PAA Action News
Aug. 7, 2014

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PAA Conference Report

PAA 2014 Leadership Conference report 


The Parents Across America 2014 Leadership Conference was an exciting, productive meeting. 20 of PAA's chapter and affiliate leaders from 13 states all over the U.S. attended, discussed the issues, and offered their ideas for PAA action for the coming year.



PAA leaders from across the US
Early arrivals to the conference were able to spend most of the day Monday meeting with Congressmen and Senators on Capitol Hill, including some of their own representatives and members of the House and Senate education committees.



We focused on three priority issues:


► Reduce High-Stakes Testing

  • Congress should begin that project with comprehensive hearings that examine the experiences of students, parents and teachers, as well as the findings of education scholars.
  • Congress should scale back the number and frequency of standardized tests it requires and provide resources to expand high-quality alternative assessments.

►Strengthen Student Privacy Protections:

  • Congress should hold hearings on student privacy.
  • Congress should reverse changes in FERPA laws that undermine student privacy and parental control, and increase privacy safeguards.

►Replace Charter "Choice" with Real Parental Empowerment:

  • Congress should listen to parents and promote increased resources to all of our schools, a stronger parent voice in education policy, smaller class sizes, pre-K and full-day Kindergarten, experienced, supported teachers, a well-rounded curriculum, and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.
  • Congress should reconsider its overemphasis on charter expansion and focus on proven strategies that strengthen public schools for all children.



PAA co-founder Julie Woestehoff visits Congressman Bobby Scott's office
On Tuesday morning, those who made Capitol Hill visits reported on the response of our elected officials to these issues.



We were met with opposition in some cases and in others we simply got "Thank you for your input," but some Members were receptive of our ideas. We will continue to reach out to Congress and build on these meetings to strengthen our voices. We were very enthusiastic (and somewhat envious) of an issue notebook that members of our new Massachusetts affiliate, QUEST, had put together for their local legislators. There was a lot of interest in PAA doing something similar for our members to share with Congress.


We spent some time reviewing our mission statement. While there was not a feeling that we need to change the statement significantly, a small group of members will work on a few tweaks based on feedback from this session. We may also plan a webinar on messaging.


PAA leaders Deb Mayer, Lisa Fluke and Danielle Arnold-Schwartz prepared a session on "What is a Quality Education?" Deb led this interactive workshop which resulted in a lot of good table discussion and good ideas. A small group of PAAers will take those ideas and begin work on a PAA position paper on quality education.



PAA-Greensboro leader Khem Irby posts some of the group's ideas about quality education



PAA Board Member Steve Norton walks us through Basecamp PAA Board of Directors member Steve Norton spent some time walking us through BaseCamp, a program we have started using for Board and committee communication.


And that was all before lunch!


After lunch, we participated in a session led by Kirwan Institute facilitators Jason Reece and Kwame Christian, who helped us take a deeper look at the racial, ethnic, and cultural dynamics in education reform policy discussions.


It was a great but exhausting day!


Day 2

Our second day started out with breakout sessions to discuss how PAA can better support our chapters and affiliates. We came up with a number of great ideas and some volunteers to work on them.


PAA Board member Nate Harris

The final session began with a presentation on Poverty and Education by PAA Board member Nate Harris. Nate shared some statistics on the issues confronting low-income students and a review of some of the federal programs that are designed to address some of these needs. Nate put this data in context by noting that we all love our children and need to do whatever we can to care for them. He strongly advocates for more wrap around services for students.


Nate also introduced Dr.  Paul Thomas, who joined us via Skype. Dr. Thomas teaches in the Education Department at Furman University.


Dr. Thomas asserted that the national narrative that education is the one true way out of poverty is unfortunately not true for too many students today. He referred to research showing that 60% of the people in the top fifth of wealth tend to stay there, as do 60% of those in the bottom fifth, with social mobility decreasing over the last decades. The data show that if you are born wealthy and do not attend college, you earning power will still be higher than someone born into poverty who graduates from college. Education has not proven to be the ticket out of poverty.


While Dr. Thomas isn't claiming that public education has no impact, he urges us to consider how schools may reflect and perpetuate inequities. We must first acknowledge the realities about poverty inequity and then create social and education policies to address them. Otherwise we are chasing the same solutions but never identifying what the problems are. Strategies like overcrowding, overtesting, creating more charter schools, and firing teachers are just making things worse.


Dr. Thomas urged us to adopt an action agenda for equity. We need to be clear that schools need reform, but we also need, for example:

  • Stable jobs for parents.
  • Universal health care.
  • An end to tracking, which is almost totally connected to accident of birth.
  • A commitment that no child will have a new or uncertified teacher 2 years in a row - especially in math.

He is heartened by the strength of social media and urged us to expand our networks with other parents and allies. Dr. Thomas tweets @plthomasedd (follow him!) and blogs at


We concluded this thought-provoking morning by proposing some next steps for PAA.


The PAA Board of Directors met directly after the meeting.


PAA honors Leonie Haimson 


PAA was delighted to spend an evening with members and friends in Washington DC honoring the amazing work of our co-founder, Leonie Haimson, at the first annual Parent Voice Award dinner.


The beautiful Atrium at the NEA


Our hosts at the National Education Association provided a beautiful atrium setting for the dinner. PAA founding member, the legendary Helen Gym, leader of PAA Philadelphia affiliate Parents United for Public Education, emceed the event, where the attendees were welcomed by NEA community outreach specialist Cynthia Kain.


Emcee Helen Gym introduces the NEA's Cynthia Kain

Cynthia spoke about the importance of collaboration and support between parents and teachers, especially as public education comes under increasing attack.


Helen celebrated some of the important progress made by PAA and its chapters and affiliates this year, including her own group's exposure of the privatization agenda of a major philanthropic foundation in Philadelphia, the defeat of an attempt to raise the charter cap in Massachusetts with the help of new PAA  affiliate QUEST, and the election of PAA founding member Sue Peters to the Seattle school board.



Presenting the 2014 Parent Voice Award. From left: PAA Board member Steven Norton, PAA President Dora Taylor, Board member Julie Woestehoff, PVA winner Leonie Haimson, and PAA Board members Pamela Grundy and Nathan Harris
Leonie Haimson

In her acceptance speech, Leonie reflected on the effort of so many parents across the US who worked hard to defeat the inBloom agenda to capture student data without parent permission.



Khem Irby shares her thoughts about Leonie's education advocacy work.

PAA leaders then took the podium to share their stories about working with Leonie.


We were so happy to include several BATs and BAM members in our celebration, and thank everyone who attended or donated to PAA in Leonie's honor.  


It was a beautiful evening.  


Join us!

If you share
our overall goals of progressive, positive education reform and more parent input in education policy making, we invite you to affiliate with us if you are an existing group, or to form a new PAA chapter. The more of us there are, the stronger our voice will be at every level. Here's how!
PAA Blog Highlights

Read this excellent new post  from PAA President Dora Taylor, "Poverty doesn't matter! Really?"

The PAA conference reports and dinner recap are also posted on
our blog. Be sure to check in there for more news and commentary on public education from the parents' point of view.

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