Parents Organize Online to Pressure Schools and Get Rid of Bad Teachers

So there it was, right out in the Twitter open:
Public school parents et al: What if we could use a site like Blind to chat anonymously with other parents at our kids’ school, share concerns and complaints, including about bad teachers, and organize to pressure administrators to do something about it?    @MichaelPetrilli

Appropriately, the very first (polite) comment came from a teacher:

Are you being facetious? @IngridFournier

And…no, no he wasn’t. It’s really frustrating, Petrilli says, to see all the things that are wrong in his child’s public school, and not be able to do anything about it. That weak principal! Etc., etc.

There followed a long string of mostly coherent tweets, centered around salient points: You don’t need an app for that, plenty of ways to form groups. Anonymous chats tend to go sideways, sometimes direly so, and anonymous kvetching solves nothing. This kind of thing is a security/data-sharing nightmare, technologically—especially when you have no idea to whom you’re speaking, online.

That devolved into union-bashing and ‘my kid has a bad math teacher,’ precisely the kind of thing you’d expect to see on the Blind app that Petrilli proposes, only now it’s on Twitter, open to the entire low-information universe.

Petrilli has started further Twitter threads to explore this idea—which is hardly innovative—and, evidently, generate more complaints about public school leadership’s non-responsiveness. He seems impervious to the numerous tweets from teachers asking how unsigned, anger-fueled critiques improve ANYTHING in public education. Especially on the first day of school.

A couple of years ago, I was facilitating a graduate-level course in teacher leadership online. Because we’d had some serious ease-of-use issues with the Blackboard platform, we decided to try a closed, private Facebook page for threaded discussions.

I was surprised by the number of teachers in the class who were reluctant or flat-out unwilling to use Facebook—they had emphatically decided not to participate, at all, in any of the more common social media platforms.

Their schools blocked Facebook and Twitter (and often, other sites where required readings were found), for starters. They pointed out that even if access to the online discussion was password-protected and strictly limited to registered participants, course members from other school districts could copy and share things they wrote on a Facebook page—so nobody could be truly honest in online conversations. Social media discourse seemed both personally dangerous and academically lightweight.

I think this speaks more to where hard-working teachers find themselves today than to the relative merits of a technological platform: Watch your back. Keep your nose clean.

So much for the courage and autonomy underlying authentic teacher leadership.

Commenters on Petrilli’s Twitter thread suggested, wisely, that the place for genuine school improvement might be face to face meetings—the PTA, or another parent group. Instead of organizing in secrecy outside the school, prohibiting administrative access to the conversation–features Petrilli was promoting– why not show up with other parents and try to address a common issue of concern?

That, of course, would be a lot of work, and involve building personal relationships toward a specific goal. It would mean time spent in developing trust, time that many working parents don’t have. Plus–not all principals would welcome, say, a ‘Fix the Math Curriculum’ parent advocacy group. For all our talk about welcoming parents and the essential home-school partnership, we seldom invite parents into our professional work: curriculum, instruction, assessment and classroom management.

There are reasons why: Student privacy. State and local policies. The time and challenges involved in explaining every instructional decision. These things, after all, have traditionally been in the teacher’s purview—but few parents realize how much decision-making power has been handed over to federal and state guidelines.

Still—there has to be a real outlet for parent input on substantive issues. A lot of things parents think they want and need for their children, in my experience, fall into the category of ‘fond memories.’ Where are the textbooks, with their nice columns of information, words to copy and look up, and questions at the end of the chapter? Why don’t kids play dodgeball in P.E. anymore? What do you mean there won’t be spelling tests on Friday?

It can be exhausting to explain why you’re making certain choices.  I was fortunate enough, in the pre-app era, to have a Band Boosters group, with 50-odd parents, that met a half-dozen times per year. It was the place where I defended my teaching decisions to the most involved families, face to face. It wasn’t always easy. I once got into a heated discussion with a school board member’s wife about—get this—spats for the marching band, that resulted in her walking out of the meeting in a fury.

Sometimes, I had to change course. But—whatever was being said about me and my program and my capacity as a teacher (including my decision not to wear spats) was said to my face and witnessed by the most important stakeholders: moms and dads.

Ironically—and again, this is just my experience, and not research—I have found public schools much more open to honest feedback than private or charter schools. One of my two children went to high school at a competitive-admission, all-girls Catholic academy. The school was run by a mothers’ group that met exclusively on Tuesday mornings when working parents could not attend. Many of the mothers were alumni of the school; they controlled hiring, shaped the curriculum and set policy. Their daughters were the obvious beneficiaries, in dozens of ways.

Petrilli is wrong in assuming that all public schools don’t listen to parents, but still seems to be at work developing his secret app to take down school system where his children are, presumably, reading and writing and playing on the monkey bars this morning.

The last word goes to @IngridFournier, the first teacher to respond to Petrilli’s mean-spirited tweet: Imagine if this was dedicated to developing best ways to support the teachers who are working hard, getting it right, and making a positive impact on your child’s life. Such a shame to see the energy used to bring folks down. #exhausted

Freiberg, Klatschweiberbrunnen

7 Comments

  1. Follow the money: assume that Petrilli is putting out the notion that big bad public schools ruthlessly ban parents from communicating among themselves as the beginning of an idea that will grow into a grant proposal to draw more funding the usual billionaire suspects. Of course he had to make it about “bad teachers,” because that’s the language the so-called “reformers” speak.

    The notion that parents don’t have such avenues is too absurd to pay attention to, so he’s just blathering. I responded to his initial post and didn’t follow the rest of the conversation, but as I pointed out, all my kids’ schools during my time as an urban public school parent (1996-2012) had parent-run listserves. And in 2000, a friend and I co-founded a districtwide Yahoo listserve, SFSchools, that for a while was THE place for lively, sometimes heated discussion about school and district issues. “The place” evolved later to the listserve run by the nonprofit Parents for Public Schools, and after that to the comments section of a blog, the SF K Files, founded by a local parent and journalist.

    Operations such as the Gates Foundation that fund education “reform” hustles are obviously pretty gullible, but it’s hard to imagine that their decisionmakers, receiving those grant proposals, wouldn’t question the notion that parents have no avenues for online communication and are terrorized into silence by their teacher overlords.

    By the way, there was a Bay Area private school discussion board for a while that (as a public school parent and advocate who doesn’t regard private schools with admiration) I followed with interest. There was a burst of discussion about intoxicated priests and administrators at parochial school festivals, and the discussion board was suddenly shut down.

    Like

    Reply

    1. Yes to all of the above. There were comments (uncomplimentary ones) about Petrilli moving to the all-white suburbs and putting his kids in public school, then feeling the compulsion to manage his new setting. Without building relationships with neighbors, fellow parents or school leaders.

      Petrilli didn’t seem to be garnering much support for his idea, but clearly that’s not what the Fordham guys care about. Pondiscio is tweeting today about ‘Here’s my new book. You’ll probably hate it.’ That’s the Fordham spirit!

      The Catholic school my daughter attended had lots of skeletons in the holy closet, but I didn’t hear about them until she had graduated, because, as mentioned, I was entirely out of the control/information loop. I knew nobody. And I think that’s what she wanted. In 7th grade, her locker was next to my classroom door. We decided to honor her rebellion against parental oversight by granting her wish to attend an all-girls Catholic high school. Better than a tattoo, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. Look, people. If you want to organize for change/improvements, then get it together, I could share origins of a group of concerned parents who founded “Citizens for Better Education.” CBE. It was open, public and productive. Similar 20 yr old think tank here called “Think New Mexico” and it goes beyond education but includes it on its agenda. One sample: http://www.thinknewmexico.org/smaller-schools/ It is about leadership and taking the reins to make a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Oh, poor Mike Petrilli. He lives in one of the wealthiest school districts in the nation (I live 20 min away) with “0” FARMS children in his area. Of course the public schools he has sent his children to are great…..until they aren’t. The same stupid policies he has endorsed for other people’s children (Common Core, PARCC testing) have come home to roost in his own children’s great public schools and now he’s not happy. Of course it’s “blame the teacher” instead of looking in the mirror to see who really is the cause of his (and his children’s) misery. But to be honest, math teachers at the MS and HS level (Alg I>) aren’t very nice anymore….. their curriculum is so awful that students are confused/upset and parents are unhappy so they blame the teachers because those education wonks that have never taught a single student say that it’s the teacher’s fault. Good!! Karma is a _itch and I’m glad little Mikey is starting to feel it.

    Like

    Reply

    1. Well, his immediate complaint was that there allegedly seemed to be no parent forum to air all his many lofty criticisms. I really can’t believe there’s no listserve or Facebook page or any such thing run by parents at a privileged school; maybe he’s just too out of touch to be aware of it.

      Like

      Reply

      1. It sounds academically weak and ‘whole child’-y and cliched to say that the best schools (public, private, whatever) are created on a foundation of relationships–but they are. I can’t tell you how many times commenters on pieces I’ve written respond with something like ‘You don’t have to love my child–you just have to teach him how to do algebra.’ But the trust and camaraderie come first.

        Now–there are lots of students who come to classes (mostly in HS and higher ed) with firm and healthy egos. They can absorb (easily) a content dump, do skill practice and succeed on tests. They get good grades and go on to college. They have friends and communicate productively with their parents. The ‘relationship’ requirement seems extraneous for that kind of student.

        Stellar students like that, however, became that way because they were cared for–physically, emotionally and intellectually–from the get-go. Not all students bring those advantages to kindergarten, or middle school.

        My take is that folks like Petrilli have had so many ego-props along the way that finding themselves (and their children) in a place where they have not built relationships, and nobody seems to know who they are or care about them is disorienting. I would recommend that Petrilli make friends with neighbors, take his kids and a their friends out for pizza, volunteer in the school library. You know, get to know people.

        Like

      2. Drive the carpool, organize and staff the bake sale or raffle for intermission at the school musical performances, set up the welcome coffee for parents/guardians on the first day of school, go help out with copying in the office … you can do this, Mike. He could even create the parent/guardian listserve or Facebook page himself, if there really isn’t one. I’ve done all those things and so can he.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s