Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Race to the top includes important element-Parents

Refreshing news from Washington: Parents are important. From a public education standpoint, there is much being accomplished in Washington and much that is happening in a new way.

The No Child Left Behind Act, a huge federal infringement on state’s rights, was a top down, punitive attack on state and local control. There was no input from the education community, especially parents. It was a set of edicts taking students from learning knowledge to learning how to fill in test bubbles.

Within months of taking office, the Obama administration showed its approach would be different regarding improving how we teach and how we hold public education accountable. The new administration announced stimulus money for ailing school districts nationwide. But then that same administration announced a series of big-buck grants encouraging education reform.

We all read how here in California that grant program was bogged down in Sacramento politics. Most of that is true. But the fighting is portrayed as the unions versus the governor.

That is not true.

Unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, the new administration approach pushes joint decisions at the state level. The Race to the Top grant awards points for including input from everyone in the education process. That includes parents. What a huge leap for the Department of Education — ask parents first and be sure parents are involved.

California state PTA represents 940,000 members. It is the largest organized parent group in the nation. And due to years of involvement in state and federal issues, they are the voice of parents in California’s Race to the Top process.

The federal grant requirement to hear from all is also easier in California because of the Education Coalition. Comprised of teachers, school boards, nonteaching staff, administrators, business officials, county superintendents and parents, the Education Coalition is the collaboration Washington wants to see.

To say that there is controversy surrounding the application is fair. The government is requiring states say how they will create reform before getting the money. That left a short time to make major decisions, but it is happening here and in other states.

At a Sacramento meeting with about 30 other education officials, I heard U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unequivocally say getting the grant money is up to California. If California wants the federal funds, then they have to follow the rules. Among the rules, show us your grant preparation including all education groups, including parents. With work to find common ground on state Senate and Assembly bills still in process, California may not get its grant application in by the January deadline.

But refreshingly, the process to qualify for federal dollars is now based on each state’s vision, rather than a federal mandate from above.

More refreshing is that parents are sitting at the table with a full voice.

Mark Buchman is a trustee for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.