TNTP CEO Dan Weisberg published an op-ed in the New York Law Journal that offers insights on why Wright v. New York should move forward. He presents compelling reasons to show that if the courts finally allow Wright v. New York to move ahead the plaintiffs have a strong chance to prevail – and to usher in legal changes that have already benefitted students in other states. Click here to read the full op-ed.
By: Alissa Bernstein
As PEJ embarks on its new partnership with the 50CAN network, I want to recognize the outstanding work of Ralia Polechronis, who has served as PEJ’s fearless leader and executive director over the past two years.
Ralia’s passion and her keen legal expertise have laid the foundation for PEJ to further its mission, pursuing education advocacy through litigation and empowering families and communities to improve public education through the courts. Under Ralia’s leadership, PEJ has launched new landmark education lawsuits in Minnesota and New Jersey, built coalitions across the country for families seeking justice, and most recently, partnered with 50CAN to strengthen the chapter in the education reform movement utilizing legal strategies for educational equity.
I first met Ralia two years ago during my interview at PEJ, and I have had the great fortune of working alongside her and learning from her ever since. Her intelligence, strategic mind and commitment to families is truly inspiring.
Today, Ralia passes the torch to me as the new executive director of PEJ. I am looking forward to continuing our work with the parent plaintiffs in PEJ’s teacher quality cases, and to launching new initiatives with the 50CAN network that will expand the scope of legal strategies improving public education for kids all across the country.
As one of PEJ’s first new initiatives, we will be forming a Legal Advisory Board to expand the network of attorneys participating in our education law reform work. This board will provide attorneys with opportunities to participate in our work on a pro bono basis, and for PEJ to learn and grow from the Board’s oversight and legal expertise. I’m thrilled to share that Ralia will be joining the Legal Advisory Board to continue her trailblazing work with us.
I speak for myself and the millions of parents and families Ralia has worked to support when I say that PEJ will miss Ralia dearly and wish her great success in all that she does. I look forward to writing the next chapter in education law reform with all of you.
By Yesy Robles
Since October 2016, my organization, Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ), has been hosting education advocacy workshops for parents with our colleagues at Students for Education Reform-Minnesota (SFER Minn).
We set out to give parents a place to come together and learn how to advocate for their children’s educational success. We provided tangible tips from experts who have worked for decades in schools and with parents. The workshops are also beginning to build a community that can support parents’ engagement with their children’s schools and the Minnesota public education system.
Throughout the workshops a few key themes emerged, illustrating how important it is to give parents the information, tools, and community they need (and desire) to advocate for their kids. Below are some of my key take-aways from this truly inspiring workshop series.
Parents want a safe space to share their experiences.
At our workshops, parents from different cultural, ethnic, and racial backgrounds came together to talk about successes and challenges at their children’s schools. It was remarkable to watch chairs shift closer as the conversations got deeper. Parents facing similar hurdles freely gave advice and shared phone numbers of organizations and people that were better able to offer solutions. Invisible barriers and walls came down for two hours as parents realized they were there for a common purpose.
There is useful information about public schools online, but it is difficult to navigate.
Parents said one of the most valuable parts of our workshops was the presentation showing how to navigate the state’s website, find information about their children’s schools, and most importantly, how to interpret the data.
Once parents could see suspension rates and academic proficiency rates, there was context for parents who previously believed their children were the only ones seen as “the problem” in the classroom. Realizing that they were not alone, parents shared personal stories about their own children – typically students of color – being suspended for minor offenses. Parents wanted to know what school administrators were doing to reduce suspension rates and ensure students were on track in math and reading, and many identified this as an area of advocacy they were interested in pursuing.
Parents want to partner with teachers to enrich their children’s learning – but they don’t always feel supported.
Many parents at our workshops talked about an invisible tension with teachers. Some felt that they were notified too late when their children were falling behind, or that they were only contacted about behavioral problems, others felt that teachers viewed them as a nuisance. They all wanted to establish a partnership with teachers and school administrators, but didn’t know how.
Bringing in educators to show parents how to more effectively communicate with teachers and principals was a huge success. Parents heard tips and practiced what to do and say when teachers call them about behavior problems. The speakers discussed the appropriate school contacts when problems needed to be escalated, and created a “what to do when…” information guide for parents.
Parents were also guided in conversations about establishing a meaningful parent-teacher partnership to support their children’s education. They brainstormed about how to be part of the “team” so many parents hoped to create with their school. One mother mentioned that she received a short weekly text message from her child’s teacher to let her know that everything was on track, or a phone call if her child was beginning to struggle. Other parents were inspired to set up regular communication before problems arise.
When parents learned how to engage better with their children’s school as a partner, there was an immediate sense of empowerment in the room. Parents were eager to make use of the tips they learned that day, thanks to the educators who volunteered their time for our workshops.
There is a budding parent support network in Minnesota.
Many parents entered these workshops beyond frustrated with their child’s school. It was so gratifying to see these same parents filled with hope for a more collaborative path forward.
The conversations also created a unifying atmosphere. More outspoken parents offered to attend school meetings as an advocate with the shyer ones. Parents mingled and exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. Some asked me after the workshops if they could organize a group that meets once a month. Parents want to be active in their children’s education, and they will work together to achieve this.
I’m proud that our workshops are starting conversations, bringing parents together, and empowering them to take a key role in their children’s schools. With their children’s best interests in mind, there is no limit to what these parents can do!
Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform – Minnesota organized the parent advocacy workshop series running from October 2016 through April 2017. The two groups are holding the final workshop in Minneapolis on April 20, where they will discuss the State’s teacher employment statutes that have been challenged in a lawsuit filed by four Minnesota parents, and offer opportunities for other parents to support the lawsuit. This spring, the parents will be back in court to appeal the trial court’s dismissal of their case. Click here to register for the information session. Space is limited; childcare and snacks will be provided.
By Marguerite Mingus | SFER Parent Organizer
Last fall, I attended a parent advocacy workshop hosted by Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform – Minnesota. The flyer said that parents are too often absent from conversations about our children’s education, and I couldn’t agree more.
Many of the parents who attended the workshop were there because of concerns about their own children’s education. I know what that feels like, and I understand why it can lead to silence instead of outspoken advocacy.
For me, the tendency to remain silent started with my own experience as a student. I had good teachers, and when I became pregnant as a teenager, they were a strong and supportive influence for me. As a young mother, I let teachers take the lead in my children’s education and I thought my role was to simply reinforce whatever they said. Because of the authority that teachers hold, I would sometimes ignore my own instincts as parent, if a teacher or educator told me something different.
When my children were younger, this happened more often than I’d like to admit. For example, when my oldest son was failing chemistry, the school’s solution was to move him into an honors chemistry class. When my other son had trouble staying at his desk all day, the school kept him out of gym class, where he might have gotten the physical release that he needed to sit still for the rest of the day. I was also pushed to put him on a special education individualized education program (IEP), despite his doctor’s opinion that he was only a “willful” child, and did not have any learning disabilities or behavioral disorders.
As a parent, when you hear from teachers that your kids are a problem at school, you worry. Because teachers are the experts, you sometimes fight with your children to get them to change. And often, you feel embarrassed and ashamed that your kids are causing problems. Sometimes you feel that you lack the authority to ask questions of your school. I felt all these things.
I found myself in the same position yet again when my daughter’s teacher pulled her out of class for shouting out and being disruptive. Even though this didn’t sound like my daughter’s typical behavior – she had been a great student and always enjoyed school – I began to think my daughter was lying to me when she insisted that she wasn’t yelling or talking with other students during lessons.
Luckily for me, there was a group of parents at my daughter’s school who were going through the same thing. And once I started talking to these parents, I realized I was not alone. My self-doubt was replaced with an inspiration to act.
This was so empowering. Without the shame and embarrassment, I was more willing to look into what was really happening. I learned from my daughter that the “shouting in class” I heard about from her teacher was actually my daughter enthusiastically calling out the answers to her teacher’s questions. Together with other parents at this school, we talked to the administration and advocated on behalf of our children. In this particular case, I wasn’t satisfied with the school’s response, and so I moved my daughter to a different school where she is now thriving.
I never would have stood up for my daughter if other parents hadn’t pulled me out of my shame and frustration, and encouraged me to trust my own judgment.
I attended the parent advocacy workshop last fall because I want be part of the community that encourages parents to stop feeling alone when there’s a problem at their child’s school. At the workshop, we heard from educators and public school experts who showed us how to find valuable information about our schools online, and shared helpful strategies for productively working with teachers, principals and others to ensure that our kids are learning.
At the workshop, I saw so many parents open up and let go of their own shame about problems they might be having with their children’s schools. By showing up that day, not only did we gain access to tips and tools from educators and experts, we were also beginning to build a community of parent advocates who will stand up to make sure our kids get the best education possible.
Marguerite Mingus is a mother of four from Minneapolis.
On March 16 from 6:00-8:00pm the third workshop in a series of three titled, “Know Your Educational Rights: A Parent Workshop,” will be held in Minneapolis. This event is open to parents who are new or returning to the workshop series. Click here for additional event information and to reserve your spot. Childcare will be provided.
“Education has always been important to me. When I was a student, I was passionate about my English classes, which helped me become a writer and poet. Now as a mother, I do everything I can to ensure that my three daughters get the best education possible.
The Newark public schools are far from perfect. They’re underfunded and the class sizes need to be smaller. Students should be taught more life skills like financial literacy and time management.”
In a recent opinion column, Partnership for Educational Justice Executive Director Ralia Polechronis and Senior Legal Counsel Alissa Bernstein explain that Post-Vergara v. California, the courts have provided a roadmap to parents everywhere. Their column appeared in the Los Angeles & San Francisco Daily Journal, California’s law journal of record, on Wednesday, September 7. Click here to read the full op-ed.
In a recent opinion column, Partnership for Educational Justice Executive Director Ralia Polechronis and Senior Legal Counsel Alissa Bernstein explained why the California Court of Appeals was wrong to reverse the trial court’s ruling in favor of students’ rights in Vergara v. California. Their column appeared in the San Francisco Daily Journal, California’s law journal of record, on Friday, July 22. Click here to read the full op-ed.
Tiffini Flynn Forslund, a mother of three from Minneapolis, watched year after year as her children went through the public school system – yearning for a sense of community that she felt in her schools as a child. When her middle child entered 5th grade, Tiffini saw her education improve because of the powerful impact of one great teacher. This teacher was incredibly engaging: he challenged her daughter to succeed, and collaborated with parents like Tiffini to support students inside and outside of the classroom.
Tiffini was stunned to find out that this teacher was laid off due to “last-in, first-out” (LIFO) dismissal policies, which prioritize seniority over teacher quality when a school district conducts budgetary layoffs. To think that her youngest daughter would not have the chance to learn from this terrific teacher drove her to write letters to the local newspapers, the school board, and government officials. She was told, “this is just how it works.”
Tiffini believes that every child in Minnesota deserves to have great teachers. Tiffini’s youngest daughter was deprived of an excellent teacher because of LIFO policies. Her hope is that this lawsuit will allow for change to Minnesota’s LIFO laws and other teacher employment laws so that schools may prioritize effective teaching when making employment decisions.
Bonnie Dominguez is a mother of three from Duluth. Her daughter thrived in a specialized learning program until her 5th grade year, when she began to struggle academically and socially. Conversations with her daughter’s teachers did not lead to productive solutions and, as a result, Bonnie’s daughter lost significant ground.
When her daughter entered 6th grade, Bonnie, with the help of her daughter’s 6th grade teacher, discovered that her daughter’s specialized education program was not properly implemented during her 5th grade year, prompting the struggles she experienced. By taking an active interest, her 6th grade teacher helped Bonnie’s daughter get back on track.
When Bonnie learned that her daughter’s specialized education program wasn’t implemented in 5th grade, she initially felt helpless. But when she learned that other families experienced similar problems, and that there was a community of parents in search of a solution, she realized she couldn’t keep quiet – that she needed to be the voice for her child and others to make sure no child loses a year of their education. She believes all Minnesota children deserve a great teacher, no matter their socioeconomic status or background.
Justina Person, a mother of two from Little Canada, suffered for years in the Minnesota public school system until a teacher recognized her dyslexia when she was a junior in high school. Justina credits that teacher for having turned her world around – because of one great teacher’s involvement, she was able to go to college.
Now as a mother, Justina finds herself watching her son face the same struggles – waiting for a teacher to come along like the one who inspired her. In 5th grade, Justina’s son was having so much difficultly understanding a teacher’s lectures that he came up with reasons to leave the classroom every day. His teacher allowed this to happen, standing by for months, instead of working with Justina and her son to find a solution.
Justina was shocked to learn that her son was assigned to the same teacher the following school year. When she voiced her concerns, Justina was told that the school wouldn’t and couldn’t make a change. Feeling dejected and powerless, Justina transferred her son to a school in a different district where teachers have made it a priority to keep him engaged and make sure he is learning. Justina’s son now remains in class, excelling in areas where he struggled before. Since beginning at his new school, he has consistently made the honor roll.
Justina Person hopes that her children will have the opportunity to grow up to be whatever they want to be and never feel limited because they didn’t have access to the education they deserved. Her dream is that they will graduate high school and enter college ready and prepared for the journey ahead.