Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jay Mathews Gets It Wrong on Parent Power

I'm grateful to RiShawn Biddle for writing such a compelling (and respectful) rebuttal to Mathews, so I don't have to take the time to do so.  The only thing I'd add is that the real power behind the Parent Trigger isn't actually going through with it, which might only happen 1% of the time – it's the other 99% of the time in which: a) parents are EMPOWERED; and b) there's the THREAT of a parent vote.  I've heard so many stories about how badly the Blob treats parents – not parents like me, to be sure, as the system is forced to respect well-educated parents with wealth and power, but rather less-education, poor and mostly minority parents.  The most common disrespect, of course, is blaming these parents when, say, their child can't read by, say, age 10.  Let me be clear: I'm very aware of how difficult it is to educate children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, often from broken families and communities, but there's no excuse if a child can't read at a minimum of a basic level – yet a MAJORITY of black and Latino 4th graders are BELOW BASIC!  I want every educator in every school that is failing to properly educate the majority of children to feel enormous urgency – and right now, in WAY too many schools, there's complacency, as widespread mediocrity (or worse) is tolerated, year in and year out, decade in and decade out, because, "Hey, you can't expect us to do anything with those kids and those parents…"  Here's Biddle:

Your editor doesn't necessarily like criticizing education reporters he admires such as Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. Especially after he mentions Dropout Nation's revelations about the American Federation of Teachers' real views on Parent Trigger laws. But when Jay Mathews writes a column about Parent Trigger and Parent Power, he offers up a doozy. Mathews declares in his latest Class Struggle that Parent Trigger laws should be "tossed into the trash". Why? From where he sits, Parent Trigger laws are divisive and "fashionable" reforms that are ineffective in taking on "the power centers" in education, and will do little more than disappoint parents. He thinks parents, who, in his mind, know nothing (and seemingly, are incapable of learning about what their kids need for learning), should just leave things to "imaginative educators" who know better.

The fact that Parent Trigger laws have already been passed in three states pretty much proves lie to Mathews' argument. So does the fact that there have been other so-called "fashionable" school reform efforts, namely the charter school movement, that started out as small clusters. But more on that in a bit.

…The most-positive reforms of the past three decades have not been driven by "experts", but by men and women outside of education — especially parents. It was Virginia Walden Ford who forced the reforms that are slowly improving D.C.'s traditional public school system and bringing high-quality options into the poorest neighborhoods. It was the work of Joel Klein in New York City that has led to one of the most-amazing revivals of a traditional district; while the efforts of Steve Barr in forming Green Dot charter schools and agitating for Parent Power that led L.A. Unified to undergo its current overhaul. It was Eric Hanushek and William Sanders, neither of whom taught a class, who developed such revolutions in education such as Value-Added Measurement of test-score data), while non-teachers such as Jay P. Greene, Michael Holzman, Robert Balfanz and Christopher Swanson have furthered unleashed data for use in overhauling schools. And it was a non-teacher, Sandy Kress, who helped make much of modern school reform possible by crafting the No Child Left Behind Act and its Adequate Yearly Progress accountability provisions.

…This isn't discounting good-to-great teachers. Not at all. After all, it has been educators, from Escalante's work at Garfield High, to the efforts of Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin in forming KIPP, which proved once and for all that poor and minority students are capable of taking on college-preparatory work. There are thousands of good-to-great teachers, from Roy Jones and his Call Me Mister program, to Steve Perry in Connecticut, and Steve Evangelista of Harlem Link Charter School, who are doing amazing work. If anything, the need to attract these talents to education is why we must reform teacher compensation and reward them with both performance bonuses and with grants that will allow them to start their own schools. But their work isn't sustainable without families. And families, tired of failure factories, demanding more than fifth-rate, and exercising power through Parent Trigger laws, vouchers and other means, are the ones who will help pave the way for good-to-great teachers to help overhaul American public education.

Here's the thing: Parents alone won't overhaul American public education– and no one ever insisted that they would. This education crisis cannot be solved by any one group. And there will be no one solution, not even "imaginative" good-to-great teachers and leaders. But this crisis cannot be solved without parents having the critical role of being lead decision-makers in education. Parent Trigger laws, along with vouchers, charter schools and other forms of school choice, provide families with the tools they need to force changes that should have happened long ago.

Criticizing Mathews is not one of my favorite things. After all, he deserves all the plaudits in the world for his great contributions to education reporting. But on this issue, he's mistaken.


Jay Mathews Gets It Wrong on Parent Power

August 10, 2011 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle


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