Elizabeth Warren: Can you help us get a Consumer Education Protection Bureau?
April 16, 2015
“Let me talk to you . . . about the way I live.
Got priorities put in place, I’m a real good kid.
You can be cool with me, but just understand –
I am loyal to my future and I have a master plan.
I’m giving all I have to my schoolwork and exams
cuz my future’s in my hands, can’t you see?
I have a master plan – Graduate? Oh, Yes I can!
I’ll go to college and then . . .
I will get a good grade for ya . . . “
So belts Teon, a 5th grader who attends Citizens’ Academy in Cleveland to the tune of Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” (to brighten your day, take a moment and watch the video!). Opened in 2002 as an alternative to long underperforming Cleveland district schools, Citizens had a rocky start. But by its third year, students at Citizens – 95 percent of whom are economically-disadvantaged and African American – outperformed the district. Four years after that, they exceeded statewide averages. They continue to do so today.
Schools like Citizens’ Academy shatter the myth that low-income and minority status pose unconquerable barriers to student achievement. These schools prove that while factors outside of school are not unimportant, in-school approaches can and do make an enormous difference in the achievement of poor and minority students.
Yet when shown this evidence, a common response is that kids like Teon are different because they have parents who care.
But “blaming the parents” is a condescending generalization, because additional evidence suggests far more parents actively try to improve their kids’ educational opportunities but are unable to do so.
For example, nationally, parents of 600,000 students tried to get their child into a public charter school, but were turned away due to lack of space.
So rather than blaming parents, it would be more productive to recognize that one key problem low-income students face is that they and their parents lack political clout. This was evident even back in 1965, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy argued during initial ESEA debates that “these kids…don’t really have a lobby speaking for them”:
These facts are still true today – though some from this week’s Senate ESEA debate would like us to think that we have reached a golden age where low-income parents have adequate representation at the local level so therefore we can trust state and local governments to look out for the best interests of low-income children. But nothing could be further from the truth.
First, one study has found that “Districts, who have attorneys, win hearings at a rate that is almost six times higher than parents without attorneys.” Second, it is in the same states with some of the highest-performing charter schools – like Massachusetts and New York – that state legislatures are blocking efforts to expand high-performing charters, despite the thousands of low-income children on waiting lists.
So here’s where Elizabeth Warren can come in.
She has successfully channeled populist frustration with the financial sector into the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Low-income parents could similarly benefit from a Consumer Education Protection Bureau. Such federal agency would help give parents a voice and assistance with the real and tough challenges they face navigating the education world. Regional, independent entities could:
1. Provide Information. Help parents understand how schools are performing, what their options are, and “insider” information on enrollment processes & deadlines.
Joyanna Smith, DC Public School’s Ombudsman, for example, fielded 150 concerns in the agency’s first six months. The bulk of her work involves explaining policies to parents and resolving conflicts. When explaining the need for the agency, Smith says: “I think a number of parents have been ignored.”
3. Advocate. Help parents learn how to ask questions, stay informed of their student’s progress (no more once-a-year 15 minute conferences!) and learn how to self-advocate.
It’s time we confront the fact that education inequity still exists, particularly for the very same parents RFK wanted to help 50 years ago. As we continue our ESEA reauthorization debates, we need to complement both high-level accountability strategies with an on-the-ground approach that connects policy with people’s everyday lived experiences. If we could empower parents as consumers of education, then the system would become much more responsive to their needs.
And that’s when we could feel great about kids like Teon, without having a nagging image of a parent’s heartbreak when their child is stuck in a failing school that they can’t do anything about.
August 16, 2018
June 27, 2018