Review of Parent Power: Grass-Roots Activism and K-12 Education Reform

Andrew P. Kelly and Patrick J. McGuinn
American Enterprise Institute
July 31, 2012
September 6, 2012

The authors of this American Enterprise Institute report interviewed 28 leaders and practitioners of four national educational reform organizations to catalogue opportunities for and barriers to “parent power.” The report unevenly reflects the competing conceptions of “parent power” underlying the national debate on education reform. One conception, embraced uncritically by the authors and the new wave of well-funded national advocacy organizations, sees parents primarily as “consumers” of educational services who seek better choices in a more privatized education marketplace. An alternative, dismissed and overlooked by the authors but embraced by a long tradition of community organizers and public education advocates, views parents as the citizen owners-managers of a public education system that is a central institution of democratic civic life. These competing visions arise from sharply different histories and politics and give rise to dramatically different prescriptions for reform. The report suffers from an inadequate and slanted literature review; highly selective sampling; a serious lack of objectivity; disturbing characterizations of urban parents as “ignorant,” under-engaged and resistant to change; and a failure to contend with empirical evidence that challenges their views on “what parents want.” Its failure to adequately examine and document the full range of “grass-roots activism,” organizing, and history reflects both its blinders and its narrow political objective: to provide a briefing paper for the side it has chosen in what it calls “the fight.”