NOT Your Mother’s PTA
Bruno Manno, senior advisor for K–12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation and former U.S. assistant secretary of education for policy, with an article in Education Next which highlights the demise of PTAs and rise of advocacy groups such as the three he profiles: Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children:
Truth be told, few in today's K–12 education reform movement look to the PTA to fight for dramatic change or engage in direct conflict with the public education establishment. Education historian William Cutler explains in Parents and Schools that "educators and most school board members prefer to think of the parent-teacher association as an extension of the educational establishment, 'an auxiliary to the public school,' as the Los Angeles County Board of Education put it in 1908."
Among today's advocates for young people are nonprofit insurgent groups that challenge the education establishment by organizing, educating, and mobilizing parents in a variety of roles and in different ways, empowering them to engage in K–12 reform efforts. This organizing generates collective, durable power that advances the interests of K–12 education consumers—especially parents—rather than education producers.
Some organizations direct their activities only to district and/or charter school issues, such as improving teacher quality and effectiveness, developing new public charter schools, or closing and transforming failing district schools to create new high-quality schools of choice. Other organizations focus on the private school sector and issues such as using taxpayer-funded scholarships, or vouchers, or tuition tax credits to enable children to attend private schools. Still other organizations undertake cross-sector approaches like educating and mobilizing parents so that they are empowered to choose a quality school for their child, whether it be district, charter, or private.
In short, these advocacy groups empower parents to make their voices and choices a primary catalyst of school reform.
This piece limits its focus to three organizations that use parent mobilization and advocacy to catalyze district sector and charter sector reform: Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children. I do not consider others engaged in private school parent mobilization and empowerment or those using other approaches to educate or mobilize parents, e.g., GreatSchools.org, which provides information to parents on school quality and rankings.
These three organizations are similar in many ways, but differences in their legal structures affect the scope of their parent mobilization and advocacy strategies, activities, and tactics. The piece closes by presenting a framework for thinking more generally—one might say strategically—about different operating models for parent advocacy and organizing and by raising some key questions about the future of these efforts.