May 5, 2010 — Today, parent leaders and advocates from throughout the nation sent a letter to the President and Congress, asking them to keep the parent voice in public education and to oppose the administration’s “Blueprint” for the re-authorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) put forward by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Eighteen parent leaders from cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington DC, pointed out that the parent voice has been missing from the national debate on education and is entirely absent from the top-down and often draconian proposals being put forward by the administration.
They expressed their conviction that the Blueprint’s proposals would undermine rather than strengthen their city’s public schools, and that these reforms represent large-scale experiments on children with little or no backing in the research, and lacking informed parental consent.
The signers pointed out that the Blueprint removes existing and essential mechanisms for engaging parents, and that the document’s only recognition of the need to involve parents for parents of Indian children be included in the design of school-level programs. They also drew attention to the fact that class size reduction, the top priority of parents in national surveys and one of the few reforms proven to increase learning through rigorous evidence, is omitted from the administration’s priorities.
In many cities, thousands of parents, teachers and students have erupted in protest against the closing of neighborhood schools which are often the anchors of their communities, and in opposition to the prospect that more exclusive screened schools or charter schools will be put in their place. Yet instead of offering more resources and support to improve the troubled schools that our most at-risk children attend, the proposed legislation threatens to further undermine them, by requiring that five percent be closed, turned into charter schools, or that half their teaching staff be fired.
The signers of the letter particularly objected to the administration’s focus on forcing states to privatize education, by radically expanding their charter school sector. They urged the Congress “to be wary of the influence of venture philanthropy on our public education system,” and to be aware that “powerful foundations are shaping many of our federal and local education policies with dollars rather than evidence-based solutions.”
According to Leonie Haimson, New York City public school parent and Executive Director of Class Size Matters, “the approach of this administration to education reform has been at best oblivious; at worst, it is highly disrespectful of the central role that parents should play in their children’s education and lives. Moreover, the punitive approaches embodied in the Blueprint would undermine and discourage quality teaching and learning, particularly in the nation’s schools that need it the most.”
Julie Woestehoff, Chicago parent advocate and Executive Director of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) said, “the Blueprint pays almost no attention to the need to address the enormous disparities in funding across and within states, saying only that states should be asked to measure and report on these disparities. Yet in a plan filled with heavy-handed threats and promises of financial windfalls, this statement seems to be a mere afterthought with no consequences attached.”
The parent leaders who signed the letter insist that the next version of the ESEA must formally incorporate the views of public school parents: “As highly knowledgeable primary stakeholders, we must be permitted to have a seat at the decision-making table.”
The letter concludes its message to Congress this way: “You hold a great responsibility in your hands this year in reauthorizing the ESEA. We hope you will listen to parents, the most important stakeholders of our public school system, before you make the radical and destructive changes that the administration has put forward. “