The Washington Post recently published a really interesting article on the ability of well-connected parents to influence the decisions of their local school districts (hat tip to The Science Goddess). The term ‘well-connected’ refers to parents’ abilities to use online tools to communicate and mobilize (rather than to their connections to people with power).
The article highlights several different online communities of parents and has some great quotes:
We are not our moms, who were just involved in the PTA. . . . To expect us to show up and just make photos or write checks does not sit well with this generation.
It used to be that the superintendent and the School Board made decisions and said, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’ and the community would accept that.
Many school systems ‘are still responding to 21st-century parents with 20th-century approaches.’
Below are a few examples of parents pushing back on their local school systems. Parent tools include blogs, online petitions, and even administration countdown timers! I’ve linked to individual posts but you can click on the headers to see the blogs in their entirety.
- Has MCPS dropped American History from its curriculum?
- Change mayoral control? Beware the mushroom cloud!
- Media pig
- Wanted: a full-day kindergarten slot – do you feel lucky?
Be sure to also read about the New York City Department of Education ‘truth squad,’ whose job it is to ‘scour a group of 24 education Web logs, e-mail Listservs and Web sites in a hunt for factual errors and misinformation.’
Dean Shareski, Will Richardson, and Alec Couros, among others, have blogged about the importance of trying to manage one’s ‘digital footprint’ or digital identity. However, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, in their excellent book, Born Digital, note that “Social identities are much richer, more varied, and more persistent – AND FAR LESS UNDER OUR CONTROL – than ever before” (p. 34; emphasis added). In other words, now that everyone can have a voice, we have a lot less control over what gets said about us than before, and what does get said is more visible and findable than ever.
Online communication technologies have greatly amplified the abilities of parents to voice their opinions and mobilize for desired change. Activist parents now have a bevy of new tools and strategies to help facilitate their agendas and they are not afraid to use them. School organizations are going to have to get used to this new state of affairs in which parent activism and criticism are more public, permanent, and far-reaching. I’m pretty sure that most school leaders haven’t really thought about this…
What are your thoughts on this? If you’ve got an example of a parent group in your area leveraging online social tools to advocate for change in its local schools, please share!
Image credit: lynetter