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PTA, PTO and Other Groups


Q. Parents have always made such a difference in the health and vitality of schools. I have such fond memories of PTA ice-cream socials and bake sales. It was a great way to meet people when you moved to a new neighborhood, too. What's the latest with parents' groups?


They're still going strong, claiming millions of members and status as among the largest volunteer child advocacy organizations in the world. There are Home and School Associations, Community Clubs and many other names of parent groups, but the two best-known ones are the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and its newer cousin, the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).


Both have many important and worthwhile programs. Both, too, are undergoing struggles that match our nation's changing demographics, such as the increase in working mothers, which renders many parents' groups understaffed for volunteers, and the polarization of many schools into low-income inner cities and small towns vs. well-off suburbs.


The PTA and PTO both offer publications, conventions, workshops and parent idea exchanges. On their websites, there are good articles on effective parent group management, fund-raising, teacher appreciation, child development, home management and many more.


As the schools have become vastly more politicized since the 1960s, when collective bargaining was allowed for teachers, so have the parents' groups been swept into some controversies and challenges.


The PTA was blasted in the book, The Politics of the PTA by Charlene K. Haar for acting as a sort of rubber-stamp for school administrations and teachers' unions, aligning its stands on educational issues with the National Education Association and the federal government, rather than representing local teachers and parents.


Its chief rival is the Parent Teacher Organization, or PTO, noted for how it sticks to school issues and does not venture into the political arena with stands on matters such as international relations.


Other parent groups have sprung up in support of school choice, special-needs students, math education, and so forth. These organizations are more focused on academics and policy issues than on fund-raising and politics.


Homework: The PTA's website is and the PTO's is


By Susan Darst Williams Parental Involvement 30 2008


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