Families & the Community

PEN Targets Public Concerns About Teaching

By Karla Scoon Reid — December 04, 2002 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A new Internet-based campaign will strive to mobilize Americans concerned about a lack of highly qualified teachers in public schools to lobby their governors to take action.

The Public Education Network was scheduled to launch GiveKidsGoodSchools.com on Dec. 3 in response, PEN leaders say, to recent polls consistently showing that a majority of Americans care about the quality of public schools but are unclear about how to channel their concerns into action. Backed by the Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, among others, the Web site will give users a fast and hassle-free tool to get in touch with governors, the organizers say.

“Citizens don’t feel like they have enough of a voice,” said Wendy Puriefoy, the president of the Washington-based network of local education funds nationwide. “This [Web site] gives them yet another avenue to express their opinions.”

In an attempt to attach substance to elected officials’ penchant for dubbing themselves “education candidates,” the Web site—which observers said could be the first of its kind in education lobbying—will remind state leaders that teacher quality is a priority in the minds of voters, Ms. Puriefoy argued.

A 2002 PEN/Education Week poll found that 78 percent of those surveyed believed that all communities can and should have high-quality schools. The same poll showed that 53 percent of those surveyed wanted education shielded from budget cuts. (“Poll: Public Sees Schools as a Priority,” April 24, 2002.)

Visitors to GiveKidsGood-Schools.com can add their names and contact information to a standardized letter urging the governors of their respective states to detail plans to ensure that all schools hire qualified teachers. The letter acknowledges the budget constraints most states are facing, but it also reminds government officials that well-qualified teachers are a key component of the federal “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001. Those who wish to write their own letters or personalize the PEN letter have that option as well.

With a click of a computer mouse, the writer will be able to send a letter to his or her governor.

Approach Debated

PEN decided to attempt to rally public interest around teacher quality because most citizens have an immediate connection to improving instruction, Ms. Puriefoy said. Describing the issue as largely nonpartisan, she added that citizens understand the value of an effective teacher in a classroom.

David W. Hornbeck

Former Philadelphia Superintendent of Schools David W. Hornbeck, the network’s chairman, said he believes the Internet campaign will strike a chord with the public. Since he helped found the group Good Schools Pennsylvania in 2000, the nonprofit community coalition has set off a groundswell of support for public schools, he said. The Pennsylvania coalition, for which Mr. Hornbeck serves as a council member, spawned numerous college chapters and sponsored 15 interfaith vigils.

GiveKidsGoodSchools.com “will serve to augment the broad and deep public sentiment for public schools in a coordinated and structured fashion,” Mr. Hornbeck said.

But the growth of the school choice and standards movements in recent years show that the public’s voice is already being heard, suggested Kathy Christie, a vice president of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. She said many of those efforts have been community-driven.

And although the PEN campaign has the potential to reach many people by computer, it could be perceived as an “engineered” initiative, which could deaden its influence on state leaders, added Kati Haycock, the director of the Education Trust, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that promotes educational quality for disadvantaged students.

Ms. Haycock said that the key to the Web-based campaign’s success would be to reach people to persuade them to act in the best interest of all children, not just their own. That’s a challenge that Ms. Haycock believes can be more effectively met through conversation and education.

“Frankly, affluent and white people already have more than their fair share of quality teachers,” she said, referring to the people she considers are the base of PEN’s support.

Lobbying for high-quality teachers appears to be a slam-dunk issue on the surface, said Paul E. Peterson, the director of Harvard University’s program on education policy and governance and a prominent researcher on private school vouchers. But precisely defining and measuring the quality of teaching will prove more difficult, he said, and thus complicate lobbying on the issue.

“The range of options are going to divide the state legislatures all over the place,” Mr. Peterson said.

While acknowledging that Give-KidsGoodSchools.com is something of an experiment, Ms. Puriefoy said the Web site would give the Public Education Network a quick way to reach a large number of people across generations who use the Internet.

Still, the “virtual” campaign intends to extend its reach beyond the computer screen by tapping into communities through the network’s 77 local education funds across 30 states and the District of Columbia, the organizers say.

John S. Gomperts, PEN’s chief operating officer, said “bricks” will be added to the “clicks” in the form of print and broadcast advertising as interest in the campaign increases. Over time, he said, GiveKidsGoodSchools.com will evolve into an information resource for those interested in teacher quality, including suggestions on how to achieve that goal.

Mr. Gomperts noted: “The public patience level for talk without action is pretty low.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week as PEN Targets Public Concerns About Teaching

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Families & the Community Parents May Not Be as Upset With Schools About COVID Protocols as You Think, Polls Show
A new poll found that a majority of Americans think local schools have done a good job balancing health and safety with other priorities.
2 min read
Image of coronavirus and data.
Getty
Families & the Community How to Talk to Parents About COVID-19 Vaccines: 3 Tips From Scientists
The National Academies of Science has new guidance for schools on encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
4 min read
Image of a stethescope, teddy bear, and vaccine syringe.
Milena Khosroshvili/iStock/Getty
Families & the Community Parents: Schools Haven't Sought Our Input on How to Spend Billions in COVID Aid
In a poll, parents say they don't know how schools are spending their COVID aid, and that they haven't been consulted as required by law.
4 min read
MoneyBoatONlineGraph iSTOCK c.ToddBates
Todd Bates/iStock/Getty
Families & the Community Opinion A New Group Battling for Freedom of Thought in Education
Rick Hess speaks with the founder of a new network of teachers and parents who support freedom of thought and expression in education.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty