A recent national poll conducted by Hart Research Associates revealed that parents overwhelmingly believe that public schools are the single most important institution for the future of their community and our nation, and that they choose strong neighborhood public schools over expanding choice, charters and vouchers.
News of the poll’s findings put me in mind of my mother’s admonitions when I was growing up and being disciplined for doing something that she did not approve of. Like any kid, I would give her a lengthy razzle-dazzle excuse about why I should be let off the hook, and would end by rationalizing that everyone else is doing it.
Mother wouldn’t flinch. She would simply say, “Do as I say because I said so.” No more rationalizing; no more examples, because behind her words was the greater wisdom of experience and the wit to know that sometimes you don’t argue or explain. You just do what you’re supposed to.
In the Hart poll, conducted for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), that sort of mother-wit clearly carried through, making clear that parents know neighborhood schools are good for their communities and good for their children.
“Seventy-seven percent [of respondents] said the focus should be on ensuring that every child has access to a good public school in his or community; just 20 percent said there should be more public charters or vouchers.” The poll also makes it astoundingly clear that parents believe schools should focus on offering a variety of subjects.
In fact, fully 74 percent of respondents said it is important for schools to offer a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music, and physical education, judgments clearly at odds with policy makers’ obsessive focus on math and science to the exclusion of arts and the humanities.
Parents clearly want schools to focus on the “whole child,” including his or her emotional and social development. The poll reveals that they believe testing is a barometer, but that too much is a deterrent — a result once again patently at odds with the data-driven obsessions of policymakers and privatization advocates.
Parents also understand the impact of poverty on education and know how under-resourced schools leave their children unable to compete. The AFT poll makes it clear that what parents want is high-quality preschool, better resourced schools, improved support and training for teachers, and more health and community services.
They are not interested in boutique experiments nor have they fallen for misguided reforms; instead they are interested in restoring schools as the hub of their communities.
But who’s listening? Surely not the people in Washington, nor the hyper-wealthy philanthropists who profess to have the answers for change, despite the fact that 81 percent of parents surveyed in the Hart poll believe that educators have the answers and that policy makers should be listening to us.
Surely this listening, if our activism can succeed in bringing it about, will require a great deal of thought and introspection about the way we manage schools. The poll clearly states that parents are our partners, so how do we capitalize on their sage wit that AFT president Randi Weingarten offered in saying that policy makers are currently akin to the emperor who has no clothes?
We must integrate innovation without sacrificing content. We must understand that before you can educate children, their basic need for food, clothing, and shelter must be met. And we must police our ranks through educating, training, and mentoring our colleagues and, where necessary, counseling some out of the profession.
We must know that to create safe schools we must make them places of trust. We must stand with parents and protect our schools through coalition building and networking.
But above all, as leaders in our communities we must agitate, agitate, agitate for changes that reflect our experience and the wisdom of caring parents.
Can the key to the success of reforming public education be as simple as listening to what parents and experienced practitioners know children need?
Well, let me be the first to say, “That’s what mama told us.”