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Papers Explore Emergence of 'Parent Power'

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"Parent power" in education takes many forms, from influencing children's school performance, to influencing the wider landscape of school reform.

Researchers are increasingly studying the latter use of this power in the current educational environment.

Two organizations recently released studies or commentary on this phenomenon: the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR).

AEI published "Parent Power: Grass-Roots Activism and K-12 Education Reform", a pair of papers by Patrick McGuinn and Andrew P. Kelly.

Education Week blogger Sean Cavanagh wrote about the findings in these papers in "Education Advocacy Group Seeks to Engage, Tap Power of Parents." Among his takeaways:

  • Some parent organizing may be less grassroots than "astroturf," a "synthetic" mobilizing aimed at getting parents to sign statements in support of a state policy agenda, with little "face-to-face" contact, according to McGuinn.

  • Education advocacy groups could become more adept at reaching and winning over engaged parents through sophisticated data analysis and modeling, such as the "microtargeting" used by political campaigns to reach voters, according to Kelly.

"Building and Sustaining Education Reform through Relational Power" by Sara McAlister and Cassandra Tavaras at AISR is an opinion piece that posits: "The success of community organizing is rooted in the idea of relational power—power developed collaboratively with others, rather than power over others."

The authors highlight the emergence of education advocacy groups that "promote agendas shaped largely by political insiders."

While they note the day-to-day work of grassroots organizing rarely draws national media attention or funding from billionaire philanthropists, it "starts from the proposition that those most directly impacted by a problem are in the best position to solve it."

The writers point to grassroots successes in parent organizing, and conclude that: "Organizing develops broad and long-term community capacity to press for change and to hold public institutions accountable for implementing change equitably and sustainably. By developing their own leadership skills and knowledge and acting collectively to alter the power dynamics that perpetuate inequities in opportunity, the communities that have been least well-served by our education system can generate real change in their local schools."

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