By Betsy Landers, President of the National PTA
Much has been made of the divisions pointed out in the 2012 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools released recently. Public perception varies widely on issues from the college-readiness of all students to school vouchers.
Perhaps more revealing are the issues on which our nation agrees. We agree we need to close the achievement gap, support schools in urban areas, and do something about the lack of financial support plaguing our schools.
In fact, the poll showed lack of funding for education as the No. 1 concern of parents, outdistancing the top response from 10 years ago, drugs and violence in schools. Nationally, 35 percent of responses cited lack of funding as the biggest challenge facing their schools. Among public school parents, 43 percent cited funding as the biggest challenge. Regretfully, the challenge will loom even larger if the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts Congress agreed to in last summer's debt limit deal materialize this coming January. "Sequestration" would have a potentially devastating impact on public education funding, and would disproportionately affect high need districts already struggling to do much more with far less. Our public education system is facing a very frightening and very real reality.
What's worse is that lack of funding contributes to so many of the other issues affecting student achievement, whether it's the achievement gap, the dropout rate or even the nutritional value of school lunches. It's no wonder that 70 percent of respondents support giving parents whose children attend a failing school the option of mounting a petition drive to request removal of the teachers and principal.
Enrollment is up. Need is up. Resources are down. With so many struggles, parents and communities must be empowered to drive change, but until education funding becomes a top priority in state capitals and on Capitol Hill, parents need to think beyond their individual communities and advocate for all children in every district, across their state and across the nation. The challenges that parents face are shared, as should be fighting for the solutions.
What can you do? A simple phone call or e-mail can make all the difference. Parents must reach out to their legislators and encourage them to prioritize education funding in the face of deep deficit reductions. Parents can also mobilize behind the implementation of Common Core State Standards, which three out of four Americans believe will provide more consistency in education and help the nation compete globally, according to the poll. Parents can also join PTA so their voice can join with 5 million others speaking out for children in the nation's capital and in state capitals across the country.
The bottom line is that parents must be engaged in the process. Education reform, on any scale, will prove unsustainable without the support of parents. Period. In fact, few factors can influence student achievement more than parental engagement. This fact, coupled with their collective voice, empowers parents to be the real agents of change.
As parents, we strive to protect our children from harm and to ensure quality educational opportunities. Change begins in the community, but the nation benefits from change occurring on broader levels. Too many parents believe they don't have the voice or authority to bring about the changes necessary to ensure the success of their children. However, speaking together as one voice — millions of parents nationwide can and will force our elected officials at the local, state and national levels to take notice and prioritize children. Together, we can demand better education that is both equitably financed and reflective of our nation's shared interest.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.