Parent Advocacy Beyond the Cake Sale, Why Parents Are Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem

If a parent is dissatisfied with the placement of their special needs child they can question the principal, who sends them to the District Parent Advocate who sends them back to the principal who tells them to call 311 which results in a call from the same District Parent Advocate, a run around which frustrates and angers parents.

No one within the department informs them they can appeal the decision through the impartial hearing process at which an Independent Hearing Officer, in a litigious process issues a binding determination.

The department see parents are a necessary but annoying appendage.

Once again the department is creating a Parent Academy, for ten years as parent hostility to the Bloomberg/Klein initiatives grew the department scrambled to “organize” parents, i. e., to convince parents of the wisdom of their policies. As the gap widened and more and more parents expressed dissatisfaction the department changed the leadership at the parent advocacy office. If you can’t convince the parents, simply speak louder and slower – change the policies – never!

Bloomberg made a calculated decision to push parents out the door. Joel Klein became an acolyte of William Ouchi, a school-management professor at UCLA  who sees schools in the lens of a business model. Ouchi’s Schools That Work, has become the bible for school reformers. Unfortunately Klein skipped that chapter dealing with working together,

Collaboration, which brings all stakeholders – administrators, faculty, staff, parents and students – into the reform process with the agreement that everyone accept responsibility for helping the school achieve its goals;

For Klein and the re(de)formers parents were to be manipulated, certainly not partners.

Middle class parents were “bought out” through the creation of neighborhood screened schools, poorer parents relegated to the “choice” process – charter school creation and public school closings.

Parent training should mean parent advocacy training. The Kentucky-based Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence  lays out a path,

Parents should be involved in four key ways: as teachers, as supporters, as advocates and as decision-makers

The failure of the department to develop a parent training academy or any coherent parent training reflects their total resistance to consider parents as “advocates” or “decision-makers.”

Anne Henderson, author of Beyond the Bake Sale, and Karen Mapp in a perceptive essay, advise,

Before we can create strong and effective partnerships with families, we have to believe not only that it’s important but also that it can be done-and that we can do it. That means it’s necessary for school staff [and let me add district and central administration] to hold a set of positive beliefs about family engagement.

They describe core beliefs,

* All Parents Have Dreams for Their Children and Want the Best for Them

Yes, families may say or do things that lead us to wonder if they respect the importance of education. But these actions and behaviors often are triggered by other stressful factors in parents’ lives…. Roni Silverstein, an assistant principal in Montgomery County, Maryland, a diverse suburb, says, “The belief that minority parents don’t care couldn’t be farther from the truth. When you talk to them you realize that our American schools are the answer to their dreams. What they had to go through to get their children here is remarkable. Many of them work two or three jobs to stay here. They have the American dream in their hearts. If anything, they care more.”

* All Parents Have the Capacity to Support Their Children’s Learning

Regardless of how little formal education they may have or what language they speak, all parents can contribute to their children’s learning…. For starters, they need to feel that they have something to offer, and that they would be welcome if they came.


* Parents and School Staff Should Be Equal Partners

The relationships between school staff and parents are commonly built on a lopsided power base…. We suggest that power should be shared. Every person who is interested in supporting children’s development should have equal status, value, and responsibility. That means starting from the premise that everyone has something to offer, and that everyone should get something positive out of the relationship.


Richard Elmore, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggests a principle of reciprocity.Every increase in pressure on schools for accountability for student performance should be accompanied by an equal investment in increasing the knowledge and skills of teachers, administrators, students, and their families, for learning about how to meet these new expectations.”

In New York City the Annenberg Institute for School Reform  has spent more than a decade training parents to be both advocates and partners. The Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ), about a dozen organizations with diverse interests and scattered around the city came together to advocate for their children.

Anne Henderson wrote, “For a district to be serious about closing the achievement gap, it will also have to be serious about closing the gap between schools that do and do not welcome partnerships with families,” the only conclusion we can reach is the district is serious about raising standardized test scores and graduation rates, not closing the achievement gap. We should not be surprised that only 11% of Afro-American and 14% of Hispanic high school graduates, according to the NYS Department of Education are college and career ready.


One response to “Parent Advocacy Beyond the Cake Sale, Why Parents Are Part of the Solution, Not Part of the Problem

  1. The best days I had during my teaching career was when we had formed strong bonds with parents on the classroom level and when the parent association was also a partner with the teaching staff, not just a “cake-maker” for the bake sale!! No surprise when the parent and I were “in sync” about the kids, the kids did better.I’m a retired teacher, with 30+ years in the classroom.


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