The most affected stakeholders in the public education wars are largely silent.
Underserved families are more often used as props than propped up. Not since Oakland Community Organization’s push for reform in the late 90’s early 2000’s have I seen the progressive mobilization and empowerment of families, researching models, organizing for change, and making a real difference.
This organizing was not aligned on charter or district lines—it was opportunistic, doing both, depending on the circumstances, and what families wanted. Small autonomous schools, autonomy for larger schools and charters were all strategies being pushed simultaneously. They didn’t align themselves with either “side”, from what I saw, they listened to families and community, and supported them in their informed decisions, and tried to make “the system” better.
The vast majority of Oakland families are not caught up in the elite arguments around governance models, they don’t care if the school is a district-run or charter-run school. They want a good school that treats them fairly. Many many families have children in both charter and district schools, and any parent organizing needs to recognize this dynamic.
I have been in many meetings that talk about organizing charter parents—and far too often it’s about organizing them for a pre-developed agenda, not about listening to them or providing them background and listening. It’s about using them, in the end. I remember meeting with a large funder in NYC about parent organizing in charters, and the funder was worried that the parents might organize against individual schools themselves. Which, to me, honestly is fine.
Parents are busy and smart about their time, if they are taking time to squabble with a school, we should listen, there probably is something there. And moreso the school should listen, and we should support families in understanding contexts and pushing for proactive changes.
Roughly a third of Oakland public school families have a child that goes to a charter schools, these families are more likely to be low income and not speak English, than the average parent who sends their child to a district run school. Any organization that excludes these families can’t claim to speak for the families of Oakland.
So why doesn’t someone support creation of the citywide parents and family union? An indigenous organization that reaches out to language minorities and other underserved families, elects it’s leadership, develops a platform to improve schools for families and pushes it.
No predetermined agendas, or policy prescriptions, just a mission to listen and support ALL families and improve schools and the system. It’s always trickier than that, but is it that tricky?
The trickiness comes in with us, with our agendas and preconceptions.
If we listen I think there will be some easy answers, problem is, everyone is too busy talking.