To the surprise of few, the state House Thursday passed the Parent Empowerment Act. By an 80-34 spread, lawmakers voted up the so-called "parent trigger' bill. The scornful proposal would arm parents with more firepower to put underperforming public schools out of their misery.
Or as Rep. Marti Coley, a Marianna Republican, said: "It gives [parents] that voice they need to make sure their children are receiving the best education possible."
That's the devilish irony of the latest cynical move by school choice advocates, meant ultimately to help charter schools.
Is it any wonder parent groups such as Florida PTA, Fund Education Now, "50th No More" and Citizens for Strong Schools in January opposed the measure in a group statement: "This legislation cynically uses parents and their love for their children as a tool to pull the 'trigger' and hand their neighborhood school over to a private entity with no true guarantee of gaining anything better for the children."
Scholastic snake oil with a deliciously deceptive spin on parental engagement.
Jump in Marty McFly's DeLorean and go back two decades. With Blueprint 2000, the 1991 Legislature acted to unmuzzle parents.
Aimed at improving schools, the law shifted power from the state to communities. Locals now shared both the duty and the burden with educators of making decisions and changes to help Johnny read, write and reckon arithmetic.
Its cornerstone: School Advisory Councils. Led by each school's principal, teams of parents, teachers, school staffers, business and community leaders collaborate on improvement plans that address their school's unique needs.
As Orange County Public School's primer, The SAC Guide, put it, "The SAC is the school community voice in the planning process for school improvement."
But some schools have bad cases of laryngitis.
"Some schools can attract SAC members faster than an ice cream truck attracts kids in July," says Orange schools spokesman Dylan Thomas. "Other schools, well, it's like January."
PTAs can relate. Some schools enjoy robust parental engagement. At other schools, gatherings would resemble ghost towns without teachers and staffers filling the seats, says Danielle Thomas, president of the Volusia County Council PTA.
It's no secret in the decades since Leave It To Beaver that parental involvement in schools has waned. Fingers rightly point at uninterested parents, over-scheduled children, and the rise of single-parent families and two-income homes where parents bemoan their time famines.
Whatever the reasons, the real shame of it is that research — such as the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory's 2002 report "A Wave of Evidence" — bear out the game-changing influence of parental engagement one student achievement.
"When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more," the report concluded.
A fact belied by the Parent Empowerment Act. It allows a 51 percent parental majority in chronically poor schools to pick a "turnaround plan," which school boards could accept or reject for another option — most likely charter schools. With ties, the state Board of Education breaks the stalemate. A companion Senate bill remains undecided.
How convenient. Failing schools? Blame teachers. And how disingenuous, for parents — increasingly M.I.A. in their kids' school life — to, when the school is judged lacking, now demand a voice.
That's the real irony: if more parents would engage and speak up before schools floundered, there'd be less need for a "voice" to raise a sinking ship.
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