The Power of Parent Advocacy

I had the opportunity this week to meet with other education reformers, school leaders and teachers, and governors at the national “Education Nation” summit in New York City.

The summit was a two-day discussion about educating our kids and preparing them for the knowledge economy of the 21st century.
I was asked to be a part of a discussion on the power of parent advocacy, and I shared a strong message of parental involvement. I talked about the historic reforms we’ve passed and are now implementing here in Oklahoma.

Part of these reforms include our third-grade graduation requirement ensuring students can read on grade level before advancing to the fourth grade; our A thru F report card for schools to ensure accountability; and our opportunity scholarship act that gives low-income parents and those in failing schools more choice.

I shared my personal experience -- about how I went from being a concerned parent, to establishing the state’s first charter school, to fighting for reforms and eventually serving as the state’s first new superintendent in 20 years.

I told the nationwide audience watching the event that parents should put a premium on how their children are performing in schools. Parents should arm themselves with facts, ask questions, and hold school officials accountable.

And parents should never give up, because it’s their child.

The panel discussion was an energizing reminder of the need for parent empowerment and parent advocacy.

That’s why I’m dismayed by the recent lawsuit filed against parents by two school districts in Tulsa County. These districts are suing the parents of special needs children over the state’s Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Law, which was a bipartisan effort signed into law by former Gov. Brad Henry. The law allows parents to place their special needs children in schools that will best serve them.

These parents have enough stress in their lives without having to contend with a groundless lawsuit.

And school districts all over Oklahoma should be encouraging parental involvement, not suing parents.  School leaders should be committed to expanding choice for parents, not trying to thwart reforms.

I’ve already established a new office of Parent and Community Engagement. In the coming weeks, I’ll be examining additional ways to aid parent empowerment, advocacy and involvement.

Last updated on December 14, 2011