Most families in underserved communities do not have the economic power to move to better school systems, nor do they realize they have political power to influence change in the local school systems failing them.

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Truly transforming education systems requires parents who are (1) informed and (2) organized so that they can (3) exercise their power. Empowered parents, with the support of nonprofit allies, can then deploy a broad set of strategies to set the agenda for education change, achieve that change, and then sustain that change for their children, their schools, and ultimately their school systems.

The good news is that there is a growing sector of social entrepreneurs who offer a diverse range of models for how to be allies to empowered local communities.

As one community organizer noted, “It is amazing to see when the light goes on in a parent’s eyes — not just that they have power, but how to use it. It’s what hope looks like — but it is not hope that someone will do it for them. It’s that they can do it for themselves and can do it together.”

We believe there are four major strategies for parents to exercise power and they include involving parents as partners in education and parent voting initiatives for themselves and within a collective.

We worry that sometimes education reformers have hesitated to engage parents because of a judgment that rests below the surface of our thoughts. Sometimes reformers craft education solutions assuming that parents do not in fact have the power to be part of those solutions. And while we do have power to drive change, the present pace of change also shows us that we don’t have sufficient power to do it alone. Partnering with empowered parents amplifies the potential for systems change. But it requires us to see parents as equal partners.

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