Political Science Professor Patrick McGuinn discusses the role of parents in education (Photo by Justin Camejo)

When not busy teaching Political Science courses, Professor Patrick McGuinn spends his time researching, writing, and speaking about educational policy reform. “Parent Power: Grass Roots Activism and K-12 Education Reform,” published in July 2012 served as the required reading for a conference in D.C with policymakers in November.

His latest article, “Parent Power: Grass Roots Activism and K-12 Education Reform,” urges parents to become a part of education reform outside of funding school parties, being a class parent, or attending their local PTA meeting.

Within his piece, McGuinn urges parents to work in unison with education reform advocacy organizations (ERAOs) and to fight for their interests and “crucial reforms.”

“Parent power is the apple pie of schooling: everyone likes it and says pleasant things about it,” reads the Foreword.

As stated in the Foreward, McGuinn’s piece examines questions such as “What are we learning from [new parental reform groups?] Where are they succeeding, and where are they struggling? Are certain types of parents more likely to become advocates? If so, who are they, and what distinguishes them?”

Parallel to these questions, McGuinn comments on three major points throughout his paper: those being, “choice does not equal activism, exit versus voice, and building capacity.”

In elaborating on these points, “Parent Power: Grass Roots Activism and K-12 Education reform,” explains, “the mere act of choosing a school does not turn parents into activists. Rather, reform groups must actively cultivate parents, building the civic skills and engagement that are necessary for participation,” as elaborated by Hess’s piece.

Additionally, the piece argues that, “parents who send their children to schools of choice have exited the traditional school system and thereby have less incentive to use their future reform discussions.”

In terms of ‘building capacity,’ McGuinn speaks of the urgency for these parent education reform groups to become larger and more powerful as soon as possible.

In addition to his piece on Parent Power, McGuinn additionally co-edited a book volume with Paul Manna from William and Mary College, entitled “Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform” (December 2012). “The book volume features insights from scholars around the globe on how to improve the current education policy,” McGuinn explained.

His most recent piece, an article posted to the website for the Center for American Progress, entitled “The State of Teacher Evaluation Reform: State Education Agency Capacity and the Implementation of New-Teacher Evaluation Systems.”

The article takes a closer look at how state departments of education have began to make room for new evaluation systems. While also “[identifying] challenges and lessons that can be used to guide future reform efforts in this area,” the piece says. “The overarching theme throughout all of my work is the education policy and reform stuff in Washington. I am urging these D.C. think tanks to take a step away from the theoretical pieces of education reform and begin to consider new policies,” McGuinn explained. “It is all based on the equity piece for me.”

According to McGuinn, his passion for education reform stems from his early roots in education. After graduating with a B.A. from Franklin and Marshall College in 1993, he became a teacher before pursuing a M. Ed. and a Ph.D, in Political Science and teaching from the University of Virginia.

“My dissertation was on the No Child Left Behind Act and I have been pursuing those issues ever since,” McGuinn stated. “I’m just overall really interested in what’s going on in education,” he continued.

Parental power is “geared towards reaching the policy-makers.” And after presenting it at a conference two weeks ago, one D.C. commentator stated that “Parent Power: Grass Roots Activism and K-12 Education Reform” should have a place on every policymaker’s desk.”

“I took that as a pretty big compliment, so I guess it’s being pretty well received,” McGuinn said. “These conferences and conversations bring a lot of people together for conversations around these issues.To have my paper be the assigned reading must mean that my colleagues are finding it useful,” he elaborated.

“These are very controversial issues and the object of my papers and my research is to figure out the best mechanisms to update the policies that are already in place. And to create new ones on the ground. My goal is to figure out the best way to facilitate these plans,” McGuinn explained.

As a speaker on one of the many panels at the conference in D.C. this weekend, he defined the conference as an “Off the record conversation among progressive policy makers.”

While eager to delve more deeply into his own research and the work of others as a part of this conversation, he semi-seriously said, “What goes on in D.C must stay in D.C, it’s kind of like Vegas.”

Kimberly Ammiano

This article originally appeared in the November 30, 2012 issue of The Acorn.

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