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Parents Across America

Parents Across America: Putting the Voice Back Into Public Education

“Our Children, Our Schools, Our Voice”

Several education activists and bloggers, all of us parents, decided to join ranks across the United States and form an organization that spans the states from California to New York.

The name of that organization is Parents Across America.

We are establishing state and citywide chapters. For us in Washington there is now Parents Across America Washington which will take the lead in informing all of legislative issues, lobbying and organizing parent action.

Here in Seattle, we have formed Parents Across America Seattle. We will be informing the public of policies that affect our children here in Seattle and organizing local events and parent actions. To see our latest video of a forum that we sponsored on May 31st titled “Schools that Work” , go to the Parents Across America website.

All are welcomed to join any or all of the organizations. We have teachers, students and parents as members. The only requirement is that you care about education in our country and that you are in no way connected with the Broad or Gates’ Foundations.

Parents Across America, as we jokingly say, is not backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and we intend upon keeping it that way. This is a true grassroots organization made up of parents, teachers, students and concerned members of our community.

Below is an article by Leonie Hamison that was posted in the Huffington Post today and describes our organization. Leonie is one of the founding members of PAA as are Sue and myself.

Dora Taylor

P.S. You can check us out on Facebook also.

Mission statement:

Parents Across America is a grassroots organization founded in May 2010 and comprised of parent leaders throughout the nation who are advocating for commonsense reforms for our public schools.  (See list of founding members below.) 

Our agenda for positive change is research-based, focusing on strengthening neighborhood schools rather than closing them down, providing smaller classes, increasing parent involvement, and offering a well-rounded curriculum, rather than the administration’s current priorities of privatization and rigid, punitive test-based accountability.

Fundamentally, we believe that on behalf of all public school students, parents must be included in the national education debate and deserve far more respect than they have been afforded.

Parents Across America demand to be heard

Last spring, a new grassroots organization called Parents Across America wrote a letter to President Obama, pointing out how parents had been left out of the education discussion at the national level. From the administration’s “Race to the Top” proposals to their proposed “Blueprint” for revising NCLB, parent input has been either dismissed or ignored.

We wrote an article for Education Week, called Shutting Out Parents, about how this conscious disregard of the parent perspective was unacceptable, and must be reversed.

We explained how we wanted to see a quite different set of reforms, focusing on strengthening neighborhood schools rather than closing them down, by providing smaller classes, more parent involvement, and a well-rounded curriculum. Moreover, we pointed out how these reforms are research-based, rather than the highly experimental policies of privatization and test-based accountability currently promoted by this administration.

Why do we reject the administration’s priorities? Many parents have already seen the devastating effects of such top-down policies in our children’s schools, massively increasing the amount of test prep, narrowing the curriculum, sacrificing art, music and science, and degrading the quality of education in numerous ways.

The President responded in a speech by mischaracterizing his critics as supporters of the status quo, which could not be further from the truth. As public school parents, no one understands better than we there needs to be positive, meaningful reforms in our schools.

We wrote a follow-up letter to the President, recently published in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet. In it, we asked him to insist that parent input in decision-making at the national level be instituted at the U.S. Department of Education.

We also focused on the problems inherent in the euphemistically called “School Improvement Grants,” a federal program that is forcing districts across the country with large numbers of poor children to close down their neighborhood schools, convert them to charters, or fire half their teaching staffs.

Like the misconceived “urban renewal” concepts in vogue in the 1950’s and 1960’s , we have seen how these sorts of policies have ripped apart communities and hurt our most vulnerable children.

At the same time, schools across the country are experiencing huge budget cuts, causing the loss of thousands of teaching positions, and even larger class sizes. This is not change we can believe in.

Since our letter was published, we have received enthusiastic response from parents across the country, who are understandably distressed about how their ideas for positive change are being dismissed or ignored.

And we are not alone. See the responses to the recent 2010 PDK/Gallup Poll, “A Time for a Change,” in which only 34% of Americans gave Obama an “A” or a “B” on his education policies. The poll showed especially low support for the administration’s insistence that public schools be closed down or privatized rather than helped to improve.

More recently, Arne Duncan has gone on a tour of the country, in an attempt to show that he is responsive to the concerns of students, parents and teachers, but has shown no signs of changing his policies.

Our letter to Obama is below. If you agree with our views, leave a comment below, join our Facebook page and/or email us at

Dear President Obama:

Several weeks ago, we wrote to you about our concern that your proposed “Blueprint for Reform” did not acknowledge the critical role parents must play in any meaningful school improvement process. We also expressed our serious reservations about some of the Blueprint’s strategies.

Our goal is simple – to ensure that our children receive the best possible education. As parents, we are the first to see the positive effects of good programs, and the first line of defense when our children’s well-being is threatened. Our input is unique and essential.

Recently, Secretary Duncan announced that he would require districts that receive federal school improvement grants (SIG) to involve parents and the community in planning for schools identified for intervention. We appreciate this response as a first step; however, more needs to be done.

First, leadership must come from the top. We would like to see meaningful, broad-based parent participation not just in our local districts, but at the U.S. Department of Education, where critical decisions are being made about our children’s education.

Second, we need more than rhetoric to feel confident that only educationally sound strategies will be used in our children’s schools. The current emphasis on more charter schools, high-stakes testing, and privatization is simply not supported by research. Disagreement on these matters is not a result of parents clinging to the “status quo,” as you have recently asserted. No one has more at stake in better schools than we do – but we disagree with you and Secretary Duncan about how to get them.

We need effective, proven, common-sense practices that will strengthen our existing schools, rather than undermine them. These include parent input into teacher evaluation systems, fairly-funded schools, smaller class sizes and experienced teachers who are respected as professionals, not seen as interchangeable cogs in a machine. We want our children to be treated as individuals, not data points. And we want a real, substantial role in all decisions that affect our children’s schools.

More specifically, and urgently, we insist on being active partners in the formulation of federal school improvement policies. The models proposed by the U.S. Department of Education are rigid and punitive, involving either closure, conversion to charters, or the firing of large portions of the teaching staff. All of these strategies disrupt children’s education and destabilize communities; none adequately addresses the challenges these schools face.

We also insist on being active partners in reforms at the school level, with the power to devise our own local solutions, using research-based methods, after a collaborative needs assessment at each individual school.

Our voices must count. If you listen, you will make real changes in your School Improvement Grant proposals as well as your “Blueprint” for education reform.

We look forward to your response and a brighter future for our children and our nation.

Sincerely, Parents Across America

Natalie Beyer, Durham Allies for Responsive Education (DARE), NC

Caroline Grannan, San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate, CA

Pamela Grundy, Mecklenburg Area Coming Together for Schools, NC

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters, New York, NY

Sharon Higgins, public school parent, Oakland, CA

Susan Magers, Parent Advocate, FL

Karen Miller, Public education advocate, Houston TX

Mark Mishler, active public school parent, former president, Albany City PTA*, NY

Sue Peters, public school parent and co-editor, Seattle Education 2010

Bill Ring, TransParent®, Los Angeles, CA

Lisa Schiff, board member of Parents for Public Schools*, member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco*, “School Beat” columnist for BeyondChron, CA

Rita M. Solnet, President, CDS, Inc.; Director, Testing is Not Teaching, FL

Dora Taylor, Parent and co-editor of Seattle Education 2010, WA

Julie Woestehoff, Parents United for Responsible Education, Chicago, IL

Update September 12, 2010

Rita Solnet speaking at a school board meeting in Florida.

Below is a mission statement and additional information about Parents Across America

Mission statement:

Parents Across America is a grassroots organization founded in May 2010 and comprised of parent leaders throughout the nation who are advocating for commonsense reforms for our public schools.  (See list of founding members below.)

Our agenda for positive change is research-based, focusing on strengthening neighborhood schools rather than closing them down, providing smaller classes, increasing parent involvement, and offering a well-rounded curriculum, rather than the administration’s current priorities of privatization and rigid, punitive test-based accountability.

Fundamentally, we believe that on behalf of all public school students, parents must be included in the national education debate and deserve far more respect than they have been afforded.


In recent months, the national discussion concerning the need to improve our public schools and the direction of education reform has been heated and intense, and yet the parent perspective has been lacking in the debate and in proposals put forward by the US Department of Education and in Congress.  Department of Education proposals have not been based in research but have been significantly influenced by wealthy philanthropists.

Parents Across America has formed to fill that void, and in a few short months has gained prominence through articles in Education Week, the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet, and in prominent education blogs. Through our online petitions at, we have developed an email list of several thousand activists, and we have already begun to establish chapters in several states.

Here are links to some of our recent articles:

Also, on October 5, Parents Across America, Seattle will be co-sponsoring and participating in a forum with Diane Ravitch and Wayne Au of Rethinking Schools.

To move further into the spotlight, build more organization and support, and have a greater impact on the national debate and decision making, we need additional resources.


  • To increase the profile of Parents Across America as an effective national voice in education policy making, and to create state chapters across the country.
  • To advance proven educational strategies such as lower class size, increased parent involvement, inclusive local decision making, equitable school funding, a well-rounded curriculum, high-quality assessments of multiple intelligences, and fair, reliable teacher evaluations than those based primarily on standardized test scores.
  • To provide opportunities for parents across the United States to come together to share concerns about related federal, state and local education policies;
  • To offer examples of successful reforms and best educational practices;
  • To plan joint actions to ensure that the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (formerly No Child Left Behind) and other education policies acknowledge and incorporate our concerns and solutions.

Founding Members of Parents Across America:

Natalie Beyer has three children in the public schools in Durham NC, where she was recently elected to the school board.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Behavioral Science from Rice University and a Master’s of Healthcare Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She has served as PTA President at two DPS schools and is the ministry leader for Youth and Family at her church.  She is also one of the founders of Durham Allies for Responsive Education (DARE), an organization dedicated to building support for and enhancing the quality of education in the Durham public schools. Email:

Caroline Grannan has been a San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate since 1996. She has served on the boards of her children’s schools’ PTAs, the San Francisco PTA and Parents for Public Schools-San Francisco. In 2001, when the San Francisco Board of Education was embroiled in conflict with the for-profit charter operator Edison Schools, Caroline and a fellow parent started an information project that researched Edison and became a widely used resource. Since then, in newspapers and in blogs, she has critiqued charter schools, addressed many other education issues, and has done groundbreaking research revealing the high attrition rates at KIPP charter schools, a finding that was later confirmed in academic studies. She has also successfully advocated for improving school food in San Francisco and statewide. Caroline is a former newspaper editor, and is currently the communications coordinator for San Francisco’s Summer Learning Network, which connects summer youth programs with enrichment resources to fight summer learning loss. Email:

Pamela Grundy lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and is the mother of a fourth grader at Shamrock Gardens Elementary, where in 2009-10 the student body was 89 percent poor and 94 percent nonwhite. She holds a BA in history from Yale University and a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her graduate and postgraduate work has been supported by fellowships from the Spencer Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and her writings on history, education and society have received national awards from the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the History of Education Society and the Oral History Association. She is a founding member of Mecklenburg Area Coming Together for Schools (Mecklenburg Acts), a four-year-old grassroots coalition of parents, citizens and organizations working to build community commitment to equity and excellence in all of Mecklenburg County’s public schools. She also blogs at


Leonie Haimson has been a New York City public school parent since 1995 and the Executive Director of Class Size Matters since 2000, a non-profit organization dedicated to achieving smaller classes in New York City and in the nation as a whole. Class Size Matters has nearly 4,000 subscribers, and in the last few months, more than 3,000 individuals nationwide have taken action in its campaigns to protect teacher jobs, prevent increases in class size, preserve charter school caps, and promote parent involvement in decision-making.  She co-founded the NYC Public School Parent blog in 2007 (more than 120,000 visitors and over 175,000 page views over the past year) and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  Two of her Huff Post columns were recently reprinted in the Washington Post blog, the Answer Sheet. She won the John Dewey award from the United Federation of Teachers for her work on class size in 2007, and was recognized as a “NYC Family hero” by NY Family magazine in 2008.  After collaborating on issues such as mayoral control with Julie Woestehoff of PURE in Chicago, they spearheaded a letter, signed by from parent activists across the nation to Congress and President Obama, about why parent decision-making and class size reduction should be incorporated in their reform agenda.  They also recently wrote an article for Education Week about how the US Department of Education under Arne Duncan has ignored parent voices. Email:

Sharon Higgins has been a public school parent in Oakland, California since 1993. Her daughters’ schools have been coping with NCLB’s stigmatizing label of “failing” for many years. In addition, her school district was subjected to six years of the “business model” of education reform as implemented by graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy during a state takeover. These two negative experiences provoked Sharon’s involvement in education issues. Previously, she worked as a critical care nurse, stay-at-home mom, and parent coordinator at her local middle school. Today, Sharon volunteers at school, serves on a district-level committee, conducts independent research about school issues, and blogs at the Perimeter Primate, Charter School Scandals, and The Broad Report.  Email:

Susan Magers is the parent of a high school student attending public school in Venice, Florida.  She served as a disability advocate for the public schools in her area since 2001 and recently opened her own parent education and advocacy consulting firm [].  She has served as a Chair of several parent leadership organizations including the Venice Middle School Advisory Council, Sarasota County Exceptional Student Advisory Council, the Family and Community Engagement Team, and the Sarasota County Developmental Disabilities Committee of the Community Alliance.  She remains committed to helping parents have a voice in education decision-making for their own child and at the policy level. Email:

Karen Miller is a long time PTA volunteer, and the legislative chair of the Austin (Texas) Council of PTAs , working to retain class size caps, preK and full day K funding, first established by Texas’ landmark school reform bill in 1984.  For many years, she was the Regional PTA chair in Gulf Coast area, chair of the Houston League of Women Voters Education committee, head of the School Finance committee of the Texas League of Women Voters, and for four years, chair of the Texas PTA legislative committee.  She has done also research for the anti-voucher group Texas Coalition for Public Schools and the Texas Freedom Network, an organization fighting for religious freedom, civil liberties and stronger public schools.

Mark Mishler has been a public school parent and education activist in Albany, NY, since 1994.  He has two children, one a graduate of the Albany public schools, the other currently enrolled in the public school system. Mark recently served three years as president of the city-wide PTA in Albany, which is a small district with a high poverty rate, and more charter schools per capita than any other district in the state.  The proliferation of charter schools in Albany has had a negative effect on the public schools, in terms of finances and other factors. Mark’s work has included lobbying the State government, writing letters and op-eds in the local paper, and, while City PTA president, blogging about charter schools and other education issues on the Albany PTA Blog at the Times Union website. He is also a well-known local civil rights and criminal defense lawyer involved in issues of police brutality and civilian oversight for more than twenty-five years.  Email:

Sue Peters is a journalist and blogger with two children in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). A longtime progressive activist in San Francisco and Seattle, her focus turned to public education in 2008 when the Seattle School District threatened to close her son’s high-achieving elementary school for questionable reasons. She joined a coalition of parents that successfully fought to keep the school open, and became a member of ESP Vision (Educators, Students and Parents for a Better Vision for Seattle Schools), a citywide organization founded to oppose the district’s school closure policies. ESP staged protests, rallies and mounted an aggressive online campaign, bringing to public attention numerous problems with the district’s leadership. In 2009, Sue and fellow parent Dora Taylor co-founded the Seattle Education 2010 blog, which aims to elucidate and critique the current policies of the Seattle school system and the Duncan administration. Sue has an M.A. in journalism from Stanford University, and her writings on the arts, politics and education have been published in various local and national publications.  Email:

Bill Ring is Director of TransParent®, a grassroots education advocacy, leadership development and training organization for California public school parents. Both of his children are products of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and he has coordinated with parent leaders statewide in addressing the State Board of Education on the need to strengthen oversight and effectiveness of School Site Councils and overhaul school improvement and shared decision-making processes. A long-time activist for parents’ rights, he was a plaintiff in the successful lawsuit to overturn AB 1381, the legislation giving the Mayor of Los Angeles control over L.A. public schools in 2006. ( has served on the City of Los Angeles’ Board of Education’s Budget and Finance Committee, LAUSD’s Teacher Effectiveness Task Force,  the  Transparent Budget Advisory Committee, the Superintendent’s Composite Assessment Team (CAT), the Parent Engagement Leadership Task Force, and has been Chairperson of the Parent Engagement Policy Development Committee of the LAUSD Parent Collaborative.  Email:

Lisa Schiff is the parent of twin daughters attending a public middle school in San Francisco.  During the school year she writes a weekly column on public education issues called “School Beat,” which appears in the online paper BeyondChron.  She has been a member of the San Francisco Chapter of Parents for Public Schools since 2002, serving on the board for four years and now serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.  Lisa works as a digital librarian in the California Digital Library at the University of California, is the author of Informed Consent: Information Production and Ideology, published by Scarecrow Press, and holds a Ph.D. in Library and Information Studies.   Email:

Rita Solnet is a parent of a son who graduated from south Florida public schools in 2008.  She has been an education activist in Palm Beach County and in Tallahassee for over a decade, and often acts as the intermediary to the business community.  After having worked in IBM Corporation over 23 years, she founded her own corporate training and organizational consulting firm ten years ago.  She has held numerous leadership positions within Palm Beach County School District, the 11th largest district in the nation, was PTA President for four years, School Advisory Council Board Member for 8 years, District Business Partner liaison, and currently serves as Chair of the Boca Raton High School Advisory Council.  She belongs to the West Boca Chamber of Commerce and is member of the ALS Foundation.  Her letter to Sec. Duncan protesting his “Race to the Top” grant program was recently reprinted in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.  Along with Sue Magers, she has formed Parents Across America, Florida. Email:

Dora Taylor is a parent of a high school student at a public school in Seattle, Washington, and is an architect and teacher.  In response to school closures in the Seattle Public School system, Dora and her co-editor, Sue Peters, started the blog Seattle Education 2010 to report on and analyze education issues, and to protect the Seattle public school system from the corporate model and privatization efforts of the Gates Foundation, headquartered in Seattle.  More recently, she has blogged about the “Race to the Top” program of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and along with Sue Peters, formed Parents Across America, Seattle.  Email:

Julie Woestehoff has been with the Chicago non-profit organization Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) for 20 years, and has been its executive director since 1995. She is the parent of two Chicago Public School graduates, a veteran elected local school council member, and writer of the blog, PURE Thoughts, which covers key education issues. Julie is a frequent speaker on topics of parent involvement, site-based management, and student testing, is regularly interviewed on national and local news, and was named one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago by the Chicago Sun-Times in 2004.  In 2003 along with the rest of the PURE staff, she won the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World Award, recognizing powerful grass-roots leadership.  She also has a regular column in the blog Chicago Examiner. Email:

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