Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Goldwater Institute: Momentum Building for Parent Empowerment

by Jonathan Butcher
To celebrate National School Choice Week, the Goldwater Institute is highlighting five key areas of education reform. Today's focus is Parent Empowerment. For more information about the Institute's groundbreaking work in this area, visit our Education Reform page.
Momentum is building around the country for “Parent Empowerment” — the movement to allow parents to petition, under law, for sweeping changes to their child’s school. Just last week The Wall Street Journal reported on the efforts of “fed-up parents” with students at low-performing schools in Southern California to “take an unusual step: fire the school.” Later this year Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Away We Go) and Holly Hunter (The Incredibles, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) will star in the feature film Won’t Back Down, depicting the efforts of parents to turn around a failing school.
California’s law, along with similar legislation in Texas and Mississippi, allows parents to vote to convert chronically low-performing schools to charter schools, replace school leadership and provide new directors with significant decision making authority, or even close schools entirely.
Ben Austin is the head of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based parent group that started the movement in 2009, and he told me he is convinced we are living in a “revolutionary moment.” He said, “A grassroots movement sprung up over parents having real political power. Not parent involvement ‘old school’ like bake sales, but when parents are treated like grown-up political actors and are taken seriously.”

Austin’s resume includes a stint with the Clinton White House from 1994-99 and communications director for the 2000 Democratic National Convention Host Committee, so a parental choice-style reform such as Parent Empowerment might not seem like his forte. But he says, “The system fundamentally is failing because it’s not designed to serve kids. The only way we’re going to change things is to transfer political power from defenders of the status quo to parents.”
Arizona has been one of the nation’s leaders in education reform for over a decade, and lawmakers should seize the moment we are in to allow parents to take ownership of their child’s school. No matter which side of the aisle you are sitting on, we can all agree on the need to serve students, not protect a system.
Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.
Learn More:
Parent Revolution: Website
The Wall Street Journal: Parents Rebel Against School
IMDB: Won’t Back Down (formerly titled Learning to Fly)

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