Chief Family Engagement Officer? (2008)


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has decided to throw a few dollars around for parental involvement to distract the public from the anti-democratic school “reforms” he advocates. Of course this announcement is accompanied by the familiar “mea culpa” that the government hasn’t done enough to involve parents.

This is a total load o’ crap, especially given Duncan’s heavy-handed imposition of Race-to-the-Top and endorsement of anti-democratic measures, such as charter schools and mayoral control of school districts. (Let’s set aside the abysmal record of mayoral control in D.C., Duncan’s Chicago and New York where after 8 1/2 years of heroic mayoral control 28% of African American males now graduate).

Oh yeah, an awful lot of parents are school teachers and union members who don’t appreciate being vilified and having their family’s security jeopardized by the policies of Duncan and his billionaire buddies.

If you want parental involvement/engagement in education, then make them full partners in the operation of public schools. Encourage greater participation in elected school boards and advocate “universal charter school” legislation in which every single American public school is run by the parents and teachers in that school. The only parental involvement ever tolerated by many local schools is when they ask parents to be ATMs and Narcs. Schools want parents to write checks and enforce their rules beyond school hours.

Perhaps, Secretary Duncan can stop blaming kids and parents for the fact that you have created joyless & irrelevant test-prep sweatshops where teachers work in fear and learning is subservient to compliance.

Parental involvement does not require $270,000,000 of Federal investment. It requires a bag of Doritos, a cheap box of wine and an honest partnership between equally empowered stakeholders.

The following is an article I published in 2008 that should give you a sense of how terrible the Duncan “parental involvement” plan happens to be when put into practice.

Chief Family Engagement Officer (2008) by Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

  • Seize control of 1,400 public schools
  • Appoint a prosecutor to lead
  • Disband the democratically elected Board of Education
  • Hold one public hearing in five years
  • Centralize the bureaucracy
  • Maintain files used to discredit critics on the right and left
  • Favor managers over educators
  • Detain teachers in rubber rooms (read additional news accounts here and here)
  • Invent Orwellian job titles for propaganda officers…
  • Stalinist Russia?

    Fughetaboutit! It’s just the New York City Public Schools under Chancellor Joel Klein.

    The March 4, 2008 edition of the New York Times reports on the state of Mayoral control of the public schools in After 5 Years, City Council Holds First Hearing on Mayor’s Control of Public Schools. The article covers a New York City Council hearing where questions about the efficacy of suspending democracy battled the non-educator Chancellor’s argument that “mayoral oversight is critical to turning around the vast system…” and “The fundamental governance structure of mayoral accountability and control, I think, is right and needs to be maintained.” As the title of the Times article suggests, this was the first time the City Council has held a hearing about the Mayor’s school takeover in five years.

    Sure, the Chancellor’s claims of improved test scores, enhanced accountability and greater efficiency went unchallenged. I have come to expect very little from politicians and journalists who suspend their disbelief when matters of public education are discussed. At least once Councilman compared mayoral control to martial law.

    Lack of parental input into governance of their local schools, standardized curricula, no public oversight of the system and powerless administrators are the expected outcomes when political ideologues get to play corporate dress-up and the public schools become their toy.

    None of this surprises me. I was however delighted by the latest Orwellian confection served up by the Chancellor. Klein offered a faux mea culpa about how he had not followed up on the millions he spent to hire “parent coordinators” in each school. (I assume to neutralize desires for parental involvment)

    If the image of full-time paid “parent coordinators” does not paint a clear enough picture of this educational Potemkin Village, Chancellor Klein admitted that “he had waited too long to create the post of a ‘chief family engagement officer’ to oversee the coordinators.”

    Just when I thought the corporate psychosis polluting our public schools had reached its zenith, semantic gems like “chief family engagement officer” are invented. Thank you Chancellor Klein! That’s one for the ages!

    — Gary Stager
    The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate


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