The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, March 06, 2006

Is the PTA independent?

It's hard to think about community engagement in schools without thinking of the PTA, which has served as a way for parents to join together as a group and get involved in their children's schools. Which is why it was so surprising to read a commentary in the February 24, 2006 Wall Street Journal titled "Losing the 'P' in PTA: How a venerable organization became a front for teacher unions."

An excerpt from the article:
Today the PTA supports all of the union's positions, including increased federal funding for education and opposition to independent charter schools, to vouchers and to tuition tax credits for private and religious schools. This "parent" group lobbies for teachers to spend less time in the classroom and to have fewer supervisory responsibilities like lunchroom duty. Moreover, they want a pay scale for teachers that is based on seniority, not merit. In November, the PTA even helped to defeat California's Proposition 74, which called for limiting teacher tenure by extending the probation period for new teachers from two to five years, a proposal designed to give administrators more time to weed out bad instructors.

With polls indicating that the union label is a liability with the public, an arrangement has developed whereby the NEA provides needed financial support for the PTA, which in turn bolsters union positions at the grass-roots level. As one union official put it: "[T]he PTA has credibility . . . we always use the PTA as a front."

Not only does the PTA support the NEA on issues that protect the public-school teachers' monopoly, the parent group also speaks up in favor of the NEA's more radical curriculum ideas, like sex-education programs that replace "don't" with
"how to" and that propose the inclusion of a gay/lesbian unit starting as early as kindergarten.

Pretty shocking stuff, and one would expect the PTA to fire back in order to refute these claims. They did respond; however, they chose not to counter any of the assertions, instead merely stating that they're a good group with a great history:

February 28, 2006
Dear Paul Gigot,

There is no substitute for the PTA. Rita Kramer’s commentary “Losing the ‘P’ in PTA,” (February 24) is a distorted depiction of the historical significance and contributions of millions. PTA is the nation’s preeminent volunteer member organization led, driven, and supported by parents and others committed to its founding mission. The issues have changed over the years, but PTA’s focus has not—to speak on behalf of all children; provide information to assist parents in raising and protecting their children; and encourage parent and public involvement in education.

The tradition and history of PTA lends a solid foundation and significant body of knowledge to parents and families nationwide. Today’s PTA volunteer has access to resources to help their children succeed academically, skill development to help them become better parents, learning tools to improve communication with teachers, training to speak out about public school needs, and support to keep the school campus and neighborhood safe.

Most schools have a parent group of one kind or another, but not all parent groups are the same. A parent group is not measured in dollars; it’s more than print and dot-com how-tos; it has a role greater than hosting bake sales. Ms. Kramer’s account overlooked the secret to PTAs success—the people. PTA volunteers connect everyday to improve their schools.

Parents hold a great stake in the future and support of children’s education. PTA is the path through which they can make the greatest impact. When a school community supports the decision to have parents organized as a PTA, the result is informed and engaged parents, a more supportive learning environment for students, and a better reputation for the school and community. That’s the PTA difference.

Anna Weselak President, National PTA

The article points out that PTA membership is down from 12 million in the 60s to half of that today, and that parents are instead creating their own PTOs (parent teacher organizations) without dues and devoid of political aims. If the assertions in the Journal article are true, and the PTA is not serving an honest and independent role in the mix, then that's a very good thing.

Schools are community institutions insofar as all of the stakeholders are represented, and this includes teachers (including union representation for labor issues as well as having a voice in instructional matters). But if an organization that claims to speak for parents is really serving as a shell, parroting the interests of a distinct and separate stakeholder group, then it's not playing an honest role in the process, and the voice of parents must be heard through more authentic channels.

Thanks to the Public Education Network's weekly email blast for the heads-up!


  • With regard to the article on the PTA as a patsy of the teacher's unions. I would like to point out a significant error in the supporting data the article used to support this allegation.

    The California State PTA did NOT support or oppose Proposition 74 on the special election ballot. It took no position. The author of the article should check the facts better. That calls into question the remainder of the article in my mind--and no, I'm not given to hallucinations. I have worked with a number of politically active organizations over many years, including PTA here in California. Sometimes the organization agrees with the teachers unions, and sometimes it is opposed to what the unions put forth.

    A specific example of that would be the highly publicized and acromonious debate over AB 2160, a bill sponsored by the teachers union a couple of years ago. PTA was outspokenly opposed to the bill.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:13 AM  

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