What Do Parents Know About Education?

Do you know if your child is getting a good education? Not the quality of the school, but the education? It’s not hard to get familiar with school reform issues as they are portrayed in the media, but I think it’s much harder for a parent to try and figure out what comprises a great education, especially without weighing in with some experts – ie teachers, researchers and school leaders. But a group of policy-heavy parent organizations insists that parents already know everything there is to know about education – and that local public schools don’t.

Several of the parent-led education groups I follow on social media have been circulating a hair-raising video called “Parents Know Best,” which was put together by policy PAC American Federation for Children, a charter school and ‘parent choice’ advocacy group. Even casting aside some of the more objectionable content so obviously taken out of context (TMZ-style rush cutaways of educators and NEA staffers saying that parents don’t always know what’s best for their children, while knowingly on camera), I still find the main message of the video at the very least counterproductive, and at the most disturbing: your public school is out to get you. It wants to tell you what’s good is bad, and what’s bad is good. Type made to look like child’s handwriting scrawls across the screen: “Parents are under attack,” then we are shown that public school officials aim to make a mockery of us. Silly parent, how can you be so gullible to trust your teachers?

Policy-heavy PAC’s posing as grassroots parents groups are popping up all over the country, encouraging parents not to dig in and understand what comprises a great education for their children, but to come to agree with them on education policy decisions having to do with how schools are managed – ones like the “Parent Trigger” laws that 20 states have either passed or considered. Groups like Parent Revolution and Parents Know Best, a part of the American Federation for Children, aim to sway parents toward a “freedom of choice” ideology, one in which every parent knows the school that will best fit their child, which are usually charter schools. The videos made by these groups, which are armed and ready to help parents choose the “freedom” of a charter and voucher system, present the public school system as a clear and dangerous enemy that has bad intentions for them and their children. The current public school system, they argue, wants to trap your child in failure because it means big money or big power for groups like the unions; inside this narrative, it is the parents’ job to rescue their children from becoming nothing more than a pawn in a dangerous, zero-sum educational game.

There is nothing wrong with charter schools, or any type of education where real learning takes place. But I have to stop and wonder in whose best interest it is to tell parents this is a war, and they should be outraged. I know that there is good and bad education taking place across a variety of settings right now – and that both can be hiding where you least expect them. I can’t help but question the motives of groups like Parents Know Best, who might prey on the fears of families who are searching for a good education for their kids. Instead of using their platform to inform parents of what to look for, what to help their kids do at home, and what kinds of schools might best suit their kids, these ‘parents groups’ only add to the acrimony by engaging parents’ darkest fears.

I wonder why more grassroots parents groups like these don’t focus on teaching parents about learning? Before I began researching learning and school reform as it pertained to my own children, I admit I didn’t know much about how kids learn, and how they need to learn. For example, until I consulted the early childhood experts, I was unaware, that my five-year-old should still be engaged in a play-based curriculum that caters to where his brain is at developmentally — and this is diametrically opposed to the current kindergarten standard, which is academics-based and only getting more so by the year. Using this as the only example, imagine what parents could do in their local schools armed with this information and how it might transform learning and achievement? Imagine what parents could do if they were presented with knowledge instead of fear? Imagine if it was a community working on a problem instead of a battle in a war?

The real parent revolution will come when parents come to an understanding about teaching and learning, and each is armed with tools to support teaching and learning both at home and at school, whatever that school might look like.

More Rescources:

How Much Parent Power is Too Much? by Sam Chaltain on CNN Schools of Thought

Parent Unions Seek to Join Policy Debate by Sean Cavanagh at Education Week