NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Putting the Punch in Parent Power

September 10, 2012

Parents are beginning to step outside their traditional role in school affairs and are actively promoting reforms to education, say Frederick M. Hess and Daniel K. Lautzenheiser of the American Enterprise Institute.

For too long politics has been entrenched in decisions about education. Teacher unions, with their strong mobilization and organization have long been able to influence elections. This is why union-endorsed incumbents have a 92 percent rate of reelection. Advocacy organizations are seeking to inject a parent's voice into debates about reform to make meaningful influences on policymakers.

Research done by political scientist Patrick McGuinn and education policy researcher Andrew P. Kelly offer insights to effective advocacy, organization and mobilization. Their analysis provides useful information to advocacy groups that want to mobilize more parents for education reform.

  • Time, money and interest are all necessary to find people that are active enough to undertake the responsibility of organizing an effort at reform.
  • Moreover, having connections through other networks such as political parties, churches or clubs can lead to more engagement.
  • Most importantly, self-interest determines whether a parent gets involved. A parent may only seek to see that the school of their student gets reformed and not be active on a broader scale.

The growing ability of parents to choose which school their students go to, by using vouchers for example, may have lessened a parent's desire to be more active in school reform. This is because parents are typically satisfied with the schools they choose and don't have to worry about their child's education. But on the flipside, parents that opt to move their students into another one are, in effect, organizing against the school they are leaving, which prompts reform to try and retain students.

Advocacy groups have at least four steps to mobilize parents and achieve their goal:

  • First, build capacity to make a change at the voting booth to combat vested interests.
  • Second, develop alliances on both the left and right of the political spectrum.
  • Third, mobilize grassroots and "grasstops" to get parents and policymakers to see the aim of education reform.
  • Finally, pay attention to self-interest and motivate parents to fight for long, distant reforms.

Source: Frederick M. Hess and Daniel K. Lautzenheiser, "Putting the Punch in Parent Power," American Enterprise Institute, August 29, 2012.


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