PTA: Reform Obstacle or Trusted Parent Advocate?

12 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/13/2021

Founded in 1897, the ubiquitous PTA has been a long time powerful voice in legislative halls. With their many victories, they have developed enemies especially among school privatization advocates. However, the reports of their imminent demise have proven inaccurate. PTA’s robust 2019 tax form (EIN: 36-2169155) and a reported membership of more than 4 million indicates they will be viable for some time to come.

Radical Right Opposes another American Institution

One of the first big hit pieces on the PTA came from the Brookings Institute in 2001. Thomas Toch claimed that the PTA was floundering because they were “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education.”

Toch also claimed that the PTA was working with teachers to slow the pace of reform, “The organization rejects the belief of many would-be school reformers today that public schools would work harder to improve if they had to compete for students and financing.”

Toch concluded,

“There is a big role for PTA’s to play in rallying parents to the cause of school improvement. But critics say that unless the National PTA relinquishes its defense of the educational status quo, and unless local chapters define parent involvement far more ambitiously, the century-old cultural icon is likely to continue its decline, a consequence, they say, that would make little difference in the schools.”

Tom DeWeese writes for the ultra-right American Policy Center. They advertise themselves as having “30 years leading the fight for property rights and sovereignty” and “speaking out on the threat of UN Agenda 21/Sustainable Development Policy.” In a post, Deweese says,

“Over the past two or more decades the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been actively pursuing control of the PTA. They saw its potential to be just what it has become – a tool in the arsenal to push union agendas.”

For their Summer 2021 Journal, Harvard University’s Education Next decided to rerun a 2011 article by Bruno Manno called NOT Your Mother’s PTA.” Manno is senior advisor for K–12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation. He wrote,

“The PTA has worked to advance social changes that improved the lives of young people, including championing the creation of child labor laws, reorganizing the juvenile justice system, and improving a variety of children’s services. But today, its orientation to K–12 issues is most aptly described by education analyst Charlene Haar as an ‘echo…of the teachers unions.”’

Manno says, “Truth be told, few in today’s K–12 education reform movement look to the PTA to fight for dramatic change or engage in direct conflict with the public education establishment.” He recommends three organizations he says will enlist parents in education reform; Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children. The fine print at the end of the article informs the reader that all three organizations are funded by America’s wealthiest family through their Walton Family Foundation.

This March, the Daily Wire ran the post, How The PTA Sold Out Parents For Politics During Schools’ Biggest Crisis.” Daily Wire is owned by the billionaire Wilks Brothers, who made their money through fracking. The Wilks are part of the extreme Christian right.

The article attacks the PTA for being “essentially absent from the public debate on reopening schools.”  It also says they engage in an “embrace of divisive racial rhetoric that has alienated parents…” The Wire is aghast that at the PTA March Legislative Conference “the agenda focused not on getting kids back into school, but on a series of liberal political priorities.”

Great History but Some Questionable Positions

In the era before women successfully demanded the right to vote, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst founded the Congress of Mothers to support public schools. Hearst’s wealth gained during the California gold rush provided the organization with funding.  The name was officially changed to the National Congress of Parents and Teachers in 1924 when they started referring to themselves as the PTA.

In 1926, the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teacher was founded by Selena Sloan Butler. In 1970, the two organizations united with leaders from both groups taking key leadership roles.

Through its advocacy, the PTA has successfully lobbied for legislation to:

  • Create kindergarten classes
  • Establish child labor laws
  • Implement public health service
  • Supply hot and healthy lunches
  • Devise a juvenile justice system
  • Institute mandatory immunization
  • Include arts in education
  • Initiate enhanced school safety

PTA’s century and a quarter of activism supporting children’s education has seen it battling the enemies of public school:

In 1978, the PTA helped to form a national coalition to Save Public Education; to fight tuition tax credit legislation. The coalition succeeded in the 95th Congress.

In 2002, a PTA news release opposing school vouchers was picked up by Good Morning America, ABC World News Tonight, and 20/20.

In 2003, PTA collaborated with the National Education Association to develop guides on parent involvement, supplemental services for children, and help children in math, science, and reading.

Unfortunately, PTA has bowed to the billionaire financed education reform agenda. In 2009, it became an endorsing partner for the Common Core State Standards.

The PTA has two glaringly errant education policy positions. It endorsedpublic charter” schools and embraced standards and testing. There is no real difference between for profit and non-profit charter schools. They are both about profits. Generally by being a non-profit, a charter school is labeled a “public charter,” but they are often run by for profit charter management companies and these non-profits tend to pay high administrative salaries. When it comes to testing, there is a mountain of evidence against it.

The radical UN-American ultra-right disparages public education, teachers, democratically elected school boards, reasonable public health policies, vaccinations against a pandemic and the PTA. They are a menace.

One Response to “PTA: Reform Obstacle or Trusted Parent Advocate?”

  1. peachymeyer July 14, 2021 at 5:32 am #

    Thanks for this. The PTA represents the essential partnership of parents and teachers, and I remember participating in productive collaboration in the 1960’s. Their recent support of the corporate agenda has appeared to me to have been aided by the lack of teacher participation and teacher collaboration with parents in general, and an adversarial critical attitude on the part of (some?) teachers. “Divide and conquer” seems to have worked for the better-organized and future-oriented corporate cabal with their never-swerving eye on the money and the power.

    Liked by 1 person

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