Press Release:

WASHINGTON, D. C. – Several members of Parents Across America (PAA), a national network of activist parents, participated in a Parent Leaders meeting today hosted by the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach. Attending the USDE meeting were PAA members from New York City, Chicago, Florida, New Orleans, Arizona and Austin TX.

Frustration over the way parent voices are ignored in education policy debates led the parents to form PAA just over a year ago. Since then, they have published position papers and op-eds, and fought hard and won against proposed “parent trigger” legislation, school budget cuts, and privatization in many states across the nation. They have met with scores of Congressional representatives both in Washington and in their home states, but they have yet to be heard where key decisions about federal education policy are made, and were disappointed to be refused a meeting with Secretary Duncan today.

“When federal education authorities like Secretary Duncan, don’t recognize the importance of having parents at the table for making policy decisions that affect their children, it sets a precedent and validates a protocol where local education authorities feel no need to consult with parents, either. It makes it that much harder for parents to have a voice, even at the local level,” said Lorie Barzano, of PAA’s Texas affiliate, Coalition Saving Austin Urban Schools.

PAA challenges Duncan policies

Julie Woestehoff, PAA Founding member, Chicago, Illinois.

Early on in the meeting, PAA co-founder Julie Woestehoff, of Chicago’s Parents United for Responsible Education, challenged speaker Anna Hinton, director of Parental Options and Information, USDE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, who stated that parental involvement in decision-making meant helping parents make good choices about what schools their children should attend.

Woestehoff objected to the implication that the only decision parents should be involved in is “school choice” using charter schools and vouchers, programs that most parents do not want or support.

Leonie Haimson, PAA Founding member, New York City.

Later, during a question and answer period, PAA co-founder Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters in New York noted, “Things are very bad in New York City, where we are closing schools rather than improving them. The city is obsessed with testing and parents are sick of it. This has not been an improvement over No Child Left Behind, but simply more of the same from this administration. Parents are not listened to or respected. We object to the Race to the Top program, competitive funding, and a budget that cuts money from key programs that work such as class size reduction. The law needs to be changed so that parents are really listened to.”

PAA members skeptical, determined to be heard

PAA member Karrran Harper Royal to USDE: "This is not reform."

Karran Harper Royal, a New Orleans parent and founding PAA member, said “At today's event we saw some real on-the-ground parent organizations with a vast amounts of knowledge. It is my hope that our concerns and feedback will lead to strengthening groups like ours and not to utilizing parent engagement money to fund groups that push privatizing public education. Many parents here want to help improve schools, not close them. We want to define what parent involvement looks like. It's time for the federal government to support policies that strengthen every neighborhood school so that every child gets a top quality education.”

Rita Solnet, PAA Founding member, Florida.

Rita M. Solnet of Florida’s Testing is Not Teaching, and a PAA founding member, said “I appreciate the opportunity to network with several education advocacy organizations targeting special needs and minority populations. I was disappointed, however, in the lack of serious dialogue about the federal education policies that parents are so opposed to, such as the over-reliance on high stakes tests and the expansion of privatization under NCLB and Race to the Top which has created the detrimental data driven system that is undermining our children’s education today.”

Robin Hiller, a PAA member from Tucson and executive director of Voices for Education, said, “Despite the fact that we were not able to get a meeting with Secretary Duncan, we were pleased to be invited today and we hope that this is the beginning of a real dialogue between federal policy makers and parents, not just another attempt to add window-dressing to policies that are already decided. In our experience, public officials are too prone to announce that they have ‘met with’ parents despite having completely ignored parent concerns. We will know that our ideas are respected only when we see the necessary changes in the administration’s policies and budget.”

PAA will continue to reach out to Arne Duncan as well as our Senators and Congressmen to share our views about the reforms needed to improve our children’s schools. See the PAA  position paper summary on ESEA as an example of PAA’s views on education reform. We will continue to try to open up a positive dialogue between lawmakers and parents, who have the most at stake in stronger, more effective federal education policies.

USDE conference- In
front, L to R Tesa Wilson (New York), Lorie Barzano (Austin TX); back L to R Julie Woestehoff (Chicago IL),
Karen Sprowal (New York), Carrie Jasper, Director of USDE Parent and Family
Outreach, Karran Harper Royal (New Orleans LA)and Rita Solnet (Florida).

Parents Across America (PAA) is a grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the U.S. to share ideas and work together on improving our nation’s public schools. We advocate for proven, progressive measures such as reducing class size and increasing parent involvement, and oppose high-stakes testing and corporate-style efforts to privatize our schools. PAA is committed to bringing the voice of public school parents – and common sense – to local, state, and national education debates.
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