Monday, February 7, 2011

"Parents United" Offers Help to Educators & Families Alike

You needn't look any further than the Parents United website to determine that it is perhaps the best one-stop shop for all things K-12 education in Minnesota, but if you can ever make time to attend the organization's one day boot camp, it will be time well spent.

For there-- on February 5th-- Executive Director Mary Cecconi breathed life into the legislative nomenclature with talks on school budgeting & governance, legislative basics, and a Power of 5 advocacy principle it hopes its non dues paying affiliates will employ in their given school communities.  Recognizing that most people aren't inclined to become school finance experts, Parents United's primary goal is to drop another view into the lexicon of school policy debates too often dominated by special interest groups like the school board associations, superintendent groups, and teachers unions.

In fact, Parents United doesn't consider itself to be a special interest group at all, since it relies on voluntary contributions to solely fund its operational activities. 

Still, it is clearly a group with a special interest in advocating for strong education. Calling itself a "critical friend" to schools, Parents United emphasizes the critical in its judgment that extracurricular programs are often cut at the middle school level, when it makes more sense developmentally to eliminate them at the high school level.  As for the friend part?  Parents United has been willing to go to the educational mat for funding matters and in defense of teachers who it believes face unrealistic student performance expectations.  In the 2010 legislative session for instance, teachers were nearly subject to a bill that expected 100% improvement in student scores for 3 consecutive years to avoid terminations and removal of licenses.

I found the group's seminar refreshing for its willingness to surprise and sober those in attendance (translation: it did not present itself as one with a predictable spin to various educational questions).  Perhaps the biggest surprise was the rejection of the idea that a student going to college always provides him or her a greater economic value.   Cecconi counts this as one of several dead ideas on which our society often bases decisions. On the sobering front, Cecconi cited this belief about school funding that is currently held by many educational policy experts: Minnesota school boards are likely in the 3rd of a 7 year period of flat funding.

In sum, Parents United is an expert & savvy political advocacy organization that is broad in scope and honest in its approach to fighting for quality k-12 education.

"Don't believe just us," summarized Cecconi. "Always look for the other side."

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