Parent power: Grass-roots activism and the new politics of K-12 education reform
About This Event

Post Event Summary
Under the direction of education reform advocacy organizations (ERAOs), parents have started lobbying policymakers and rallying in support of education reform issues. Yet the primary challenge is ensuring parents remain systemically engaged, an expert panel concluded at an AEI event on Tuesday.

Patrick McGuinn of Drew University and Andrew Kelly of AEI began with a discussion of their recently published reports on the history and future of ERAOs.  In response, panelists Kenya Bradshaw of Stand for Children and Darrell Bradford of Better Education for Kids elaborated on the need for adequate training and a broad-based constituency for parents to feel truly engaged in education reform. According to Bradford, ERAOs are striving to achieve education reform "3.0," in which parents are sufficiently empowered to make legislators listen to their requests.

Ben Austin of Parent Revolution — a group responsible for the "parent trigger" law in California that allows a simple majority of parents to enact dramatic changes in low-performing schools —  characterized parent trigger as a way to educate and empower parents and communities to advocate for the educational interests of parents' own children. Panelists agreed that this is the message all ERAOs are working to promote.

--Daniel Lautzenheiser

Event Description
In the battle to reform America's schools, parents have traditionally played a supporting role, leaving policy debates and political activism to teachers unions and other established interest groups. But a new collection of education reform advocacy groups have started organizing parents to lobby state policymakers, testify at public meetings and support school board candidates.

This flurry of activity raises interesting questions about parent empowerment and the future of American school reform. What lessons have organizing groups like StudentsFirst, Parent Revolution and Stand for Children learned about effectively mobilizing parents? Which parents are most likely to take on an advocacy role, and how do these groups identify and engage them? What can political science tell us about the challenges and sustainability of these new efforts?

Andrew P. Kelly of AEI and Patrick McGuinn of Drew University will present their original research on parental empowerment in education, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Frederick M. Hess of AEI.


3:45 PM

4:00 PM
Frederick M. Hess, AEI

4:05 PM
Andrew P. Kelly, AEI
Patrick McGuinn, Drew University

Ben Austin, Parent Revolution
Derrell Bradford, Better Education for Kids
Kenya Bradshaw, Stand for Children
Frederick M. Hess, AEI

5:30 PM
Wine and Cheese Reception

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Daniel Lautzenheiser at [email protected], (202) 862-5843.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker Biographies

Ben Austin, the founder and executive director of Parent Revolution since April 2008, has dedicated much of his career to improving California’s public education system. Before launching the Parent Revolution campaign, he directed a successful campaign at Locke High School, transforming it from the worst high school in Los Angeles into a college preparatory and model for reform. From 2002 to 2006, Austin was a senior adviser to Robert Reiner’s First 5 California program, where he helped create the Los Angeles Universal Preschool — a $600 million program that serves 10,000 low-income children every year. As the deputy mayor under former mayor Richard Riordan from 2000 to 2001, he helped craft the mayor’s education reform policy. Austin has worked on numerous Democratic presidential campaigns and served various roles in the Clinton White House. He is a former member of the California State Board of Education.

Derrell Bradford is the executive director of Better Education for Kids (B4K), a 501(c)(4) organization supporting bipartisan education reforms in New Jersey. Before joining B4K, he served as the executive director and director of communications for Excellent Education for Everyone, New Jersey’s largest school choice advocacy group. He also led and co-led the organization’s research and legal efforts, respectively. In 2010, Bradford served on Governor Chris Christie’s Educator Effectiveness Task Force, which gave recommendations on designing a new statewide evaluation system for teachers and leaders. This year, the Black Alliance for Educational Options named him an Ed Reform Champion Under 40, and, in 2011, he was featured on NBC’s “The Grio 100: History Makers in the Making” and received the Tri-County Scholarship Fund’s Making a Difference Award. Bradford sits on the boards of Immaculate Conception and St. Anthony Catholic high schools in New Jersey. He frequently appears in print, radio and on television to discuss and debate education reform issues.

Kenya Bradshaw is the executive director of Memphis’s Stand for Children branch, which she started in 2004. Among her notable successes at Stand-Memphis was her campaign “Education is Our First Priority,” which led to a net expansion of $21 million for school funding in Memphis and Shelby County (their first funding increase in 13 years). Bradshaw also played a key role in coordinating a grass-roots movement in Western Tennessee that lobbied for increased Pre-K support and culminated in the creation of 200 Pre-K classes statewide and a boosted Pre-K enrollment of over 2,000 low-income four-year-old children. Outside of education campaigning, Bradshaw is the co-founder of Concerned Memphians United, a non-profit organization that mobilizes citizens around community issues. She also sits on numerous community boards, including the Girl Scouts of the Mid-South, the Tennessee Pre-K State Advisory Council and Common Ground, a local racial reconciliation effort. She is the youngest member on the National Civil Rights Museum board and, in 2006, became the youngest gubernatorial appointee when former governor Phil Bredesen named her to the Tennessee Center for Diabetes Prevention and Health Improvement Board. In 2008, she received the Ruby Wharton Woman of the Year Award for her work in early education.

Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI. An educator, political scientist and author, he studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include “The Same Thing Over and Over,” “Education Unbound,” “Common Sense School Reform,” “Revolution at the Margins” and “Spinning Wheels.” He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up. Hess's work has appeared in both scholarly and popular outlets, such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research and No Child Left Behind. Hess serves as the executive editor of Education Next, as a lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the board of directors for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 4.0 SCHOOLS and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high school social studies teacher, he has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University.

Andrew P. Kelly is a research fellow in education policy studies at AEI. His research focuses on higher education policy, innovation in education, the politics of education reform and consumer choice in education. Previously, he was a research assistant at AEI, where he studied the preparation of school leaders, collective bargaining in public schools and education politics. His research has appeared in Teachers College Record, Educational Policy, Policy Studies Journal, Education Next and Education Week, as well as popular outlets such as Inside Higher Ed, Forbes, The Atlantic, National Review and The Huffington Post. He is a co-editor of “Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from A Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools” (Harvard Education Press, 2011), “Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation” (Harvard Education Press, 2011) and the upcoming book “Getting to Graduation: The Completion Agenda in Higher Education” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). In 2011, Kelly was named one of sixteen Next Generation Leaders in Education Policy by Education Week’s Policy Notebook blog.

Patrick McGuinn is an associate professor of political science and education and the chair of the Political Science Department at Drew University. He was previously a visiting scholar in the Education and Politics program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University and the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. His first book, “No Child Left Behind and the Transformation of Federal Education Policy, 1965-2005” (University Press of Kansas, 2006), was honored as a Choice magazine outstanding academic title. He is also a co-editor (with Paul Manna) of the upcoming book “Rethinking Education Governance for the 21st Century.” McGuinn’s work has been published in a range of academic journals, including Perspectives on Politics, Journal of Policy History, Publius: The Journal of Federalism, The Public Interest, Teachers College Record, Educational Policy and Governance. He has also contributed chapters to numerous books, such as “Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit: Lessons from A Half-Century of Federal Efforts to Improve America's Schools” (Harvard Education Press, 2011), “Conservatism and American Political Development” (Oxford University Press, 2009) and “The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism” (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005). In addition, he has produced policy reports for AEI, the Center for American Progress and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and is a regular education commentator for media outlets, including Education Week, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Star-Ledger. He is a former high school social studies teacher.

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