The American Enterprise Institute recently released two important reports by Patrick McGuinn and Andrew P. Kelly. In "Parent Power, Grass-Roots Activism and K-12 Education Reform," the authors examine what existing organizations are doing to pull parents into the public policy debate reshaping America's education system. They also discuss the hurdles to real and authentic organizing while advocating a greater overall investment in this area.

District officials may want to pick up a copy. The city has given mostly lip service to parental and community involvement.

Consider the series of meetings Deputy Mayor for Education De'Shawn Wright has been conducting: Arguably, they could be characterized as the precursor to school closings. (He, of course, has disagreed with that description.) The announcements for these four-hour gatherings have been chiefly relegated to the Internet and electronic neighborhood bulletins -- as if everyone in the city has a computer. Equally disturbing, the sessions are being held in the summer when many people are on vacation.

Then, there is the fact that the Office of Ombudsman created under the 2007 Education Reform Act to provide parents an advocate has been dormant for years. Sure, DC Public Schools has its parent engagement office, but there's little evidence it has developed solid and deep relationships critical to improving individuals schools and the overall system.

Truth be told, I miss Michelle Rhee.

A bunch of people who read that sentence probably are calling me all sorts of names -- except the one given me by my mama. Sure the former chancellor's approach was controversial. I didn't always agree with her, either.

But Rhee publicly articulated and consistently exhibited the appropriate sense of urgency for the mission with which she was charged. She and then-Mayor Adrian Fenty galvanized residents, encouraging them to participate in the debate about the future of public education.

These days, education reform borders on a covert action, filled with code language, secret meetings for select individuals, and unexplained financial disbursements.

Where did that money for those DCPS "Proving What's Possible" grants come from? And has anything more than an outline of the school system's five-year strategic plan been released to the general public?

McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University, and Kelly, a research fellow at AEI, identified some of the challenges to parent power: inadequate distribution of data and information; the lack of capacity of reform organizations to effectively organize; and the muting of voices. A parent who leaves a traditional public school and finds nirvana at a charter isn't likely to lend her voice to the larger reform discussion; satisfaction can act as a muzzle.

Schools -- traditional and charter -- help set a community's values and standards. They shape not only individual but also collective dreams. And, they help advance the economic well-being of all citizens.

In other words, improving and reforming public education should not be private enterprises, in which only a few of the chosen are invited to the special reception. These matters concern the entire city -- all 618,000 of us.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at