Our K-12 system is in crisis and there are many ideas floating around about how to turn the situation around and many have been tried out with various levels of success. The fact remains however, that as innovative as we have tried to be in our effort to succeed against the challenge of universal education, America is trailing a significant number of other developed countries in producing superior achievement results.
The reaction of the public has generally manifested itself in taking more control of the education of the children through a variety of mechanisms such as voucher programs that are currently a hot topic in Colorado. Another strategy that has received widespread support at the local, state and national levels is charter schools.
On its face, the charter school concept has allowed traditional and non-traditional themes to provide the rationale for its existence. Yet a charter school dedicated to international studies, technology, math and science, performing arts or other topics has not answered the questions that have led to its relative success.
The answers about the success of charter schools boil down to the notion that they obey the intent of a group of parents and community leaders who come together to make decisions about the future of their children and about how that future should be best approached.
That successful notion was borrowed from the enduring legacy of the Head Start initiative that formed an important part of the Great Society programs first legislated in 1965. Head Start, an early childhood preschool program designed to prepare children for K-12, features the will of parents as a primary factor in making education decisions for their children.
A Head Start project does this by organizing the parents in the program into a parent council that helps make policy decisions in partnership with a board of directors. The council shares in all of the information about the educational progress of the children and plays a key role in making decisions about funding, academic programs, personnel, planning and outcomes.
Many school districts are operating Head Starts programs and are having success to the extent that the board of education can attend to them because there is an inherent conflict in representing the political interests of their constituency and that of the parents in the program. Secretary Duncan who is proposing to include 4-year olds in public schools appears willing to diminish the role of the Head Start parent policy council in order to make the program more compatible with the interests of the school system.
The recently published Head Start regulations offered for public comment include possible elimination of some parent committees, inclusion of school staff in parent councils, possible elimination of the shared governance model and in some cases make the parent council a recommending rather than decision-making body. The irony of all this is that as the country moves toward an educational process that is based on parent involvement, the politics of the day dictate the interests of those who rule over a failing system that needs the parents.
It has been clear that the secret to the historical success of Head Start is parental involvement and control over the education affairs of their children. This model is now threatened by a desperate attempt to find a solution away from proven success.
The parents in the charter school movement appear to think otherwise. They have seen first hand that the failure of the school system in their communities can be reversed only with parents at the helm.