Could parents be a driving force behind education reform? In a new report, American Enterprise Institute (AEI) research fellow Andrew P. Kelly and Patrick McGuinn of Drew University explore the opportunities to empower parents in education reform and the obstacles that may stand in the way. The two authors show that while traditionally, most parental engagement in education has had more to do with joining Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA's), holding bake sales, and volunteering at school events than anything that resembles political activism, today a growing number of education reform advocacy organization (ERAOs) are mobilizing parents to lobby policymakers, testify in front of school boards, and vote for favored positions and candidates.
Some of the key lessons that have emerged from this new parent power movement include:
- Parents are easiest to mobilize on school-based issues where they have an immediate self-interest. It is more challenging to activate parents around systemic reforms to accountability systems or teacher tenure policies where their stake is less apparent.
- ERAO leaders recognize a tension between school choice opportunities and parent activism on broader reform issues. Parents who have exercised school choice are often satisfied with their new school, providing less incentive to get involved in reform advocacy.
- The ERAO landscape is largely dominated by young organizations with limited resources and many opponents. As such, questions still linger about the ability of these groups to build a lasting movement of reform-minded parents that can promote reform for years to come.
Andrew Kelly is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Patrick McGuinn is an associate professor of political science at Drew University. They can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org – 202-862-5904.
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