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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

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Brave Steps: The Role of Parents in Shaping the Future of School

By Guest Blogger — December 10, 2014 2 min read
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Note: Andre Feigler, the founder and CEO of Enriched Schools, is guest posting this week.

On a fall New Orleans morning in 1960, Daisy Gabrielle did what parents have been doing for generations: she woke up and walked her daughter to school. But it wasn’t an ordinary walk.

Through an act of conviction—ignoring the Louisiana Citizens’ Council boycott and braving a violent swarm of white protestors on the way to the newly integrated William Franz School—Daisy made a statement about the kind of education she wanted for her daughter.

Recently, several principals have shared with me a desire to increase parent involvement at their schools. They talk about the importance of active, wrap-around support for the student body and the impact of an engaged community network on student achievement. There is a small but growing body of insightful research on the recent proliferation of education reform advocacy organizations (ERAOs) working to mobilize parents (arguably with mixed results, particularly in connecting grassroots efforts to national policy legislation) and a simple Google search reveals no shortage of tools, tricks, and tips for upping family buy-in. The “community engagement” conversation is particularly fervent in New Orleans, layered with complexities of issues involving everything from school choice to race and class.

I’ve also been having conversations with parents, many of whom are substitute “guest educators” through my company’s platform. Over and over, I hear a sentiment of activism: a desire to know more about how their children are being educated, be treated as true partners in their students’ learning, and play a more active role in the broader New Orleans school system.

These discussions too often happen disparately, with the implementers of school design and end users of these models sharing their goals, concerns, and strategies in independent chambers (which is ironic, given that they both state a desire to be more connected). In order to realize meaningful school improvement, these conversations need be held at a common table with a shared commitment to action.

The work of national advocacy organizations like 50CAN and Stand For Children, as well as local upstarts like RISE-Colorado, work to provide such a space, and still other parent-facing tools and products are taking on Geoffrey Canada’s charge that “schools of the future embrace the idea that parents need to be reeducated, starting in elementary school, about the tools, methodologies, curriculum, and pedagogy that teachers are using to educate their kids.”

Taken one step further, parents become not merely partners in the movement for educational equity but vital creators of new school models themselves. Imagine the innovations that could result from an accelerator class of “parent-edupreneurs” and the industrial-age assumptions that could be shattered if more parents became school designers.

A parent’s bravery half a century ago clearly did not end racist views about the potential of all children or singlehandedly combat school segregation. It does stand out, however, for the simple fact that Daisy Gabrielle took a simple action to “do what I thought was the right thing.” There is much to be gleaned from the quiet power of a mother acting on her own conviction to challenge the status quo and redefine what school should be.

--Andre Feigler

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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