What Parents Want For Education Policy

What Parents Want For Education Policy

Jeff Bryant 10 comments
Articles by Jeff Bryant

A mantra recited by those who pride themselves as adherents to a movement known as “education reform” is that for too long policies governing public schools have favored “the adults” in the system at the expense of children. This rhetoric has framed any objections that classroom teachers may have to new education policies as being overly concerned about teachers’ interests and being negligent of the students.

That rhetorical positioning has been used by political lobbying groups promoting themselves as putting “students first” and taking a “stand for children” in order to claim a higher moral ground. These organizations assert that teachers who object to the continued degradation of their working conditions are really being selfish and inattentive to the needs of the students in the public education system.

However, there’s always been a group of adults who’ve been imbued with the power to understand best what students in public schools really need. Parents, legend has it, occupy a sacrosanct position of having an exclusive right to determine the education destination of their offspring.

The whole idea that parents should have a “choice” over where their children attend school is deeply grounded in the notion that parents know best about the education destinations of their youngsters. And school districts have been called “government monopolies” that are opposed to the “free choice” all parents should have in a “market-based” system.

When politicians make the case that parents, rather than professional educators, should run schools, they reinforce the idea that when education is the issue at hand, the only “adults” who matter are parents, and the interests of teachers are misaligned to the well being of students.

So what do parents want?

A revealing new study indicates that parents don’t want what the education reform crowd is selling. Not at all.

First reported in The Washington Post, the survey, conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, found that “counter the argument made by those pushing policy changes that parents want more choice in deciding where to send their children and a market-based approach to education,” what parents really want is more aligned with what teachers have been saying all along

Much like teachers, most parents (61 percent) oppose closing low-performing schools and reassigning students to a different school. They – “more than three out of every four” – are against “reducing compensation for teachers or cutting resources for the classroom while increasing spending on charter schools.” They tend (56 percent) to oppose “giving tax dollars to families to pay for private school tuition.”

Most parents say “too much learning in the classroom has been sacrificed in order to accommodate state tests during the school year.” And, like teachers, they believe that “layoffs and a high turnover of teachers; closing schools in major cities; reducing art and music instruction to focus on math and reading; increasing class sizes; and cutting school budgets have had a negative effect on public schools.”

Instead of the “education crisis” that reformers say grips the nation, “nearly two-thirds of parents were satisfied with their children’s public schools.” And “seven in 10 parents said they were satisfied with the quality of their children’s teachers.”

What’s more, “roughly two out of every three parents polled said public schools were more important than religious institutions, businesses and the military in terms of providing important skills for their children.”

Anyone eager to make the case that the polling data is indicative only of what “average” parents believe and doesn’t reflect the desires of “parents trapped in failing schools” or the opinion of red state parents who decry the “public school monopoly” is going to be disappointed when they dig into the results of the survey disaggregated by demographics. What they’ll find is that parent attitudes don’t differ all that much when income or neighborhood context is taken into account. And the variance among parents who identify as Democrats, Republicans, or Independent is not that far apart. (The full report on the survey results can be found here.)

In a speech at the annual meeting of the American Federation of Teachers, AFT president Randi Weingarten did not recite directly from survey results but clearly referenced the findings by stating that “for generations, parents’ aspirations for their children were matched and mirrored by the commitment we made as a nation to public education.”

The reality, of course, is that neither teachers nor parents are determining education policy these days. Instead, we have a system mostly aligned to adults who are at the periphery of the real consequences of “reform” measures.

Private foundations have lavished billions on marketing the idea that schools are in crisis, teachers are failures, and competition and choice will save the day. The richest and most powerful people in the world have erected a vast complex of organizational mechanisms to caste doubt on public schools and promote alternatives like charter schools, private tutoring providers, and online education services. Prominent pundits in the nation’s mainstream media reinforce the education reformers arguments by lambasting teachers and their unions at every turn. And for years, politicians have insulted teachers with impunity and ratcheted-up the pressure on public schools with unfair and inaccurate “accountability” measures.

The fact that this immense effort to defame public schools and teachers has had little if any effect on parents’ overall positive attitudes toward these institutions is astonishing to say the least.

No doubt, the reform crowd is going to respond to the survey data with appeal for “better messaging” and ever more billions in spending from their propaganda machines. But more and better marketing has never been a way to increase demand for a product that just doesn’t sell.

In her speech, Weingarten declared that “the promise” of a quality education for all students “is under pressure and under assault. It’s under pressure from economic and societal factors outside the schoolhouse that make it much more difficult to achieve success within the classroom.” And it’s “under assault by those who want, for ideological reasons, to call one of America’s great accomplishments – public education for all – a failure.”

She called on teachers to “reclaim the promise of public education – not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation, our community’s obligation, to help all children succeed.”

Of course, rallying schoolteachers comes second nature to Weingarten. Parents – the sleeping giant in America’s education debate – have only occasionally shown a determination to correct the imbalance in the nation’s education policies.

However, signs that the sleeping giant is awakening are recurring more frequently. When these intermittent signs grow into a constant and persistent din, self-anointed “education reformers” had better watch out.

10 Comments

Jeff Bryant

July 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm

About time that someone pointed out that parents are supportive of the teachers, by and large, in this argument.
We have too many state-mandated “prove you have learned!” tests that prove nothing but that you can memorize and regurgitate.

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Jeff Bryant

July 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm

The “Lord of Creation” only know the private school system they sent their progeny to so they assume that everyone wants that sort of system. In NYC they changed the simple act of registering your child for public school into a complicated dance of getting your child into the “right school.” A game of musical chairs that leaves some children out in the cold. What people wnat is good solid well rounded educaiton for their children not turning them into production units. AKA proles.

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Jeff Bryant

July 23, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I agree wholeheartedly in everything that was said in this article. Letting teachers TEACH, and students LEARN, rather than trying to get them to absorb a bunch of stuff that they must put into test answers so often that it interferes with their education, should be the mantra of every person interested in regaining our status in education for this nation. We have good teachers who are very dedicated, but who are being denied the right to TEACH because they are so busy trying to cover the materials that are ‘going to be on the current test which measures learning, supposedly’.

As a nation we need to support our teachers, lessen the personnel in the margins of education so that the education dollars are spent in the classrooms on the students, and work toward maintaining reasonable sized classrooms so that individuals can be recognized and dealt with in a positive manner.

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Jeff Bryant

July 23, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Hurray! How nice to see that, maybe, teachers can step up and do the job they’ve been trained to so at so much expense to themselves and their families. Maybe, the “reform crowd” will step down and let teachers teach – not to the test but what children will need in life to succeed. And that is so much more than readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic….and, of course, taking tests.

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Jeff Bryant

July 23, 2013 at 11:55 pm

If parents have problems with the teachers in their public schools, it is because those in the teaching profession (one of the most important influences their children will ever experience!) are grossly underpaid for their crucial work. This has the very bad effect of turning away the highest achievers among university students, who almost inevitably choose other careers. So, yes: public school teachers are frequently not from the “cream” of university graduates,and parents should have more input in encouraging the best candidates, and public schools should focus more on the excellence of their teachers than on their schools’ physical “trappings”. (Comment by a teacher of teachers)

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Jeff Bryant

July 24, 2013 at 4:49 am

Great article that all should read and be reminded where there money is going and for what.
A good Salesman can sell you anything and charge you a lot for it which is what politician does
to save his job. All good teachers know that they need to teach to the child they have in front of them not the ones they don’t have or will never get.

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Jeff Bryant

July 24, 2013 at 7:59 am

Relative to our cultural habit, as developed over time with use of the Victorian model in Western Education, the need for measuring the obvious so that opposite opinions might “man up” in defense of their side of every issue, serves the competitive aspect of humanity in the short term alone. Bigger is better is the path we’re on with dollars as the only, real goal. Rhetoric rules; to hell with common sense!

I suggest Institutional Education, that which we all understand as holding the essence of our common future, and the reason why both sides fight, must shift its pedagogy to a model reflecting 21st Century knowledge. Learn from history or be doomed to repeat its failures, is a bit of wisdom we might appreciate seeing in action as well as in rhetoric.

We’ve established a long list of values putting man within a balanced ecology, inter-dependent and inter-connected with the Earth of which each of us is commonly made. An Earth based education model, giving every child at every grade level real world experiences connecting state teaching objectives with their community’s natural settings, fits the bill representing both conservative and progressive goals. It will reflect a respect for intelligences that are both measureable (I.Q.) and innate (Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences), thusly supporting the whole child rather than the part of each of us that is most easily manipulated. In nature we can now appreciate life at the micro level as well as the big stuff. Bigger is not automatically better. Et alia.

I understand the need to continue to fight the short termed fights representing the Institution. And to those of you more directly connected to them I ask, “Can you not see and take part in a conversation that will shake us from our habituated divisiveness in favor of an evolved perspective leading to the win/win, symbiotic resolutions that have given us a place where we might thrive?” I can only hope.

Let’s reframe the discussion so that the Earth around us is the template for the truly common sense answers that presently seem so elusive. Every one of us has a role in it. None are excluded. All intelligence has value. Dollars cannot be the only answer.

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Jeff Bryant

July 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm

The reason that teachers don’t respond with a promise to “reclaim the promise of education…” is because they are already bitch slapped so hard that none of the teachers want to rock the boat. They get content with their little house, their little car payment, and essentially they are afraid.

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Jeff Bryant

July 26, 2013 at 9:46 am

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Jeff Bryant

July 28, 2013 at 8:57 pm

As a retired teacher who has seen the inside of many classrooms in the last 35 years, I must say your rhetoric strikes me as shallow and one-sided. The standards are too low for teacher training,and teacher and administrative accountability, and so are the expectations in too many places regarding what all children can accomplish in their students’ skills.

The self-anointed status quo crowd would do well to join in the growing commitment to making sure that public education lives up to its promise for all children.

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