On a freezing, fog-shrouded Wednesday night, about two dozen people ventured to the Sacajawea Middle School library to hear a League of Education Voters presentation on the state of Washington state’s schools. The session was informative and spirited, and it certainly gave the audience a lot to think about. But if you subtract the activists, school officials, teachers and journalists from the crowd, only a few parents remained.
That’s not unusual. At school board meetings, legislative hearings or town halls, few people show up to represent parents’ specific interests. But as the league’s representative, Kelly Munn, pointed out, when a politician holds a town hall, senior citizens reliably show up to ask questions about health care. Hence, health care for seniors moves up the legislative agenda.
When education is the topic, teachers unions, school districts and business groups represent their interests. Parents seldom show up. Part of the problem is that the system can be intimidating. If the blizzard of acronyms doesn’t confuse you, the impenetrable budget data just might.
Most people surrender and move on, hoping that those who remain will protect their interests. Some people who choose not to engage the system figure things will work out in the end. After all, they got a decent education.
Big mistake. Munn explained that the education parents received in the 1970s and 1980s was good enough to fend off the competition from other countries. When outcomes are measured, today’s education quality is similar to that of bygone decades. The problem is that many countries have caught up to and surpassed the United States by investing heavily in education.
Staying the course means falling behind. That’s why the upgraded standards for math and science were introduced. Washington state’s “Core 24” curriculum will require more spending, thus there will be push-back.
It is at this juncture that the blame is usually distributed:
“The district is ineffectual! Teachers are incompetent! You can’t throw more money at the problem!”
Just this once, look in the mirror. How have you been protecting your interests? Voting for bonds and levies is important. In fact, with how outdated the state’s funding formula has become, those votes have become vital. But that doesn’t change how or what your kids are taught. Nor does it change who is teaching them.
Parents need to become their own lobbyists. The traditional players have not gotten the job done. With the advent of e-mail and the Internet, it’s easier than ever to get involved. Last year, three Spokane mothers discovered this truth in successfully fighting for better school libraries.
The system won’t work for you if you’re reluctant to work the system.