Producers of a new documentary about parent activism say they aim to inspire parents across the country to press for change.
The film, "Parent Power," traces the organizing story that emanated from an effort to improve a single Bronx school in the mid-1990s and resulted in the citywide Coalition for Educational Justice. Set to premiere on Thursday, "Parent Power" was produced by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, which has long supported parent activism efforts, in collaboration with FPS Video Productions. (The premiere, at NYU's Cantor Film Center, is open to the public.)
Filmmakers Norm Fruchter, an Annenberg Institute policy analyst, and Jose Gonzalez, a parent activist from the South Bronx, gathered 15 years of footage and photography of parent organizing efforts. They also interviewed teachers union president Randi Weingarten, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, parent activist Zakiyah Ansari, and others involved in supporting the parents' efforts.
I spoke with Fruchter, who told me about the making of the movie, the origins of its story, and his hope that parent activists across the country tune in.
JC: Where does this story begin?
NF: [In 1996,] parents at the New Settlement Apartments in the South Bronx were concerned about their local elementary school.
Mayor Bloomberg called for an end to social promotion for the city's fourth and sixth graders this morning, a change that would expand one of the most hotly debated education policies of his tenure.
At a press conference this morning, the mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein called their efforts to end social promotion "a great success," citing rising test scores and the decreasing number of students enrolled in summer school. Ending social promotion means that students who do not meet proficiency standards on state tests are held back until they do. Some of these students attend summer school and are bumped to the next grade in the fall when they pass the exam, while others can have waivers signed that let them out of retention program.
Bloomberg said that once the citywide school board is reconstituted, he would ask it to end the policy in grades four and six — the only remaining tested grades in which social promotion is still in practice. In 2004, when several board members told the mayor that they would vote against ending third grade social promotion, he had them removed and replaced overnight with people who supported his policies. The event is commonly known as the "Monday Night Massacre."
Standing in the library of the Patrick Henry School (P.S. 171) in East Harlem, Bloomberg said that with the new retention policy, "kids will either learn what they need or teachers will know they haven't learned."
Asked about researchers' claims that retention policies can raise the dropout rate, Bloomberg said he was "speechless," adding, "It's pretty hard to argue that it does not work." Klein said that since 2004, when the DOE ended social promotion for third graders, support for its end has been "unanimous."
There is significant opposition to the administration's retention policies, said Norm Fruchter, director of the community involvement program of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.