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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 08/27/2010

Dear President Obama...Sincerely, Parents Across America

By Valerie Strauss

Following is a letter about education policy being sent to President Obama from parents representing a number of organization across the country. It is a followup to a May letter sent about Obama's Blueprint for Reform, which you can find here.

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 (signatories attached)

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

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

Bill Ring, TransParent®, Los Angeles, CA

Lisa Schiff, San Francisco public school parent, 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

*for identification purposes only


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By Valerie Strauss  | August 27, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  obama and parents, obama and school reform, parents, parents across america, parents and school reform, parents and schools, president obama, race to the top  
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Next: Study blasts popular teacher evaluation method


Perhaps the President will listen to parents, because he obviously holds in contempt anything that teachers have to say about his ill-conceived education policy. Obama has chosen to double down on the disastrous NCLB agenda which served only to funnel billions of tax dollars away from schools and into the testing industry. Secretary Duncan is the Obama Administrations to the appointment of Michael Brown to head FEMA by the Bush Administration. Heck of a job, Arne!

Posted by: buckbuck11 | August 27, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

In, DC it is almost insane to think that parents would be active in anything a child has going on? I would be careful about taking parent input on the plan before also proposing some means of parent accountability. Most parents aren't even held accountable for bringing children to school, feeding or clothing them and I wouldn't want opinions from parents like that deciding how schools run in the future.

Posted by: cwlatham | August 27, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

The letter above is an example of parent "front groups" using "poll-driven" language to attempts to derail the necessary reform and transformation of our current over-priced and under-producing system.

If anything, the RTTT options for reform do too little to bring the dramatic changes necessary to utterly transform our failing education system.

Every American interested in improving education needs to understand that the current system, whether suburban, urban, or rural, is completely antithetical to "Parental Involvement" beyond unwarranted political and financial support for the current bureaucracy.

Anyone serious about "parental involvement" knows that the best way to involve parents is to empower them. The next step is to understand that there can be no empowerment under the current, district-based, union-driven, bureaucracy.

You empower parents by giving them access to a much more dynamic and innovative class of independent schools. You don't empower them by involving them in the pointless committees, board meetings, and other detritus produced by the current expensive bureaucracy.

Applying more resources to the current system is a fool's errand. Instead, we need to rapidly transform the current system to one that funds bureaucracy to one that funds children. That is ultimate test of parental empowerment.

If you are a parent, it is time to ignore the well-funded lobbying of "parent groups" that are very likely fronts for the current bureaucracy and teacher's unions.

These financial interests have created a system that is more like a legalized money-laundering scheme for insiders. It is that system that must be transformed.

Rather than defending the current bureaucracy, we need to de-fund it. We must re-allocate resources toward parents and children.

To that end, converting existing bureaucratic infrastructure to parent-driven infrastructure (PROVEN charter schools, independent schools) is the better policy.

If anything, Barack Obama and Arne Duncan's half-steps don't go far enough in the dismantling the current system.

Posted by: BrunoBehrend | August 27, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

BrunoBehrend - and who are you to judge the Parent group? Even before googling your name, which you so kindly provided, it was fairly obvious that you were a professional with an opposing point of view. Why not say so?

You’re the director of “The Heartland Institute Center for School Reform,” which advocates school choice and

Of course you’d try to discredit parents who want to improve the public school system, which you want to destroy.

More on the Heartland institute:
Heartland's mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. Such solutions include parental choice in education, choice and personal responsibility in health care, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation in areas where property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies.

Posted by: efavorite | August 27, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Nice catch efav. Another astroturf corporate front group calling a group of real parents ... a front group. Just another lying hypocrite from the phony "reform" movement.

Posted by: mcstowy | August 27, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Way to go efav,
First Race to the top turned into RUSH to the top,

Now it's rush to the bucks.

Does Obama understand what impact bashing teachers is going to have on the future of the Democratic party?

Posted by: mamoore1 | August 27, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I thought that RTTT meant "Race to the Trough".
Good job, EFavorite.

Posted by: TexasIke59 | August 27, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Notice how many different parent groups are united in this excellent submission! That is what it takes; parents, teachers, all who realize the great harm being done to children by standardized testing and the imposition of a one size fits all curriculum on them, uniting to collectively speak up!

Currently one man, Dr. Jesse Turner, is walking to D.C. to protest standardized testing, but where is the Press to report on that? He may walk alone, but does not stand alone as his Facebook group: 'Children are more than test scores'(, has 6658 followers!

That number is growing as parent groups and education activist groups are beginning to unite and share through the Facebook Group 'Uniting 4 Kids'(!/group.php?gid=111772538876554&v=info)which in turn is connected to the Stop National Standards Group in which several authors have already joined. Please visit these groups and join to make a difference on behalf of America's children!

Posted by: gpadvocate | August 28, 2010 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Nice job parent groups. I feel the same way.

Go efavorite!

Posted by: celestun100 | August 28, 2010 5:34 AM | Report abuse

Thank you efavorite for pulling back the curtain on bruno behrend. It seems bruno, the “reformer” stands to gain financially by selling snake oil to taxpayers and working to discredit public schools.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | August 28, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Efavorite, what would we do without your research?

Posted by: lacy41 | August 28, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Obama will not listen to parents. His committment is to Arne Duncan, not to parents.

The parents are going to have to oppose him politically to make him listen to him.
Otherwise, he will only listen to Duncan.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 28, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

I fully support listening to any and all parents. Their input and influence are extremely important to strengthening public education.

Their input, in places like Washington, DC, will include chapter and verse on the quality of teachers. Many parents will lobby for replacing many teachers who appear, by evidence their kids bring home and display, to be incompetent and ineffective.

Parents will also want to keep the good and great teachers whose presence is felt immediately when they are present in classrooms and committed.

It would be a mistake to champion parental input as some kind of shield to keep from identifying the teachers who warrant remedial trainng and those who warrant termination because they are ineffective.

Thas been Michelle Rhee's burdensome, unpopular task since no predecessor ever bothered to determine the quality of teachers, except by calling the vast majority good to excellent. This has been obviously the case in the District, where the DCPS have foundered for decades. Yup.

And for those who think the Administration is into teacher bashing, you have not been listening. Obama and Duncan hardly need to promote critical assessment of teachers. Parents do this easily and naturally without any political encouragement. Get that parental input while it's hot.

Leave No Teacher Behind. Yeah.

Posted by: axolotl | August 28, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

The big mistake people make about Obama is not realizing his tie to the Chicago political machine. Arne Duncan is Richard Dailey's man, and thus Obama will always put Duncan above the public good.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 28, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Duncan fired a lot of teachers, he mostly fired African American and Hispanic teachers. So when Obama put Arne duncan as secretary of Education, it was if he was stabbing minorites in Chicago in the back.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 28, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

It all sounds nice. The letter reads real well. As for parental involvement, it's easier said than done.

Unfortunately, you have societies problems walking in the front door. My local school district now has social workers on the payroll. It get worse from there.

I would make it mandatory that parents attend school board meetings. I'm not talking PTA here. That's where you REAL decisions are made that you don't even know about such as spending, class size, planning, etc.

After reading this letter, it smells of the NEA.

Posted by: morewoodroad | August 28, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Look a what is happening in Chicago. Dailey neither listens to teachers or to parents. And when Arne Duncan was there, he didn't listen either.

You are seeing a replay of what went on in Chicago during Duncan's years there now on a national level. Make the Chicago connection. Arne Duncan and Obama will do whatever Dailey wants them to do with education. Under Duncan Dailey was able to expand his control over the city partly by the use of charter schools.

morewoodroad - As for the "this smells of NEA" remark - what does that matter? I'm not going to turn my back on these parent groups just because you say it smells of NEA. I don't have the negative reaction to the NEA that you do. And I find your remark more of a turn off than anything else.

Posted by: educationlover54 | August 29, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, all - it's my pleasure to smoke these guys out.

Meanwhile - this one was particularly easy, since he provided his name.

Next time you read something that sounds as asto-turfy as this, just follow whatever clues fall into your lap.

Posted by: efavorite | August 29, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is foundering in his reelection bid against his chief opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, despite a widespread sense that the city is heading in the right direction, according to a new Washington Post poll.

Education is the top voting issue in the poll and one that works toward Fenty's advantage, particularly among whites. White voters overwhelmingly see the District's schools as better than they were four years ago. But black voters are as apt to say schools have deteriorated as improved.

Talk of Rhee's performance and future is a constant on the campaign trail, but the deep polarization over the chancellor does not give either candidate a clear advantage. In the latest poll, 41 percent of Democrats say her record is a reason to vote for Fenty; 40 percent say it is a factor against Fenty. Among white voters polled, 68 percent say Rhee is a reason to support Fenty, but 54 percent of African Americans consider Rhee a strike against him.

But McDonald said Fenty lost her vote after Rhee fired 266 teachers and gave what she considered a misleading reason for their dismissal. "He really plucked my nerves when he messed with the schools and fired the teachers," said McDonald, who holds Fenty and Rhee responsible for the firings.
Looks like parents and Americans in D.C. are showing their real power.

Perhaps the politicians will learn that fake changes in public education do not work well when it comes to reelection.

Hopefully Democrats on the national level will take the message and consider that a different Democratic candidate for President in 2012 should be nominated.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 29, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Help parents help kids. Try turning on TV captions to transform television into a free reading practice resource.

TV captions enable learners to connect the the sound of the spoken words with sight of the printed words along with the picture and the action on the screen to help explain and reinforce the meaning.

If TV captions are turned on while kids watch an average of 5 to 7 hours of television a day, that's 1800 to 2500 hours a year of reading practice.

TV captions can help millions of toddlers, struggling students, high school dropouts, home bound disabled, English language learners and low literacy adults learn to read or to read better.

Since 2006, TV captions are required by federal mandate to be available on virtually all programs 20 out of 24 hours a day (usually not from 2am to 6am), courtesy of lobbying by organizations for the deaf.

But TV captions are not just for the deaf or just for airports and bars. TV captions offer practice in reading for learners of every age.

Though expensive to produce, TV captions are absolutely free for viewers. To access TV captions, just click the CC button on the remote control or use the television's menu to turn on TV captions.

See the website for list of over 30 research studies and for ideas on classroom use of TV captions for teachers assign as homework.

Posted by: CaptionsforLiteracy | August 29, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack -

Many authors (including those of this brief) state that VA methods *should* be a component of teacher evaluation. They suggest that VA methods should not be the main factor in an evaluation. If, as you say, VA methods are invalid (that is, VA methods do not measure what they purport to measure), then the authors recommendation makes no sense and they would be undermining their own credibility. Why recommend something that is no better than a coin flip?
Posted by: cypherp
Nonetheless, there is broad agreement among statisticians, psychometricians, and economists that student test scores alone are not sufficiently reliable and valid indicators of teacher effectiveness to be used in high-stakes personnel decisions, even when the most sophisticated statistical applications such as value-added modeling are employed.
One tires of this nonsense. These supposedly mathematical methods are flawed since the composition of students in a classroom are not random.

One tires of this continuous naive belief a mathematically flawed method can still be used.

The reality is that money should be not be spent at all on these systems since they are expensive and flawed. With Race To The Top there will be billions spent to use flawed systems to evaluate teachers from test results.

"Why recommend something that is no better than a coin flip?"

I would recommend using a coin flip instead since it would save billions on worthless systems. This will not allow you to mathematically evaluate teachers but it will only cost a penny.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 30, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Sorry posted in wrong place,

Posted by: bsallamack | August 30, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

How comical is it to see detractors here suggesting that charter-voucher schools allow parent involvement at any level? With their secretive, unelected boards of investment bankers, hedge fund managers, and other business types, charter voucher boards are the antithesis of parental involvement and are diametrically opposed to any form of democracy whatsoever.

Remember Chicago Public Schools had one of the best parent-community mechanisms around before Duncan dismantled it to pave the way for privatization. Another example is when the well heeled Marco Petruzzi shutterted Green Dot Public [sic] School's Animo Justice campus contrary to the wishes of the parents at that campus. What wealthy privatization advocates call "choice" is nothing of the sort. There is no better way to disenfranchise and disempower a community than to remove the democratic mechanisms like school boards.

Some parental empowerment. The only ones empowered by Dunan and Obama's plans are their corporate cronies in the charter-voucher industry, and their related businesses like canned curricula factories and fly-by-night online learning scams. Parents and communities need to fight back against this corporate agenda. We want public schools run by the public!

I applaud Parents Across America for taking on these cynical corporate "reformers" and their blueprint for privatization.

Posted by: rdsathene | August 30, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Yawn. A handful of left-wing activists put together a letter and purport to represent "parents." Well, they're not representing the millions of parents who love having more than one schooling option for their kids.

Posted by: educationobserver | August 30, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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