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Parent Activism, Partisan Politics and the Battle for Public Education

May 13, 2024

For years, public school districts have been the neighborhood center of most communities in the United States. Children from different backgrounds have been educated side by side, and parents have come together in a nonpartisan manner to support their kids’ local public schools.

Things have changed.

Many public schools have become the focus of far-right attacks that are more about politics than education, so parent involvement at this time needs to not only involve volunteering in the classroom- it requires some organizing to protect our public schools.

In the book, School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics and the Battle for Public Education, education journalist Laura Pappano shows how extremist challenges facing public schools have come and gone throughout history.

According to Pappano, recent efforts to make public schools more responsive and inclusive, along with the challenges of educating students during the pandemic, have given politicians on the extreme right an opening to sway parents frustrated by education disruptions.

With help from wealthy donors, political action committees, and conservative networks that bring national campaign strategists and dark money to local school board races, the extreme right is executing an agenda to use our public schools to gain political power and to instill Christian Fundamentalist values in our public-school districts.

Gerrymandered politicians in Ohio are passing anti-LGBTQ+ laws, “parental rights” legislation, and policies preventing the teaching of so-called divisive concepts to disrupt the professional selection of classroom materials and to make teachers afraid of doing their jobs.

Groups like the Leadership Institute, Moms for Liberty, Parents Rights in Education, and Protect Ohio Children (and others) are attacking history curricula they label “CRT,” banning books, and making outrageous claims that schools are “indoctrinating” students with Marxist ideologies.

These professionally organized groups are run by trained political operatives armed with ample funding and well-resourced websites, which share tips on how to make public records requests, guides for describing each of their objectionable acronyms (BLM, CRT, DEI, SEL), and easy-to-use links for reporting perceived examples of “indoctrination.” Protect Ohio Children even has an explanation of their “tsunami strategy,” a method for swamping school board meetings with written propaganda downloaded from its website.

Education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch said it best:

These fake grassroots “parent” groups also make teachers fearful of doing their jobs.

Citizen Advocates for Public Education (CAPE-Ohio) and Public Education Partners (PEP-Ohio) recently hosted a panel discussion of the far-right’s attack on public education and the parent activist battle to control the future of public education, which focused on the book “School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics and the Battle for Public Education,” by Laura Pappano.

The expert panel was selected to provide varied perspectives on the issues brought up in the book, and it included Stephanie Harless, Worthington Schools Board of Education; Antoinette Miranda, State Board of Education of Ohio and Chair of the Department of Teaching & Learning at the Ohio State University; David Stewart, Hilliard City Schools Superintendent; and Susan Yutzey, retired public school librarian and past president of the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA.)

The panel members were knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate about public education, and their shared thoughts and insights encouraged the audience to think more deeply about current issues surrounding public education in Ohio.

CAPE-Ohio and PEP-Ohio also invited a public-school teacher to share an educator’s perspective on this education panel, and here is the anonymous educator’s response:

Dear CAPE-Ohio and PEP-Ohio, 

Thank you for inviting me to sit on your panel regarding School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics, and the Battle for Public Education. This is an important and urgent topic, and it’s a sad state of affairs that in 2024 we need to expend our time and energy shielding our students from bigotry.

It is sad that as a society we have become less accepting, less empathetic, less caring, and less loving.

As much as I would like to contribute to your panel, I must decline.

The group of indoctrinated parents in my district who lead these inane charges are mostly stay-at-home-moms who have nothing better to do than dig through years of past social media posts and submit endless public information requests to the district. They are looking for a boogeyman that only exists in their distorted reality without regard for the consequences of their baseless accusations.

At this time, I cannot become a target for their hostility.

Thank you for speaking up for our students, communities, and for the greater good. You are on the right side of history.

With respect and appreciation,

Anonymous Teacher

It is encouraging to know that pro-public education citizen groups are organizing on Facebook, meeting in neighborhood coffee shops, and recruiting school board candidates to counter the attacks from extremists.

Red, Wine & Blue, a national community of nearly half a million diverse women working together to defeat right-wing extremism, has started a movement called “Freedom to Parent,” a group of mainstream parents who are standing up for our freedom to decide what is best for our kids, ensure their safety, and set them up for success.

We are finally beginning to see moms, dads, grandparents, and other citizens around the country who are saying, “We care about our public schools, and we care about public education- they are the foundation of our democracy. And we are going to make sure that the public is informed enough to vote for candidates who share our values.”

Ordinary parents around the country, who have made themselves experts in school board policy, library science, state legislation, campaign finance, and who have even recruited or run for school board seats themselves, have become our public education heroes.

It is time for all of us to join them in this fight for the future of public education.

Our children deserve no less.


“We are many. There is power in our numbers. Together we will save PUBLIC EDUCATION.”
~Diane Ravitch




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Dawn’s Story

I am a public school teacher in Oberlin, Ohio. As I do year after year, I had my fifth-graders write editorials for the Newspaper in Education contest sponsored by our local Chronicle-Telegram newspaper. And as I always do, I gave the students free choice to choose their topics and to come up with their own polished submissions.

When so many of them started writing about testing, I freaked out a little because prior to this month’s AIR testing, I had rarely even mentioned the topic to them, refusing to stress them out about the upcoming three weeks of testing. I sent some of their work to our principal with a note that said, in so many words, “Holy smokes, look at what these kids are saying. I promise that I haven’t been stressing them out about these tests!” She wrote back saying she thought their submissions sounded just fine.

I’m so thankful to have a principal who values our students’ feelings.

When I talked to the kids about the testing, I told them how surprised I was by their topic choices and asked why they were feeling so worried. After all, I told them, I had barely mentioned the topic and told them I’d be the last person to put pressure on them or try to stress them out. One student told me, “You are working with the wrong kids, Mrs. Randall. You don’t have to stress us out. We stress ourselves out enough for all of us.”

They then started sharing stories about last year’s PARCC test, when they tested on and off from February through May when they were in 4th-grade. They shared about how scared they were that they wouldn’t pass the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee reading test the year before that and then fail the entire year. Ohio legislation is insane.

But worst of all, one student said, “This is the third new kind of test we’ve had in three years. When will Ohio get this right?”

This same student was the one who took it upon himself to go to the Ohio Department of Education website on his Chromebook and research his topic and find out that some schools were able to still do paper/pencil tests, and he was pretty upset that he couldn’t.

I sent a note to the newspaper staff member about all their submissions and she told me to please not censor their writing, but to send it all in. She wanted to see it all.

Today, I opened the newspaper supplement to these two student submissions ruling a whole spread. Apparently, the judges heard them loud and clear and felt their words needed to be heard by our community.

All this high-stakes testing is really starting to take a toll on kids. When will our legislature hear and care about their voices?

Each child in my class is the SAME child who has been forced to sit through high-stakes testing year after year after year. When will enough be enough?

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