Parents Across America challenge absuridites and insults of the Duncan administration at Washington D.C. meeting

"Parents Across America," the truly grass roots organization of parents from around the country went to Washington, D.C. on April 20 to challenge the absurd claims and policies of the U.S. Department of Education under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. For the past three years, the Duncan administration at the DOE has been committed to destroying the largest possible number of real public schools in the nation's urban areas and replacing them with "choice" that really means steering children into unreliable (or worse) charter schools while villifying and destroying the careers of veteran public school teachers.

The current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan began his career in ignoring legitimate parent concerns during his years (2001 - 2008) as "Chief Executive Officer" of Chicago's public schools. During those years, Duncan specialized in the slavish adherence to the policies dictated by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and the city's business rulers (usually represented by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club) and also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on failed experiments promoted by corporate America including charter schools, merit pay, and the vicious "turnarounds" of inner city public schools that resulted in the destruction of the careers of more African American teachers and administrators in Chicago in the 2000s than had been done in Mississippi during the early 1950s. Above, Duncan is seen on November 2, 2006 lining up the various psychophants who joined him in promoting the city's merit pay experiment for teachers. The event, which took place at Chicago's Orr High School, came as Duncan was preparing to "turnaround" the high school and turn it over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). Despite massive protests by parents, teachers, and students, Duncan destroyed dozens of real public schools like Orr and the careers of thousands of teachers and other staff, along with the lives of thousands of children. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. The following account of the PAA activities last week came to Substance via our friends at PURE. It's worth reporting completely here. (No Substance reporter was able to make the Washington meeting).

Press release – for immediate release – April 20, 2012. CONTACT: Julie Woestehoff (Chicago IL) 773-715-3989

Leonie Haimson (New York NY), 917-435-9329 Robin Hiller (Tucson AZ), 520-668-4634

Lorie Barzano (Austin TX), (512)694-9747 or 447-5577 Parents Across America members meet with USDE, saying: “Listen to parents, change your policy direction.”

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 opeds, 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.

E. S. Department of Education bureaucrat Anna Hinton (above) began her career in education working for George W. Bush and promoting the anti-public school policies of No Child Left Behind. She has continued her career under Arne Duncan, escalating the same attacks on public schools.PAA challenges Duncan policies

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.

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

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 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 (summary points here:

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.

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.


April 23, 2012 at 9:24 AM

By: Jean Schwab

Parents make progress despite Duncan snub...

I'm glad that parents were able to speak out. I think this may be a beginning.

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