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You say PTO, I say PTA


They may be only one letter apart, but Parent Teacher Association officials are working to stress the differences between PTAs and the PT0s—or Parent Teacher Organizations—that are increasingly replacing them. According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, PTA membership has dropped from 12 million in the 1950s to 5.5 million today, and PTAs now make up less than 25 percent of school-parent groups. The annual PTA convention, which ended yesterday in St. Louis, included a session called "A Instead of O: How to Talk PTA to PTO," which provided attendees with early warning signs that a school is considering switching to PTOs, along with advice on how to prevent it.

So what's the difference? Whereas the PTA is a national organization with representation in Washington and state capitols, PT0s are autonomous local initiatives. Supporters of PTOs, or “PT Others” as PTA advocates refer to them, say the organizations keep funds within the community and do a better job of managing local issues. PTA officials, on the other hand, stress the importance of their organization's political reach and its extensive resources and leadership-training programs. "One of the things we've always said is PTOs stand for 'own,' whereas PTA is for 'all' kids," said Kathy Nevans, president of the Missouri PTA.


PTO vs. PTA....I often wished my son's rural school's organization was A instead of O. My intial connection as a parent was part of a PTA and Chair of the local school Reflections Program, a program I'd like to see continue in the schools my children attend. However, I've come to realize the benefit of PTO...at least in my experience, we choose to forgo National PTA dues and benefits and put the money into what the schools and teachers need most. We have developed a strong art program and participate in many recognition programs for the arts on local and state levels. Our organization is rich in offering our students a variety of after school activities (math, science, and chess club, scouts, and sports opportunities that extend beyond basketball). We have as strong a school community and partnership with our teachers as any PTA school I visit (as a traveling art teacher). As a rural school who is facing imminent legislation to become K-12 or merge with an existing district, our voices have become heard on the State level. Do PTOs lack "political reach"? Do they have a concern for "all kids"? I think it is a matter of the individuals involved, the level of genuine concern for the school and students, and their willingness to take their concerns to the utmost level.

PTOs are a reflection of the conservative political culture that has infected America since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. PTA, like AFT and NEA tended to support progressive political causes while the Religious Right was convincing Christian parents that Christianity equals political conservatism.

The result was teacher unions for conservative teachers---groups with little or no advocacy components and no support for improving the schools and a false version of PTA that provided little more than fellowship and fundraising.

Hopefully people are sick of the conservatives wasting our taxes on wars when they should have been rescuing New Orleans and a new generation of politicians and thinkers will make progressive education popular again. We can shed programs that ignore the individual needs of the children, such as NCLB and forcing special needs children to suffer in regular education classes when they need more help than regular teachers can provide (inclusion is cheaper and special ed. teachers tend to be more politically liberal than regular ed. ) and parents will suport the schools beyond the most immediate walls once more.

I served on many PTA committees and whole-heartedly supported PTA until I became PTA president and witnessed all the politics involved. That was my last year, and I have never joined a PTA since. The National PTA controls the adgenda. They decide what all the PTAs will support or not support. I don't know how they can assume to speak for everyone. They don't speak for me or my school.

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Recent Comments

  • Cynthia: I served on many PTA committees and whole-heartedly supported PTA read more
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