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AEI "PARENT POWER" REPORT ONE-SIDED, REVIEW FINDS
September 7, 2012

A 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 write.
 
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 Center website.

Find Parent Power: Grass-Roots Activism and K--12 Education Reform, by Patrick McGuinn & Andrew Kelly on the AEI website.
 
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 have opportunities 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.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19
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