PTA Launches Campaign Backing Common Standards

Four states will initially be targeted with help of $1 million Gates grant.

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A national organization, with philanthropic backing, is launching a campaign to build support for common academic standards among a potentially influential constituency: parents.

The National PTA has received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to organize parent support for setting more uniform academic expectations in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

The undertaking is one of several examples of how backers of the Common Core State Standards Initiative are trying to lay a foundation for those documents’ adoption—and their eventual use—in districts and classrooms.

The National PTA, which has 5.2 million members, could expand its efforts beyond those four states by the middle of next year.

Parents tend to be a “forgotten voice at the table,” said Erin Hart, the director of strategic alliances, partnerships, and programs for the Chicago-based National PTA. “We’re interested in holding the school districts accountable and being the collective voice of the community that says, ‘This is important.’ ”

Forty-eight states have agreed to work on creating more consistent academic standards through the common-core project, as opposed to the motley assortment set by states today. The venture is being led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

What remains unclear is whether state and local officials will support the final standards documents. The PTA’s effort is aimed at winning them over.

The National PTA’s state and local affiliates will try to persuade boards of education—the decision making body on standards in most states—to adopt the documents, Ms. Hart said. It will also urge its members to make the case for standards among parents and school communities. In addition, PTA members will ask state, district, and school officials to take steps to ensure that the standards are used to improve instruction by supporting teachers through professional development and other means, she added.

Other Allies

Other organizations that have voiced support for the common-core project, meanwhile, are taking steps to get the word out.

The 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers plans to partner with the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington organization that advocates improved urban education, on a pilot project to examine how the standards can be implemented. The project will focus on a number ofdistricts, looking at issues such as aligning professional development with the standards that emerge, Patricia Sullivan of the aft, said at a forum on the common-standards effort, held in Washington last week.

At the same event, Brenda Wellburn, the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, in Arlington, Va., said her organization will stage four regional conferences next year to explain the goals of the venture to its members.

The majority of the National PTA’s members are parents, though they also include teachers and students. The organization has affiliates in all 50 states. The Florida PTA has 345,000 members; Georgia, 310,000; North Carolina, 205,000; and New Jersey, 205,000.

The PTA campaign to promote common standards at the local level could prove successful—but the overall effort is misguided, argued Nel Noddings, a professor emerita of education at Stanford University who is critical of the multistate endeavor. She believes policymakers should focus on more-urgent needs, such as getting more students to complete high school and fixing struggling schools.

“We’re all for standards, but we have different ideas of what higher standards are,” Ms. Noddings said. Many of the current standards arguments amount to “propaganda,” she maintained, yet those arguments “may be enough to get people to go for it” at the state and local level.

The Gates Foundation based in Seattle, has poured billions of dollars into school improvement efforts across the K-12 spectrum. The foundation also provides funding to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.

The foundation announced last year that it would refocus its high school grantmaking on promoting higher standards, among other areas. It has backed the common-core initiative, including providing financial support.

“Everyone knows the PTA at the local level, but not everyone knows its collective power” nationally, Vicki L. Phillips, the director of education for the foundation’s College Ready in the United States program, said in an interview. “For common standards to take hold, it will take local communities to get involved.”

Vol. 29, Issue 14, Page 7

Published in Print: December 9, 2009, as PTA Launches Campaign Backing Common Standards
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