I feel very conflicted about the Congress of Parents and Teachers these days. I’ve been a member of the organization since I started as a parent in public school, and I can’t imagine not supporting my local chapter through membership (and dues).
But, but, but: I have no idea what the PTA as an organization is thinking these days.
In 2009, the national PTA took a bunch of money from the Gates Foundation to push support for the Common Core. OK, I know from experience with the national PTA trainers and the Illinois PTA folks I’ve met that the campaign was about sharing information. But it says right in the press release (link via the Wayback Machine) that national PTA was engaged to “mobilize parents to advance key education priorities.” That’s just a fancy way of saying that they are pushing parental support for the Common Core.
It took a few years for the CCSS message to trickle down through national PTA’s members, for educators to draft and implement new lesson plans that meet the new standards, and for companies like Pearson and consortia like Smarter Balanced to design and implement the standardized assessments (PARCC and SBAC) to measure educators’ success in implementing the standards.
And that’s about when the backlash from PTA members started. The backlash started in New York, where the anti-testing movement has also been strong. In the fall 2013, then-NY state education commissioner John King, Jr. canceled a series of townhalls about Common Core that he was scheduled to present because the first one went so badly. This man is now the U.S. Secretary of Education.
While you contemplate that scary thought for awhile, let’s go back to the PTA.
I have written about my past involvement with Illinois PTA. I am no longer an active member of the state body. As I told both Illinois PTA leaders when I resigned and a friend today, the problem with Illinois PTA is that, while their intentions are good, the 100% volunteer nature of the organization creates a vacuum of organization-level involvement. The people who have kids on the ground and in the schools do not have time to run the organization, and the people who are running the organization are often older or no longer have children in school. In Illinois PTA, most of the people who have time are grandparents. They may not be the best people to make agreements or set policy.
I resigned my position in 2015 in part because of the time issue. But I think a lot of it also was that I was tired of ramming my head against the national policy. And because of the tiered membership organization structure, state policy was dictated by national policy, and seemed intractable. It continues to seem that way.
At this time last year, I literally had a voracious disagreement with an 86-year-old lifetime member of Illinois PTA about whether the state organization should support or oppose HB306 after the current president-elect suggested Illinois PTA sign on to an oppose measure with Illinois Stand for Children.* Seriously? IANAL, but I was quoting bylaws and leg platforms like a boss.
After almost a year outside the state organization, I am annoyed anew at Illinois PTA’s policy and stance on standardized assessments. I don’t have it in me to fight the fight against the entrenched national policy on CCSS as a volunteer. I’ll vote with my feet, by walking away from involvement with the state organization. But also, I’m sad to see what PTA is coming to. I feel like it’s soon going to become Hull House: a has-been legacy of secular humanism.
* I actually had forgotten this detail, but looked up the email chain to refresh my memory and all the big feels came rushing back.