Parents – We’re More Than Just “Cheerleaders”

By: Tillie Elvrum

I recently returned from the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 2016 National Summit on Education Reform. This conference is always a favorite because the panel discussions and keynote speakers are inspiring. The conference is led by reformers and advocates who are working to make a world-class education available to every child. As parent advocates, and national board members at PublicSchoolOptions.org, we attend lots of conferences every year to learn about school choice and policies that affect our families.

I leave these conferences recharged and inspired to continue my work fighting for parents to have access to every public school option. This year’s National Summit on Education Reform was no different. In fact, I came home with more determination to make sure parent voices are heard as we approach upcoming legislative sessions.

And I’ll tell you why…

I, along with fellow PSO board member Amy Threewitt, attended several panel discussions over the course of the conference. Many of the sessions discussed school accountability, performance frameworks, ESSA implementation, and A to F report cards for schools. These are important topics to cover, but we were struck by the lack of parental involvement in these discussions. During one discussion about how states developed their A-F report cards, two slides stood out to me.

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This slide outlined stakeholders in the A to F policy process. Who is missing? PARENTS.

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This slide merely pointed to parents as “cheerleaders.”  While we weren’t included as stakeholders to help determine policies that affect our children, we were expected to support and cheer on the policies – after the decisions have been made.

Disappointing, to say the least.

Just to make sure I wasn’t confused about how these policy discussions played out, I asked a question during the Q & A portion of the panel: How did they make sure parents were involved in the policy discussions, aside from giving feedback once the policy was already crafted? The silence was deafening. Out of four states represented on the panel, only one state, Arizona, invited parents to be part of the process from the start.

Sadly, many of the “experts” crafting policy and exerting influence only see parents as “cheerleaders” to rubber stamp their policies. This panel is just one example of parents not having a seat at the table during important discussions that affect our children and schools.

This is the wrong approach and a disservice to parents. Parents are the ultimate stakeholders – they are their children’s number one advocates. As education reform and school choice advocates, we should be empowering parents through choice and bringing them to the table during policy discussions. Parents can inform policymakers on how certain recommendations will affect their schools and children.

PARENTS…this is my message to you: Your voices are important. Make them heard! Because other education stakeholders that have more money and more power will stop at nothing to get the attention of those who make decisions about your children’s education.

We recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first charter school law and we have seen many positive changes since then – but we still have work to do. If you’ve always had a choice between your local public school, brick-and-mortar charters, or online or blended schools, you should be grateful. But also remember that those options weren’t always available and nothing is guaranteed. Our schools of choice are under threat across the country – from budget cuts to different accountability standards for different schools, parental choice is under attack.

Parents, you will have opportunities to share your perspectives during upcoming legislative sessions, and we will be there to support you. You can lend your voice by writing letters to the editor, meeting with your legislators, or participating in key hearings.

PublicSchoolOptions.org wants to make sure your students have a full menu of educational options. Stay vigilant and take every opportunity to make your voices heard.  If reformers, policymakers, and legislators are wise they will invite you to the table and listen.

Let’s send a message to our policymakers that parents are stakeholders, not just cheerleaders, and we know our children and schools best!