Report on parent organizing by new advocacy organizations
has weaknesses but serves to raise important issues
URL for this press release: http://tinyurl.com/pnwja72
BOULDER, CO (February 2, 2015) – A number of organizations claiming to speak for and organize parents in favor of the dominant school reform agenda have been created in recent years, with the most high-profile organizations including Parent Revolution and Stand for Children.
Some outside critics have asserted that these organizations are in fact “astroturf” movements – phony grass-roots organizations that seek to mobilize parents on behalf of predetermined agendas rather than giving them a truly independent voice on behalf of their own interests and those of their children and their communities.
A recent report from the American Enterprise Institute, seeking to rebut the “astroturf” criticism, asserts that many such groups are sincerely committed to long-term parent engagement, and that they employ community organizing practices to build parent leadership.
A review published today of the AEI report cautions that that critics of these groups should not lightly dismiss their parent participation and concludes that at least some of these organizers seem highly committed to parent organizing as a key part of their agenda. Nevertheless, the review finds little of substance in the AEI report to support its argument of a widespread commitment to long-term engagement or to genuine community organizing practices designed to build parent leadership across these organizations.
The review is authored by Mark R. Warren, associate professor of public policy and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts Boston and lead author of A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform (Oxford University Press, 2011).Professor Warren’s review was written for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
Warren finds two principal defects in the report: inadequate discussion of its research methods and a problem of selection bias. But more importantly, his review examines deeper issues of parental voice.
The approaches highlighted by the AEI report –Turning lightning into electricity: Organizing parents for education reform, by Andrew P. Kelly – and the organizations it profiles reduce organizing to a set of tactics to engage parents around an issue or agenda, rather than a democratic practice. “This approach undermines an understanding of community organizing as a profoundly democratic practice rooted in deeply held values of equity and social justice,” says Warren.
The review explains how the report’s vision and definition of community organizing conflicts with some bedrock values and principles that have historically been embraced by the community-organizing field. Community organizing has been and should be “a democratic practice through which organizations and agendas emerge out of the concerns and through the actions of indigenous community leaders working to build a more inclusive public democracy,” Warren notes.
The AEI report identifies what it calls “Education Reform Advocacy Organizations,” or ERAOs, with Stand for Children and Parent Revolution among the leading examples. Generally, ERAOs have in common an agenda focused on education standards, test-based accountability for students, teachers and schools, teacher evaluation, tenure reform, and parental choice in education.
Warren finds in his review that while the report presents some evidence for such groups’ use of community organizing practices to build parent engagement and leadership, readers have no ability to independently judge how rigorous the research undergirding the report really was. That is because of the report’s weakness in its presentation of research methods, Warren writes.
The review also points out that the report’s selection of organizations to study was biased toward those that built more sustainable forms of parent participation, raising a serious question about whether those organizations are truly representative of the broader category of ERAOs. The report admits this bias but goes on to imply a broader applicability of its findings that is not warranted.
The report suggests that parent organizing is growing in importance in ERAOs, but its shortcomings mean that it cannot be considered a reliable study of parent power in ERAOs, Warren concludes.
Find Mark R. Warren’s review on the NEPC website at:
Find Turning lightning into electricity: Organizing parents for education reform, by Andrew Kelly and published by the American Enterprise Institute, on the web at:
The Think Twice think tank review project (http://thinktankreview.org) of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit http://nepc.colorado.edu/.
This review is also found on the GLC website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/