For years, Washington D.C. has been a focal point of national debates about school reform, teacher tenure, student testing and merit pay. But many parents and community activists have struggled to have their voices heard above high profile feuds between policymakers, teachers, and administrators. We examine whether parents are being represented in decisions affecting local schools, and meet an author of a national study on innovative collaborations between parents, community organizations and school districts.
Associate Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University; Co-Director, The Community Organizing and School Reform Project; Co-author "A Match on Dry Grass: Community Organizing as a Catalyst for School Reform" (Oxford University Press, 2011)
Principal and Co-founder, Movement Matters
Community Activist, Empower DC; Parent of five current students in District of Columbia Public Schools
Executive Director, Youth Education Alliance
Parent and Community Involvement in Local Schools
Many parent advocates and community organizers complained that they were cut out of the decision-making process at D.C. Public Schools during the tenure of former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson has pledged to increase community involvement and "refocus" DCPS' Office of Family and Community Engagement(OFPE). But many advocates have expressed frustration at recent decisions by DCPS and the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray:
Closing Parent Resource Centers: This July, the school system announced it was temporarily closing three Parent Resource and Family Centers. The centers were introduced under former Superintendent Clifford Janey to increase parent capacities to advocate for their children. The closure decision triggered an angry responsefrom parent activists, who complained it was part of a long standing pattern of DCPS decisions made without community input.
More Charters? Fewer Neighborhood Public Schools?: This August, Deputy Mayor for Education De'Shawn Wright contracted with an Illinois-based firm, with strong ties to the charter school movement, to conduct a study of the entire school system. The study- which will analyze whether D.c. neighborhoods are being adequately served by existing schools- is expected to serve as the basis for possible school closures next year. Public school advocates worry that the results will further consolidate public charter schools at the expense of the traditional public schools.
Most high-performing public schools have strong partners in the community and highly engaged parents. In "A Match on Dry Grass," Harvard researcher Mark Warren explores examples of innovative community organizations that are increasing parent capacity in traditionally low-performing schools. Warren argues that schools can serve as institutional sites that can help anchor revitalization in low-income neighborhoods.
In D.C., a number of community organizing groups are working to build capacity among parents and students, including D.C. Language Access Coalition/ Many Languages Once Voice, Empower DC, and the Youth Education Alliance.
Join the Conversation...
- Do you have a child in a local public school system? Do you feel included in policy and decision-making processes?
- Do you see a link between community development and school policy? Can a school thrive when the neighborhood around it is stagnating?