Parents Across America Oppose the Administration's Blueprint for Education Reform
Kudos to these parent leaders for their strong statement. Send the letter to your professional organizations. Ask them where their letters are. Write an op ed about this important letter.
Organize parents in your neighborhood.
Add your voice immediately by signing this parent petition.
And there's a Facebook page to join: Parents Across America Say: Put the Parent Voice Back in Public Education!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Leonie Haimson , 917-435-9329
Julie Woestehoff, 773-538-1135
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 is that 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."
The full letter is posted here and below.
To President Obama and the U.S. Congress:
As public school parents and parent advocates, we have grave reservations about the
"Blueprint" for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) put forward by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
So far, the parent voice has been missing from the debate and is entirely absent from the
top-down and often draconian proposals being put forward by your administration. This
approach ignores the central role that parents should play in their children's education and lives.
We strongly believe that the Blueprint's proposals would undermine rather than strengthen our public school system, particularly in the urban districts whose parents we represent. Many of
the schools in our communities are already experiencing substandard conditions and need
enhanced support, especially during the current economic crisis, yet will suffer great harm if
these proposals are enacted into law.
Our schools are facing huge budget cuts, resulting in sharp increases in class size, the
shortening of the school year, massive teacher layoffs, and the loss of many valuable programs
and services. Yet the new proposed funding system will rely primarily on competitive grants, and
questionable policies, as exemplified in the "Race to the Top" program. This means that
millions of at-risk children will become "losers" in the race for federal funds.
Moreover, though the Department of Education calls their proposals "innovation", we instead
see them as representing large-scale experiments on our children, without backing in the
research and without informed parental consent, something that would never be allowed in the
field of medicine.
Blueprint plans fail to acknowledge proven reform strategies including increased parent
involvement and lower class size
A central flaw in this administration's approach is the complete failure to encourage parent
involvement in decision-making. Studies show that the more involved parents are at the school
level, the better their children's outcomes. Yet the proposed education budget would eliminate
the sole funding dedicated to family engagement, and the ESEA Blueprint removes essential
mechanisms for engaging parents at the school or district level.
The only instance in which parent involvement in decision-making is mentioned in the entire
Blueprint is to require that parents of Indian (or Native American) children should be included in
the design of programs at the school level, with no recognition that all public school parents,
whatever their background, should be involved.
Involving parents in decision-making is essential to any successful school turnaround
strategy, as is the need for smaller classes, which is the priority of parents and teachers
according to national surveys.
Class size reduction is also one of only a handful of education reforms that have proven to
increase learning, according to the Institute of Education Sciences, and one of the few methods
that have been shown to narrow the achievement gap. Yet the schools that poor and minority
children attend tend to be burdened by excessive class sizes.
Blueprint plans are disruptive and force districts to use questionable interventions
ESEA was originally designed as extra support for poor children, and federal funding was
distributed by a formula to assure that they received the most benefit. Yet instead of offering
more resources to the schools that these children attend, with the option to strengthen these
schools by offering proven reforms, the proposed legislation threatens to further undermine
them, by requiring that five percent of these schools be closed or turned into charter schools, or
that half of their teaching staff be fired.
In some respects, neighborhood schools are the anchors of their communities, and in many
cities, thousands of parents, teachers and students have erupted in protest against the closing
of their neighborhood schools and the prospect that more exclusive screened schools or charter
schools will be forcibly put in their place.
These interventions are overly disruptive, and are unlikely to help our schools improve. We
speak from experience. In Chicago, the mass closure of schools has been associated with
increased violence, including students murdering other students. Moreover, research shows that
the students sent elsewhere after the closure of their schools did no better academically than
In New York, the closing of schools has led to more overcrowding and destabilization of nearby
schools, and sharp spikes in the discharge rate -- with thousands more students leaving the
system or being pushed out without graduating, and yet never counted as dropouts.
We particularly object to the focus on forcing states to privatize education, by radically
expanding their charter school sector. Though some charter schools may offer a quality
education, the largest national study shows they are on average no better and often are worse
than neighboring public schools. They also draw resources and in many cases precious space
from our district public schools, while enrolling fewer immigrant, special needs, and poor
children than the communities in which they reside.
Education is a public trust and the very foundation of our democracy. We urge you to be wary
of the influence of venture philanthropy on our public education system. We are well aware that
powerful foundations -- such as those of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, and others--
are shaping many of our federal and local education policies with dollars rather than evidence based
solutions. We urge you to insist that the next version of the ESEA formally incorporates
the views of public school parents as well. As highly knowledgeable primary stakeholders, we
must be permitted to have a seat at the decision-making table.
Blueprint plans undermine and discourage quality teaching and learning
The punitive approaches proposed by the administration are also likely to deter rather than
attract qualified teachers to work in our highest-need schools. Blaming teachers and
threatening them with the loss of their jobs in under-resourced, overcrowded schools with the
most at-risk students is like blaming doctors for our inequitable health care system, and will lead
to even greater inequities in the distribution of experienced teachers. As one teacher recently
expressed "we have 100% of the accountability and 0% of the authority".
Tying teacher pay and tenure to gains or losses in student standardized test scores will not only
make the prospect of teaching in our inner cities less attractive, but is also highly unreliable, as
the National Academy of Sciences has pointed out.
Too many of our schools have already become joyless test prep factories, rather than centers of
real learning. All children, especially those in inner cities whose parents cannot afford to
supplement their schooling, need and deserve a full complement of social studies, science, arts
and physical education -- yet these subjects have been driven out as a result of the high-stakes
testing regime imposed in recent years. The
Blueprint pays lip service for the need for a wellrounded
education, but its proposals to link teacher evaluation and pay to the results of highstakes
exams are likely to make a bad situation even worse.
Blueprint plans avoid the greatest cause of school failure -- inequality of resources
Finally, this Blueprint pays almost no attention to the need to address enormous disparities in
funding across and within states, saying only that "states be asked to measure and report on
resource disparities and develop a plan to tackle them."
Yet in a plan filled with heavy-handed threats and promises of financial windfalls for states that
adhere to the administration's preferred approaches of closing schools, firing teachers, tying
their pay to test scores, and opening more charters, this statement seems to be a mere
afterthought with no consequences attached.
Please listen to parents; reject the Blueprint plans and enact positive, proven policies
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.
Instead, we urge you to replace these risky experiments with proposals that offer real solutions
to the problems facing our schools, including ending unfair funding disparities, reducing class
sizes, providing a balanced curriculum with multiple assessments, and requiring that schools
involve parents in the decision-making process.
These are the changes that parents want, that will work, and that, if incorporated into ESEA, will
provide our neediest public school children with their best chance to learn and succeed.
We would all welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further. We look forward
to hearing from you.
Leonie Haimson, public school parent, NYC and Executive Director, Class Size Matters
Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE),
Caroline Grannan, public school parent, volunteer and advocate, San Francisco
Natalie Beyer, public school parent and advocate, Durham Allies for Responsive
Education (DARE), Durham, North Carolina
Sharon Higgins, public school parent, volunteer and advocate, Oakland, California
Karen Miller, parent advocate, Houston, former Texas PTA Legislative Chair
Gina Arlotto, public School parent, Washington DC, co-founder, Save Our Schools DC
Mark Mishler, public school parent, Albany, NY, former Co-President (2005-07 & 2008-09),
Albany City Council of PTAs
Sandra Halladey, co-founder, Parents for Public Schools, San Francisco
Sue Peters, public school parent and advocate, co-editor of Seattle Education 2010
Bill Ring, parent advocate, Los Angeles, Director, TransParentÃƒ‚Ã‚Â®
Steven Ross, President, Chicago Parents Union
Sheila Warren, founder, Portland (Oregon) Parent Union
Tina Sanders-Hill, public school parent and advocate, Allies for Responsive Education
(DARE), Durham, North Carolina
Lisa Schiff, public school parent, San Francisco
Dora Taylor, public school parent and advocate, co-editor of Seattle Education 2010
Pamela Grundy, public school parent, Charlotte, N.C., Mecklenburg Area Coming
Together for Schools
Lee Glazer, public school parent, Washington DC, Save our Schools DC