Parent Engagement & Community Organizing In Youngstown

There have been a couple of interesting articles, including a video, in a local Youngstown, Ohio paper about how a congregation-based community organizing project has been working to promote parent engagement:

Warren Superintendent Seeks More Parental Involvement

ACTION Tackles School Improvements

You might also be interested in The Best Examples Of Parent Engagement Through Community Organizing.

I Think These Critiques Of Parent Trigger Laws Are Missing The Point…

This week there have been two articles/posts published sharing critiques of the parent trigger law. Once came from Washington Post reporter Jay Mathews, who wrote Why parents can’t save schools. The other piece was in Thoughts On Public Education and shared quotes from a number trigger critics and advocates. Several perspectives in that article and Jay’s piece communicated that the parent trigger law was bad because parents didn’t know enough to effectively improve schools.

Look, I’m obviously no fan of the parent trigger as you can see from The Best Resources For Learning Why The Parent Trigger Isn’t Good For Parents, Kids Or Schools. However, I think the condescending and paternalistic objection to it that parents don’t know enough about education to effectively engage in school improvement efforts is off-base.

As most readers know, I was a community organizer for nineteen years before becoming a teacher nine years ago. An often-repeated organizer adage is that often the people most directly affected by the problem have some pretty good ideas on how to get it fixed. Education is no exception.

The key, though, is using organizing techniques in the open and respectful way that has been shown to be effective time and time again. In this process, the leadership comes from a local institution with longstanding ties in the local community; an invitation for outside assistance — if it is needed — comes from those local leaders; residents organize to ask their neighbors what their concerns are without the people doing the asking having a preconceived set of problems and solutions they want to see prioritized; community members meet with all stakeholders in the problem to share concerns, learn new ideas for solving them, and develop allies; and then negotiations begin to achieve a solution. Perhaps a little money was raised to pay for an organizer to work a few hours each week on the effort, but the emphasis is on what Saul Alinsky called “The Iron Rule” — never do for others what they can do for themselves.

Contrast this with the parent trigger campaign as it has been waged in California — an outside group with zero ties to a local community parachutes several fulltime organizers into a neighborhood that they picked for its demographics; the group has a clear agenda and is generously funded by several foundations with their own clear political agenda; there are no meetings with any other stakeholders to identify common issues and explore new solutions; and a non-negotiable demand is then announced.

This warped and manipulative use of a few organizing techniques in the cause of the parent trigger is what we should all be objecting to — not to parent engagement in school improvement efforts. Parents can and must be a key ally to educators as we fight back against attacks on us, our schools and our students and we can do so by using the genuine art and the spirit of community organizing.

Parent trigger initiatives are stalling throughout the country, which is no great surprise because that’s what tends to be the result of manipulative and condescending strategies. Let’s not let the strategists behind it pull victory out of the jaws of defeat by driving a wedge between us and the parents of the children we teach.

“As Parents Protest, Chancellor and Panel Leave”

As Parents Protest, Chancellor and Panel Leave is the headline of a New York Times article today about how the Chancellor of Education in New York City and a city education panel walked out of a meeting rather than changing the agenda so public comment from parents could come before — rather than after- the rest of their scheduled agenda.

I obviously don’t know all the details of what occurred at the meeting. However, do know that during my nineteen year community organizing career I was regularly amazed that public bodies like city councils, planning commissions, and school boards would regularly refuse to change their meeting agendas so that the public could comment on items early so they could go home. Hundreds of people, many with kids, would often have to wait for many minutes or hours because of the petty arrogance of public officials who refused to deviate from their established routine.

One would think that this New York educational panel would want to do everything possible to encourage parent participation, not discourage it.

UPDATE: Here’s another piece on what happened. Be sure to look at comments.

“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!”

“Put the Parent Voice back in Public Education!” is a letter hosted by where parents can sign and communicate their unhappiness with the Obama administration’s school “reform” efforts, including their lack of making parent engagement a priority.

I like what the letter says. However, during my twenty-year community organizing career, we always looked at letters and surveys as good for only being an excuse to talk with people face-to-face. I’m a bit skeptical that letters like this can really have an positive effect and, at times, can have the exact opposite results of having people feel like they’re doing something of substance when it’s unlikely to have any results.

I’m certainly open to being proven wrong.

Principal Organizes For Neighborhood Safety

The Sacramento Bee today has an extensive article about a troubled neighborhood. It’s titled Killings underscore challenges in Sacramento’s Arden Manor neighborhood.

The last part of the article tells about the local elementary school principal and his school organizing a meeting where 200 residents came to talk about how to improve the community. He called it an “encouraging start,” and I do hope the school and their parents continue to organize. It’s a great example of recognizing that a school is part of the neighborhood where it’s located, and that what happens outside the school’s walls is just as important as what happens inside.

Parents & Algebra

This month’s issue of “The California Educator,” published by the California Teachers Association, has an article about The Algebra Project and how it’s being used to engage parents in Sacramento.

The Algebra Project was begun nationally by civil rights pioneer Robert Moses.

The article highlights how it was begun in partnership with a local community organizing group, the Sacramento Valley Organizing Community (SVOC). I was SVOC’s first Lead Organizer eighteen years ago.

Parents, Schools & Community Organizing In Maryland

Churches, school system look to build partnership is a recent newspaper headline in Maryland.

It describes a meeting held between members of a community organizing group, Partnership for Renewal in Southern and Central Maryland. and a Superintendent of Schools.

This is just another example of the kind of parent engagement we talk about in our book, which has a chapter on schools, parents and community organizing.

“Parents Union” Begins In Chicago

A group of parents have begun what they are calling a “Parents Union” to push for improvement in Chicago’s public schools. You can read about it at Parents hope to form a more perfect union in dealing with CPS.

It’s particularly impressive to me because its focus is to improve public schools, and is not allied with private groups that want to create charters, which is the focus of a similarly named parents group in Los Angeles.

All I know about the group is what the newspaper article says. It sounds like it’s a completely independent group, which may make it difficult to sustain over the long-term. I spent nineteen years as an organizer working to build “organizations of organizations” for a number of reasons, including because of the long-term problems involved in creating new groups. Bringing like-minded organizations together that have been around for awhile provides financial stability and relationship “glue” that can help with sustainability.

But, whatever their situation is, I hope the Parents Union has success!

Alliance Schools

One of the chapters in our book highlights the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation in developing Alliance Schools in Texas. The IAF, as far as I can tell, were the first to begin talking about the difference between parent involvement and engagement almost twenty years ago.

If you’re interested in learning more about them, you can access a draft version of a paper describing the Alliance Schools and its philosophy here.

“Valley Interfaith And School Reform”

The Industrial Areas Foundation began making the distinction between parent “involvement” and parent “engagement” during its community organizing efforts in schools during the 1990’s, and Professor Dennis Shirley wrote about it in his 1997 book Community Organizing For Urban School Reform. Even though a chapter in our book focuses on the IAF’s work (I was an IAF organizer for the majority of my nineteen year organizing career), I’d encourage people to read Professor Shirley’s book.

After he published that book, he wrote another in-depth study on the work of just one IAF organization in Texas — Valley Interfaith And School Reform: Organizing for Power in South Texas . If you go to that link, you can see the table of contents and read the introduction. I’d encourage you to do so.

Does Community Organizing Help Schools?

The National Coalition For Parent Involvement In Education recently posted a report on community organizing and schools.

Here’s their description:

Sara McAlister, a research associate at the Community Organizing and Engagement program at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University: “Does the political will generated by community organizing in low-income, urban communities ultimately enhance the capacity of schools to improve student learning?”