While parents generally consider the purpose of education in terms of their own children, schools and governments consider the purpose of education in terms of society. So, who decides? The Populace study aptly states: “An effective K-12 education system is one that delivers on what the American public wants it to do” (p. 24). And who is the American public? All of us: parents, educators, family, friends, neighbors, business owners, members of the community, and government officials…but parents are the ones who care the most.
With that said, the most surprising finding of the Populace study relates to what the authors called collective illusions, where parents perceived that they were alone in their desire for a K-12 education that emphasized practical skills, critical thinking, and moral character. The study’s authors explain: “Even though Americans privately want an education system that prepares children to do work that is personally meaningful and fulfilling…they believe the rest of society does not share their priority” (p. 16). So how do we encourage parents to share their visions for a new and improved American K-12 education? We ask them to get involved.
How Do We Get There?
Local control is a hallmark of American K-12 public schools. Every school district in the United States is governed by a school board made up of community members who care deeply about American K-12 education and have been elected by fellow community members to serve. Our federal and state governments act in supervisory capacities, but local school boards assume primary responsibility for the day-to-day oversight of schools. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute (2016) explains: “Most decisions are made locally; state governments set the direction and create conditions for success; and the federal government gets involved when something’s become unjust” (para. 12).
Local control of American K-12 education gives parents the leverage they need to positively influence their children’s education. Through their local school board, parents who want a customized educational experience for every student can advocate for it. Parents who believe in a K-12 education that emphasizes practical skills, critical thinking, and moral character can work with school board members, educators, parents, and others to promote it. Attending and speaking up at local school board meetings is one way parents can influence positive change in American K-12 education, but running for a seat on the local school board is even better. It boils down to this: Parents will always know their children better, love their children more, and sense their children’s needs more clearly than anyone else. If the purpose of an American K-12 education is changing, parents are the ones who can make it happen, one school district at a time!
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