by Wana Duhart
It has taken a very long time, but it was well worth the wait. When you consider the amount of clutter and noise that parents have had to sift through, in order to fully understand the condition of their local schools, it has been time well spent because now we can be pretty sure that moms and dads have an up close and personal perspective about what impacts their children's education.
In years past, families basically relied on school officials and classroom teachers to tell them what was going on in school. Now, because schools are being threatened by teacher incompetence, cheating scandals, low graduation rates, and failing test scores, parents are being inundated with information and data from all sides – all of which point to a state of desperation for many students and schools.
In a strange way, we've had to wait for the masses of parents to catch up to the scores of data and research which have been telling us for years that we need more active participation and support from families in order for young people to reach their academic potential. Moms and dads hold the keys to academic success for schoolchildren, because not only do they have the greatest influence on the kids, but they are also the one group that can wield the power necessary to get everyone's attention and cause reform to accelerate.
What we are witnessing in greater numbers across states is the growth of parent-centered reform policies which are empowering moms and dads. These parent-focused initiatives may be the last shoe to drop in our nation's broader pursuit of comprehensive K12 reform. Whereas philanthropists, corporations, nonprofits, communities of faith, and education entrepreneurs have not been able to move the needle of reform in some communities that need it the most, parents are strategically positioned to shatter the walls of tradition and loyalty that are a strong hindrance to real and substantive reform efforts in these communities.
States are placing school choice decisions in the hands of the parents, and allowing them to hold themselves as well as schools accountable for the education of their school-aged children. Mechanisms such as "parent-triggers" in some states provide families with the legal and political tools necessary to close failing schools or propose innovative options such as charter schools. Ultimately, parents want to know that local schools are performing well and students are achieving at high levels.
Most parents probably would prefer that their neighborhood schools remain open and build a reputation for being vibrant learning centers. However, they also want these same local schools to get serious about transforming teaching and learning in ways that will yield high academic achievement for their students. Such a proposition has become more likely for many more students because parent groups are being endowed with new forms of power, influence, and strength. Parent-centered policies can help to make sure that families are given the choices and access the students need to have the best chance for academic success.
Wana Duhart is the Founder and CEO of Trahud Enterprises, which develops alliances in education that yield innovation, creativity, and flexibility in public schooling. and has spent three decades working in varying capacities across many sectors. She is the author of the book A Call to the Village: Retooling Public Schools and publishes her own blog, The VillageSpace.