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N.Y. PTA President Testifies about Parent Engagement

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"Public school choice is a good thing—but choice shouldn't be viewed as an engagement strategy," Dr. Maria Fletcher, president of the New York PTA, told a U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in Washington, D.C., yesterday at a hearing called "Exploring State Success in Expanding Parent and Student Options."

"Perhaps we're asking the wrong question—instead of asking how to empower parents by providing alternatives to their neighborhood school, why aren't we empowering parents by engaging all stakeholders to ensure that every neighborhood school lives up to the quality promise we've made to educate all students?" she asked.

"All public schools—traditional, charter, magnet—must have the capacity to build and capitalize on effective school-family partnerships to increase student achievement," she said in her prepared statement before the committee.

Referring to The Family Engagement in Education Act (H.R. 1821), which was introduced in 2011, she said: "While thankful for the bipartisan attention that family engagement has garnered during the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization process, we strongly urge the Committee to further consider the role of research-based family engagement policies and programming that are both more effective and far-reaching than school choice as communicated through the provisions of H.R. 1821."

In a phone interview after her appearance before the subcommittee, Dr. Fletcher noted that the three other experts offering testimony all supported choice and/or "parent trigger" laws. Her testimony, and that of the other speakers, can be accessed here.

"Accountability is a big issue," Fletcher said as she returned home to New York. "If we're talking about public [charter] schools, they should be as accountable as our traditional public schools. The assessments used should be the same assessments that are demanded in traditional public schools. We don't have clear data that charter schools are better. They are an alternative.

"As the PTA, we support that alternative. However, if they're getting public funds they need to be accountable, and a funding stream other than siphoning off from traditional public schools needs to be initiated. Funding for education is a huge problem."

"If parents were to become more involved in their school communities, and the school district, they would have the potential of accomplishing good things not only for their children, but for all children," she said. "We need parents who are advocates and activists. We need to see that change happening in our public schools."

For the political angle on yesterday's hearing, read Education Week's Politics K-12 story "House Panel Takes a Look at School Choice, Parent Triggers" by Alyson Klein.

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