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Let parents hold Texas schools accountable

Texas Tribune - TribTalk
April 16, 2015

By Loretta Brock - Houston parent

Since my two children were young, I’ve always been involved with their schools. I know that a good education is one of the most important things I can give my kids if I want them to have a brighter future.

Over the years, however, I’ve learned that the traditional things were told to do as parents - read to your children, show up for the parent-teacher conferences, help out with the fundraising - aren't enough to give our kids the quality education they need. Too many schools are failing to give students an effective public education experience that will prepare them for college or a career.

So I became a community builder. I became an organizer. I began to not only show up for PTA and multicultural committee meetings but also organize other parents to demand improvements and accountability in our schools.

We’ve made some improvements over the years, but we’ve also hit countless roadblocks. We know that far too many schools are still failing our kids. In the Houston Independent School District alone, 23 schools have been rated “Academically Unacceptable” for at least two years. One of those 23 is the school that my son attends..

Yet all too often, the public education system slams the door in the face of parents who are demanding better option for their kids, even if their kids are attending persistently failing schools. We have no shortage of highly qualified professionals working in every district, but the end result has been failure. How much worse should it get before we let those most at risk - families at these failing schools - have a louder voice?

That’s why I came to Austin last month with almost 100 other parents to lobby and testify in favor of Senate Bill 14 and House Bill 1727. These “parent empowerment” bills would give parents whose children attend persistently failing schools the power to force districts to make changes. If a majority of parents at a schools standing together and demand changes, they can force a reconstitution, restructuring, bring in a charter operator, or use parent trigger and leverage to demand other needed changes.

This law is not about one solution being right for all failing schools in Texas. It’s about giving parents leverage to negotiate for changes that will help children in chronically failing schools. It’s about creating a new sense of urgency in districts that for too long have let schools fail without making changes for our kids.

Last month was my first time coming to the Capitol to testify or lobby, and it was heartening to see how much support we had from legislators. Many of them encouraged us to keep fighting.

But I was surprised to see some groups opposing the idea of parent empowerment, mostly because they found it “divisive.” These critics said parents would be used or manipulated to take public property and convert it to a private corporation. What opponents avoided saying was that of the six first schools to use this law in California, only one of them became a charter school, one became jointly administrated (a hybrid district and charter school) and four implemented in-district reform plans. That’s not devise - that’s parents finding better solutions for their kids.

What is truly divisive is allowing children in some communities to fail year after year and preventing parents from being able to do anything about it. Parents should never have to seek permission to advocate for their kids. We need leverage to negotiate with districts that have historically shut parents out.

We can’t fix all of our problems overnight, but we parents can be an important part of the solution. And we won’t stop showing up at the Capitol until our elected leaders stand up and give us the power we need to put our kids’ interests first.