Hello, PTA leaders!

I am a parent with two children in Portland Public Schools. I have been a PTA member for five years and recently came onto our PTA board as a legislative co-chair. I am writing to see if there is any possibility of the PTA dropping its affiliation and funding from the Gates Foundation. I know that must sound shocking that a parent wants less funding, but the reason is that the Gates Foundation is supporting and pushing education policies that are NOT good for our schools and children. If you are not already familiar with well-regarded experts like Diane Ravitch, Stephen Krashen, Deborah Meier, and other groups like Parents Across America and the national Save Our Schools movement, please become familiar with them to realize that there is a growing body of people completely alarmed and speaking up against the policies Gates and his front groups like Stand for Children and others are pushing. For lack of a better term, it is the corporate education reform movement and it is NOT good for our kids.

As far as I can tell, our Oregon PTA hasn’t really gotten on-board with advocating for some of the things Gates supports, such as expansion of charters, on-line learning, data-driven models, merit pay, etc. I hear in Washington state, it is quite different. Apparently the PTA there is pushing for charters schools.

I think we have some really wonderful people who are a part of their PTA, and I would love to see PTA grow. A group that is truly genuine and has parents and teachers working together is a worthwhile thing to support. However, the policies of Gates do not do this. I am thinking that PTA accepted or went after this money due to desperately needed funding. When you look at the grant Gates gave to PTA, it says it is to support education reform, and then you see the focus on the Common Core Standards on the National PTA page and it is just so disappointing. Common Core, as it is now, will line the pockets of Microsoft and testing companies, while narrowing the curriculum and lowering engagement levels of our kids.

Our parents who are in their PTA’s do so much just to help their own schools. Often,they are focused on fundraisers because they are trying to provide the best education for kids in their communities with the time they have and the most immediate needs in front of them. Aligning with groups like Gates, only will increase the need to have parents focusing on fundraisers, as such groups don’t want to see anymore funding for our public schools. Right now, I am part of a group of parents and educators who are putting out fires within our state….our state is looking to a Gates funded plan of “outcome based budgeting.” Does that really sound good for our kids, our schools? It is a run-around for getting the funding we truly need, and it does not at all address the poverty that so many of our kids are living in…and that many of our PTA members work hard to address, with services like the clothing center.

Common Core Standards sounds like it was a great, teacher driven idea to start with, but has now been co-opted by testing companies that will make pretty profits from it. In Oregon, our state is currently planning to have “standardized, vetted formative assessments” that take place before students are tested on the standards. This is way too much standardization. Where is the rich, engaging curriculum we want for all kids? We will be testing kids before the tests. Not only that, but schools will receive funding based on outcomes of these tests…if the state moves its Gates funded plan forward. Our state wants to collect a great deal of data from these tests. In testimony, a backer of this plan said she didn’t know what data could do until she attended a conference put on by the Gates Foundation.

Perhaps it seems we shouldn’t worry ourselves with what Gates is doing when we have so much to focus on at our own schools. However, if we ignore these destructive policies, our parents and teachers in their PTA’s are the ones dealing with them. They are the ones suffering from lack of supplies, fighting to raise money to add back programs that are cut, such as music, art, sports, etc. We must band together and say NO. The corporate reformers do NOT want PARENT INVOLVEMENT. Getting parents to understand these complex issues is tough, especially when they are so busy just trying to keep their schools funded! I am willing to help educate parents about these issues as best I can, but I need to know that PTA will not counter those efforts by allowing itself to be bought out by the corporate education reformers.

I am saddened that I see people now sharing links about how PTA has succumbed to the corporate education reform movement. I want to change this. I feel in my heart that the only reason PTA did this was perhaps out of desperation for funding. Let’s change this!! Please. We need a parent-teacher group that fights for parent-teacher involvement – true engagement. We need this group to fight for adequate, equitable funding for all school communities, to ensure that our children in poverty are not ignored, to make sure parents and teachers have a say in educational policies and curriculum. This will not happen with Gates leading the way in eduction.

I assume I am the only one who has written you with this concern. I don’t really have time to start a campaign to get other PTA members to share their similar concerns with you, but I know I am not the only one who feels this way. We need a strong PTA. I am happy to do what I can to build up PTA, and take down the corporate education reform movement. But, I also need PTA to shy away from the Gates Foundation and come out against this corporate education reform movement. Will you do this? Who is the right person to talk to at National PTA to see if we can make this happen?

Thank you for listening and considering this. I truly appreciate it, and thank you for all the hours you spend volunteering to help our schools and students.

Susan Barrett
NE Portland, OR