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Julie Woestehoff Headshot

Will Parents Be Next to Get School "Reformers'" Broom?

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Once Bill Gates, D.C. Supt. Michelle Rhee and the "Waiting for 'Superman' " crowd are done drawing and quartering teachers, are they going to come after us parents?

After all, we're just the flip side of the same coin.

What if, after all the millions of dollars that have been poured into marketing and movies promoting charter schools, turnaround companies, vouchers, mayors running the schools, etc., parents still refuse to play?

What if the public opinion polls continue to show, as the Gallup/PDK report did this year, that:

  • Americans oppose school turnarounds -- 58 percent support helping existing local school and school staff; only 13 percent want to close schools down or reopen them as charters.
  • Americans oppose tying teacher salaries to "results" -- 60 percent agree that the primary purpose of teacher evaluation is "helping them improve their ability to teach"; only 13 percent like "establishing their salaries based upon their skills."
  • Despite the recent relentless attack on teachers and schools by corporate and political leaders, Americans have "trust and confidence" in public school teachers (71%) and still give their local schools high marks (77 percent give an A or a B; 23 percent give a C, D, or F -- only 1 percent F).
Well, it may be time for parents to get swept out with the rest of the dirt by Michelle Rhee's broom.

I can just see the "tough," "courageous" steps our city fathers may be forced to take:

  • Parents who don't put their child's name on one of those dramatically long charter school waiting lists will be fined.
  • Parents who admit that they didn't know their child's school was on the federal "failure to make adequate yearly progress" list (as reported by door-knockers from one of those new astroturf "parent" groups the Gates Foundation pays to collect such information) will receive a visit from child welfare services.
  • Parents who repeatedly refuse to "exercise choice" may face jail time.

It's not so far-fetched.

After all, they've already come after our children. It started here in Chicago under Paul Vallas, Mayor Daley's first non-educator schools CEO. To inflate test scores, Vallas began to exercise what he called "The Hammer," that is, using end-of-year standardized test cut scores as grade promotion bars. Children whose Iowa test scores fell even one-tenth of one percent below the district "standard" had to repeat a grade. Even some top students were banned from eighth grade graduation celebrations under that policy, a humiliating practice that Chicago schools still inflict on children.

They call it "holding students accountable."

Keep in mind that Washington D.C. Superintendent Michelle Rhee, famously featured on the cover of TIME magazine holding a broom and then in Waiting for "Superman" as, I suppose, Wonder Woman, is now also becoming known as the person whose motivational speech to this year's new D. C. schoolteachers included a tale of how, when a new teacher herself, she had her second grade class tape their mouths closed, and then -- as she laughingly relates in this video clip -- sees their little mouths bleed when they try to take off the tape.

So, if they don't flinch from being "courageous" with children, don't think they'll be afraid of us parents. Maybe they'll even get lucky and they'll be able to get parents and teachers feeling so bad that we'll go after each other.

Knowing who the real bad guys are

The organization I am a part of, Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), was founded in 1989 in Chicago during a 19-day teacher strike by a group of parents and teachers. As they do whenever there has been a school strike, city leaders tried hard to pit parents against teachers in an effort to force teacher concessions. But PURE's founders knew where the pressure really belonged.

Parents and teachers have a common enemy -- the politicians and corporate leaders who refuse to fund and support our schools adequately. With a united front, PURE parents and teachers organized over 1,000 people to march on City Hall to get the school doors open. It worked, but we're still here 20 years later, fighting the same fight, this time on the national stage.

Parents, teachers, and students don't have the money and power that the corporate school privatizers have. But we have something better and stronger -- we have the truth on our side. If we stay together and stay strong, we shall overcome.