Parent Voices Are Needed More than Ever to Inform and Improve Public Education in America

By Anna P. King
Kids walking into school

It’s a new school year, but students are still living with the consequences of the pandemic that turned our worlds—especially our schools—upside down more than three years ago.

We’re continuing to hear about increased chronic absenteeism and stalled academic recovery efforts, yet too many parents are unaware of the extent of these problems. Most think the pandemic had a temporary impact, according to a Pew survey. And the nonprofit Learning Heroes finds 90 percent of parents think their students are working at or above grade level, which we know isn’t the case.

Parents, and families, are a child’s first teachers and best advocates. To close these learning gaps, we must close parent knowledge gaps.

I serve on the national board that oversees the Nation’s Report Card, also known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, which measures student achievement across the country. The National Assessment Governing Board has four categories for general public representatives, and two of those slots are specifically dedicated to parent leaders. One of those two parent leader spots is open for new nominations. I encourage committed and engaged parents to seek the appointment. Your voices are needed more than ever.

I know the demands of parenting, the workplace, and everyday life make it hard to lean in for one more thing, but this kind of service is critical.

Governing Board members make important decisions about NAEP, including what subjects and grades it assesses and the content of the actual assessments administered to students. Through NAEP, we provide the country with data about student achievement, how groups of students are doing, and results from surveys that shed light on the student experience. The data are critical to help give a clearer picture of where children are academically, help educators address learning gaps and tailor their instruction to students, empower parents to support and advocate for their child’s learning and help ensure equity for all children.

Test measurement experts, school board members, teachers, and policymakers are among those on the panel, but a parent’s eye is critical too.

When the initial wave of NAEP results came out last year showing the steep score declines related to the pandemic, I was proud to shape how the information was shared with the public, bringing together a leading researcher on our board, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, to talk to state PTA leadership nationwide about the economic impact of stalled academic recovery efforts across states.

It may sound like a stretch, but this is no different than stepping up at the local level. Sometimes it can take a parent’s perspective to shift views and get things done. When I first got involved in PTA locally, my daughter was in ninth grade at Frederick Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. The school lacked new books that students could read in school and on their own at home. Our principal turned to parents for help, and we wrote letters, made calls to district leaders, and attended school board meetings to make sure our students got the books they needed. It worked, and so I’ve looked for ways to leverage that power as a parent—authentic and purposeful power—for the greater good ever since.

I always try to inform myself about the relevant issues. And, of course, I think about the needs of my own children—or these days my grandchildren—and about the needs of all the students served by our public education system. Each of those aspects of parental advocacy is vital.

That principal who called on me and my parent community to help get new books for our school later encouraged me to run for the school PTA president and then sent me, alongside teachers, to professional development conferences to learn more about their instructional resources and practices. It was a privilege and a true collaboration. I am forever grateful.

Serving on the Governing Board presents a similar opportunity to collaborate as parents, educators and policymakers, and there could not be a more important time for this. As members, we’re called on to bring our expertise and perspective to policymaking and to work with each other to build consensus around important issues. In this role, I’ve received briefings on education statistics, had training on communicating education news effectively, visited schools around the country to see best practices, learned about pandemic recovery efforts, and more. I’m so glad to have a seat at the table. I hope other parents see the value of that too and join me in this role or seek out similar opportunities to give back to our children and our country.

You can learn more about the open positions on the National Assessment Governing Board here. Or, reach out if I can share additional insights about my experience. I’m @annaking87 on X, formerly Twitter.

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