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Who Knows Better? Educators or Parents

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Benjamin Paley
May 1, 2023

COVID-19 created more than 50 million “accidental homeschoolers:” parents whose homes were turned into schools eight hours a day. These parents, who were working from home themselves, witnessed their children’s public school curriculum and many were displeased about what was being taught. In response, they organized and showed up at school board meetings, voicing concerns about a variety of subjects including critical race theory, LGBTQ+ rights, masks and vaccines.

Simultaneously, several school boards saw an uptick in violence and threats, leading the U.S. Attorney General to investigate criminal threats against school boards. Many saw that investigation as a cover-up to pursue parents who expressed views contrary to federal guidelines.

There is nothing new or wrong about parents involving themselves heavily in the education system. For 10 months each year, parents trust their children to government officials, known as street-level bureaucrats. Teachers educate them and administrators monitor their progress and provide a safe environment for learning and growth. These bureaucrats have standards to meet, set down by higher-ups in the education departments at the state and federal level. But, while educators must meet standards set by state and federal officials, parents also set their own standards—after all, children are the product of particular homes. Parents may have certain values that clash with a topic in the curriculum so they don’t want their children learning about that topic.

Prior research in public administration has analyzed how trained educators balance what students need to know with parental demands. Researchers have focused on the representation of the population on the school board as indicative of trust in what is being taught to their children, as well as the respective involvement potential of children versus adults. Researchers state parents should be more involved in their children’s education because, unlike children, adults have autonomy, voice and access to information that enable them to protect themselves if and when their relationship with government breaks down.

According to the National School Board Association, school boards, numbering more than 14,000 with 100,000 members, represent the community’s voice in public education. Board members are the policymakers closest to the student. They set the standard for achievement in the school district, incorporating the community’s view of what students should know and be able to accomplish at each grade level. School board members are accessible to everyone in the community and accountable for the performance of the schools in the district. But, as COVID-19 proved, even school boards cannot please everyone.

U.S. House of Representatives Republicans and Democrats have proposed radical alternatives in response to what has been happening at school board meetings.

The Parent’s Bill of Rights, passed on March 24, 2023, on a party-line vote, and a countermeasure proposed by Democrats, represented a split between the career bureaucrats, the electoral interests of politicians and concerned parents.

The Parent’s Bill of Rights was passed following newfound attention to education curriculums during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Democrats’ counter proposal was proposed to respond to many of the claims in the Republican bill. The chart below highlights the main parts of each bill and how it would address the problems discussed above.

A summary puts the following as the main pillars of the Parent’s Bill of Rights Parents have the right to know what’s being taught;Parents have the right to be heard;Parents have the right to see the school budget and spending;Parents have the right to protect their child’s privacy; andParents have the right to be updated on any violent activity at school.  Democrats say their counter proposal will advance an “inclusive, aspirational, and affirmative vision for public education.” Their resolution rests on five pillars A well-rounded education Authentic parental involvementResponsive and inclusive public schoolsStudents’ civil rightsEducation and democracy
The bill, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is dead on arrival in the Senate. And President Biden has promised to veto the bill in the off chance it passes the Senate.  The bill stands zero chance of passing the Republican controlled house.

Author: Benjamin Paley is a board member of the South Florida Chapter of the ASPA. He graduated in 2022 from the Shepard Broad College of Law in 2022 with a J.D. and in 2018 from Florida Atlantic University with a Master of Public Administration degree. He can be reached at [email protected].

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One Response to Who Knows Better? Educators or Parents

  1. Burden S Lundgren Reply

    May 1, 2023 at 8:39 pm

    The proposals above are interesting. The Republican proposal seems to have nothing to do with drag queens or yanking books off the shelves – and the Democratic proposal as elucidated here is basically meaningless.

    What has always seemed to be missing in all the commotion is a connection between parents and their children. If a child reports something a teacher said to a parent, and the parent disagrees, that is a teachable moment – a time for parent and child to discuss what the teacher said and why the parent disagrees.

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