Category Archives: Families

High expectation vs. low expectation parent organizing

This is likely a crude distinction, but I think there’s a real difference between high expectations and low expectations parent organizing.

Low expectations parent organizing occurs when you simply meet parents where they are at, without having much urgency about tackling systems level issues.

For example, organizes might work for parents for a few years on issues like lunch quality, bus routes, and extracurricular activities.

If organizers and parents work hard and a few year later the lunches are a little better, what’s the point if the vast majority of the kids can’t read or do math on grade level, or if the school culture fails to build students with strong values?

This feels like low expectations: working too long on these issues is implicitly saying that parents are not smart enough to tackle the most pressing issues facing their children.

High expectations parent organizing starts with the premise that families can grasp systems level issues, and that the quicker they are engaged on important issues like teacher and school quality, the better.

I’ve had the opportunity to discuss really hard educational issues with families living in deep poverty. And while it’s surely true that they start from a deficit of policy knowledge, they tend to come up to speed quickly and, most importantly, can merry policy arguments with the brutal facts that they see day in and day out when the are forced to send their children to struggling schools.

Based on my experience (and I still have a lot to learn in this area), I’d say the following are the key components of great high expectations parent organizing:

  1. Organizers begin with the mindset that families can grasp and advocate for systems level policy solutions.
  2. Organizers provide unbiased (as much as feasible) educational classes and experiences to families so that families can grapple with systems level policy issues.
  3. Organizers both possess and cultivate a sense of urgency – so that educational experiences start leading to powerful systems level actions.
  4. Family leaders fairly quickly take the reigns in terms of determining the future policy and advocacy agenda.
  5. Family leaders increase their operational chops so that the actions and campaigns they are less reliant on external organizers.

Ultimately, this is a two step high expectations game: first, you need to believe that families can understand systems level issues, and second, you need to believe that they can lead the charge.

I’m still trying to get smarter in this area, so I hope that the organizers who read this blog ¬†will correct errors in the comment section.

We are Tired of Waiting


The title of this post is taken from the words of four public schools parents in Philadelphia.

They recently wrote these words in an op-ed.

Additional excerpts from their op-ed are below. The piece is so powerful I had trouble cutting out any parts:

As parents, nothing is more important to us than great schools for our kids…

Yet year after year, tens of thousands of Philadelphia families are forced to send their kids to schools that are, by any measure, failing students.

And year after year, families in our communities are told to just wait for the next “fix” that will – no kidding, this time for real – make these schools great. Wait until we have funding. Wait until we fix this law or that law. Wait until we have a new plan.

We are tired of waiting.

We demand better educational opportunities in Philadelphia – now.

And that’s why we lent our voices to a campaign called “No More Waiting” (

The evidence shows that right now, good charter schools are the best answer. Why? Charter schools are working for kids in Philadelphia. Just ask the families of the 65,000 students who have chosen to enroll in charters, or the 22,000 more students who are on waiting lists…

According to a recent study by experts from Stanford University, African American students in poverty who attended charters are more likely to get ahead in reading and math. In other words, better results today – no waiting.

These are the facts. Charters represent the best opportunity for tens of thousands of African American and Hispanic kids to get a great education right now. Yet most rhetoric about charter schools in the city ignores these facts.

Instead, critics profess concern about our families while telling us that charters – the best way to get results today – are a luxury we just can’t afford. What they’re really saying hasn’t changed much for decades. To tens of thousands of families all over Philadelphia, the critics of charters are saying: Hold up. Wait until we develop another plan to fix public schools.

Two months ago, the School Reform Commission had an opportunity to provide immediate help for thousands of children and families in underperforming schools. The SRC reviewed 40 applications for new charters, many of which were submitted by operators who are already running some of the best schools in the city. Yet the SRC rejected the vast majority of them – telling tens of thousands of families to keep playing the waiting game.

We cannot wait any longer. Our children need better schools right now.

We agree that public schools need more funding, and that they deserve a plan that resolves the funding crisis that batters our schools year after year. But we refuse to accept the status quo while politicians haggle over how much funding is enough and who gets to spend it. Those are priorities for adults.

Our priorities are our children and their future. Kids in schools that continue to struggle don’t have any more time to waste. Each year they fall further and further behind.

While politicians fight over a funding solution, let’s spend on schools that are working, schools that are getting results for our children.

Right now.

To restate a common theme of this blog:

1) Right now, across the country, there are great schools that want to serve more students.

2) Right now, across the country, there are families living in poverty that want to attend these schools.

3) Right now, local governments across the country, which are entrusted with providing educational opportunities to children, make it illegal for these schools to serve these families.