BY JEANNE ALLEN | SEPTEMBER 12, 2012
Parents vs. The Blob
A parent revolution is underway, and most Americans don't have a clue it's happening. That's because most of us – concerned as we are about the environment, jobs and our own family's sustainability – think education is someone else's responsibility. And the self-perceived "owners" of the traditional education system – The Blob – stand in the way of virtually all meaningful education reform and work hard to give you the sense that everything is under control.
But reality has a way of intruding. Parents are waking up to the disturbing reality that they have no influence over where and how their children are educated. With eyes increasingly opened, they seek out others who have similar epiphanies and band together to change things. And then, like something out of a bad movie (cue creepy music) The Blob kicks into gear. The moment these parents gain any traction for real change, they find information that confirms they are not alone and they are off. And then, they are immediately maligned by phony Blob front groups portraying themselves as parent-friendly.
Case in point: As I was sitting at home on a recent Friday night, bracing myself for the week ahead when I'd be dropping my two youngest at college, I decided to tweet my pleasure over Teachers Rock, a solid hour on prime time TV whose star studded cast paid tribute to rank and file teachers. Such teachers move mountains for children and defy the status quo, often at great personal cost. This is illustrated by the upcoming feature film Won’t Back Down, which chronicles the efforts of a parent and teacher to transform their failing school. As it was advertised during the show, parent groups began praising what they saw, only to be attacked, as I was, for applauding what they watched. “Shame on you for supporting a movie that sensationalizes locking kids in dark closets as ubiquitous ‘punishment,’ bellowed someone named Stephanie Rivera, just one of hundreds of venomous tweets I began to witness. “A ploy against teachers and public education,” said another. By nights end there's were more than 100 tweets attacking us, with childish name-calling to boot. These Twitter bullies are typical of what happens when the status quo feels threatened. They seek and lash out at anyone who posits things could be better, who espouses parental choice, or who suggests that the unions and The Blob might be standing in the way of real reform.
Who are they and where did they come from? Responding to a decade of major, transformative changes in public education, The Blob helped organize a new group called Save our Schools (SOS). It masquerades as a parent effort to improve education but only backs reforms that the status quo embraces - more money and lower class size, neither of which has been shown to improve education. They neither address better ways to spend money, nor ensure accountability. They just want more of one, less of the other and oppose the same reforms the teachers unions fight daily.
SOS chapters across the country have long protested the creation of charter schools, bullying anyone who endorses them and stampeding statehouses to strong-arm legislators, too many of whom irrationally fear this vocal, extremist minority. They oppose testing and loathed NCLB, the nation’s first federal attempt to tie federal spending to accountability. SOS and The Blob successfully convinced the nation’s lawmakers that NCLB was hurting schools, though it was actually the flawed implementation by school districts that did so by imposing wildly unpopular rigidity in instructional delivery that was neither the intent nor requirement of the law.
SOS eventually took to marching to Washington where some mistook it for a true grassroots movement of ordinary citizens. What a put-up job! I saw the buses roll in, the professional signs waving, the well-funded tents, and the polished speeches. I listened to people as they talked about how they had been bused in by their unions. Ordinary people? No, these were people whose livelihoods depend on the status quo, joined by some parents, deluded into believing the fight is about “equity,” when it's actually about power – theirs, not ours; and certainly not parents’.
Real parent power ensures that choosing a school for your child doesn't get restricted because of one's zip code. It allows someone with a child in a failing school to change it or have access to other options – like using technology to educate their kids.
That's the centerpiece of Won't Back Down, which stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It is brought to you by the same company that gave us Charlotte's Web, Amazing Grace, and Holes. It is based on the experience of real people, and on real facts. SOS and its new allied group, Parents Across America, are doing all they can to keep you from seeing the film.
The heroic effort depicted in Won’t Back Down is becoming more common today in the 42 states with charter school, parent trigger or school choice laws. The real heroes of today’s revolution are the parents and teachers who, in the name of their children and students, fought to enact policies empowering them take back control from The Blob. Most of these heroes have neither the time nor the money to march on Washington or their statehouses, or to hang around Twitter casting aspersions. But they are out there, and they will persevere, driven by a clear and compelling need: to save their kids.
Jeanne Allen is President of the Center for Education Reform, which has been the leading voice and advocate for lasting, substantive and structural education reform in the U.S. since 1993. CER will release a Parent Power Index this fall as part of its Taking America Back to School on Education Reform campaign.
The Center for Education Reform can be reached by phone at 800-521-2118 or 301-986-8088 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.