The headline said it with absolute authority: “Parents, teachers say ‘no’ to Tony Bennett.” The story relayed criticism from the usual quarters about Florida’s new education commissioner. It quoted a local parents group that’s stomping mad about standardized testing . It quoted a teachers union president who doesn’t like vouchers and charter schools.
More open-minded folks were quoted too. But the headline still reflected a widespread perception – that the masses of Florida parents and teachers don’t like where Florida schools are headed. It’s a conclusion drilled in deep by media coverage even as test scores and grad rates improve and growing numbers of parents embrace new learning options. And it’s why my holiday wish is for those parents, in whatever choice sector they’re in, to become better organized.
I won’t dispute that teachers unions and the usual parent groups represent a lot of people, or that in some cases they have legitimate concerns. But they don’t speak for all, and their views aren’t shared by all. The number of charter school students now tops 200,000 and there are more than 50,000 in private schools via tax credit scholarships – just to name two of Florida’s many alternatives. (The scholarship program is administered by Step Up For Students, which co-hosts this blog.) Those numbers are rising by double-digit percentages every year. They’re also contributing to a bigger picture in which 1.3 million students in Florida, about 40 percent of the total, are now enrolled in schools other than their assigned neighborhood school.
I‘m sure those parents have diverse views about education reform and school choice. And I suspect those views are often not in synch with those who get all the ink. Becoming better organized is the best way to get ink, too. Along the way, it will nudge news coverage into better reflecting the more complex – and frankly, from a news perspective – more fascinating realities on the ground.
That’s starting to happen. Parents for Charter Schools, for example, a group with roots in the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools, is becoming more visible. But there’s so far to go. I’d like to see parents who benefit from school choice options quickly respond to negative stories, whether it’s to dispel misinformation or to admit something’s amiss. I’d love it if reporters felt compelled to call them for a quote about say, the new ed commissioner, or that new bill that could impact their kids.
I know that’s easier said than done. Low-income parents, in particular, don’t have the time or resources or political connections to mobilize like their more affluent counterparts across town. But the reality is this: if choice parents don’t find ways to speak up, parent groups with conflicting agendas will speak for them. Just like they’ve done for years.