By Virginia Walden Ford
As we fast approach 2019, I have been doing much reflection and taking a long look at the school choice/parental choice movement. I have remembered my own journey, which began by fighting for my son, and I have been in awe of the thousands of parents who joined me, in D.C. and around the country. In the 20 years I’ve been involved, so much has happened, mostly positive for children and families.There are 62 educational choice programs currently and successfully operating in 29 states and the District of Columbia.
It’s been such an wonderful and encouraging 20 years. The parent soldiers of those early years are now seeing the children from those first programs, now young adults, go on to be successful in their lives. We fought hard and now we are seeing incredible results and receiving our rewards. But there are certainly some worries that we must be aware of in the future and we must address them.
When I became involved in the 90’s, parent voices were insecure, anxious, sometimes not heard, often angry. Seldom did we hear positive stories about parental involvement in schools.
We went into the community and spent hours listening to the concerns of many parents who felt hopeless and helpless to do anything about the miseducation of their children. We spent a lot of time telling them to raise their voices and become involved in the process. We told them they had every right to speak up on behalf of their children and share their worries with those people who could make a difference … and to our joy and delight, parents listened to us!!!!
Then, as we began the school choice journey in earnest in the 90s, all of a sudden, parent voices were being heard clearly and loudly and suddenly they were empowered and respected and proudly participating in school choice legislative fights. Parental anxiety about how children were being educated in America’s schools was finally being heard by teachers, administrators, legislators … everyone! It was a wonderful time and as a result many programs that worked best for children materialized in this country.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard fewer and fewer of those excited, empowered voices of parents crying out for the best education possible for their children. Parents, unfortunately, have begun to feel that they are no longer needed in the fight to improve the education of Americas’ children.
There are many great organizations out there who are leading these legislative fights, but not really including parents as partners. Though parents respect the work being done for their children, they truly want to understand what’s going on and how they can help – but up front, not on the sidelines. Parents have said to me that unless there is a need for parents to be in “attendance” at a big rally or hearing, their role in the fight appears to be somewhat diminished.
That really makes me sad because those beautiful voices were and are still really vital in passing future legislation. Nothing makes me happier than seeing scores of parents standing shoulder to shoulder with supporters and legislators on behalf of their children.
So, my WISH is that once again, we, as parents, rise up together and make our voices heard. After all, we are the first teachers of our precious children and we must be their advocates because we know them best. And as always, we will stand tall and strong with all those who love and support our children.
Virginia Walden Ford is a leading national advocate for parental empowerment who helped spark creation of the Opportunity Scholarship school choice program in Washington D.C. She is the author of “Voices, Choices, and Second Chances” and the subject of an upcoming movie about her life.
COMING TOMORROW: redefinED’s Assistant Editor David Hudson Tuthill implores his fellow progressives to stop the folly of fighting education choice for all.