Each year, PSO parent advocates attend multiple national charter school and education conferences. Unfortunately, each year, the parent voice seems to be missing at these meetings. While parent advocates attend, rarely are parents or their perspective included in programming. They should. After all, who knows the educational needs of their children better than their parents?
Last week at the 2017 National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, DC this was once again the case. The three-day conference was informative and attended by a large and diverse group of education leaders, teachers, administrators, and policy makers, but little programming was devoted to talking about the important role parents play – or should play – in determining education policies that will directly affect their children and their choices.
Two panels stick out in the minds of PSO parent board members Tillie Elvrum and Christin White-Kaiser who attended. One panel, focusing on virtual schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, did not include any discussion about why parents choose this option until Elvrum brought it up during the Q&A portion. Her son actually attended virtual schools in both Ohio and Pennsylvania and she shared her experience about why she chose this option for her son. Panelists even commented that perhaps she should have been included on the panel given her expertise on this school choice option!
Another panel focusing on empowering charter school parents to be advocates lacked the parent perspective. While one panelist was a parent who founded a group that helps empower parents, no other parent voice was represented. And when panelists recognized different stakeholders attending the session by a show of hands, guess which group was left out? PARENTS. Worse, one comment from a panelist about how offering food was the only way to get parents to show up anywhere was demeaning and just not true.
We urge next year’s conference to include the real stakeholders in education and school choice: parents! And just as PSO did for this year’s conference, we’ll make our pitch to host a panel discussion at the 2018 conference and hopefully they’ll take us up on our offer this time.
PSO Board Members Tillie Elvrum and Christin White-Kaiser