, of the Graduate Center, City University of New York,
and Stan Karp, of the Education Law Center, New Jersey. The review is published
by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado
Boulder School of Education.
The authors of Parent Power interviewed 28 leaders and practitioners of
four national pro-privatization educational advocacy organizations to catalogue
opportunities for and barriers to "parent power." These organizations -- Stand
for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst and 50CAN -- are
among the nation's most heavily funded and influential advocacy organizations,
and their advocacy is aligned with the current dominant education policy agenda,
particularly school choice and test-based teacher evaluation.
Fine and Karp point out that the idea of "parent power" exists in tension with
a policy agenda brought to parents by these powerful outside groups. That is,
the report "unevenly reflects the competing conceptions of 'parent power' underlying
the national debate on education reform."
As the reviewers describe it, the report uncritically embraces a conception of
parent engagement that views parents primarily as "consumers" of educational
services. In this role, parents are seen to be seeking better choices in a more
privatized education marketplace.
To achieve this uncritical embrace, the report's authors apparently found it
necessary to avoid an alternative conception, which "views parents as the citizen
owners-managers of a public education system that is a central institution of
democratic civic life." The reviewers note that this latter conception is "embraced
by a long tradition of community organizers and public education advocates."
These two competing visions arise from sharply different histories and politics
and give rise to dramatically different prescriptions for change, Fine and Karp
They conclude: "The report suffers from an inadequate and slanted literature
review; highly selective sampling; a serious lack of objectivity; disturbing
characterizations of urban parents as 'ignorant,' under-engaged and resistant
to change; and a failure to contend with empirical evidence that challenges their
views on 'what parents want.'
"Its failure to adequately examine and document the full range of 'grass-roots
activism,' organizing, and history reflects both its blinders and its narrow
political objective: to provide a briefing paper for the side it has chosen in
what it calls 'the fight.'"
Find the review from Michelle Fine and Stan Karp on the NEPC
website, or on the Great Lakes
Find Parent Power: Grass-Roots Activism and K--12 Education Reform, by
Patrick McGuinn & Andrew Kelly on the AEI
Readers of this Parent Power review may also be interested in the policy memo
released by NEPC this week that examines the parent trigger policy, aka "parent
tricker" laws. The memo is authored by Christopher Lubienski (University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign), Janelle Scott (UC Berkeley), John Rogers (UCLA), and Kevin
Welner (CU Boulder).
It describes what we currently know about the parent trigger, praising the
broad idea of parental involvement, but pointing out that,
wise, effective action must have at least three elements that are missing
from parent trigger: (1) it must genuinely arise from deliberation
and organization within the affected community, not through external advocacy
groups using these
communities to advance their own agendas; (2) it must be evidence-based
in the sense that the intervention is likely to yield benefits; and
(3) it must be built on the core reality that students learn when they
to learn---governance changes might play a minor role, but they can't
sensibly be at the center.
Read this memo, titled, Missing
the Target? The Parent Trigger as a Strategy for Parental Engagement and
School Reform, on the NEPC website.