National PTA is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the United States. Founded in 1897, National PTA is a not-for-profit organization of parents, educators, students, and other citizens who are active in their schools and communities. Membership in National PTA is open to anyone who is concerned with the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.
National PTA's 6.5 million members work in 26,000 local chapters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in Department of Defense schools in Europe and the Pacific. The association's bylaws govern its affairs; a twenty-eight-member board of directors, including National PTA officers, other PTA leaders, and members at-large, oversees National PTA's business. Professional staff at the association's headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, and its office in Washington, D.C., carries out National PTA's day-to-day operations and lobbying efforts.
From its founding in 1897 in Washington, D.C., as the National Congress of Mothers by Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, National PTA has spoken out in support of children and their families. Among its earliest efforts, the Congress called for the establishment of a public health bureau to stem the tide of child mortality caused by childhood illnesses such as measles, whooping cough, and diphtheria; encouraged juvenile justice reforms; and began serving hot lunches to children in schools across the country in 1912. These efforts were rewarded at the state and federal levels with the establishment of the U.S. Public Health Service in 1913, emerging state laws establishing juvenile courts and probation systems in the first decade of the twentieth century, and the passage of the National School Lunch Act in 1946.
Throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, National PTA continued to champion children's rights. In the 1950s, the PTA promoted participation in the field testing of the Salk polio vaccine, initiated a nationwide campaign to prevent youth smoking in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the 1960s, sponsored a project to combat violence on television in the mid-1970s, launched an HIV/AIDS education project in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta in the 1980s, and made sure the parent voice was represented in major education reforms put forth by the U.S. government in the 1990s. As the PTA moved into the twenty-first century, it focused its efforts in three broad areas as identified by its 1999 strategic plan. These areas include promoting parent involvement, advocating for safe and nurturing environments for children and youth, and continuing support of public education.
At the root of all PTA work is its commitment to parent involvement in education; one of the association's founding objectives was to bring the home and school into closer relationship. National PTA worked with Congress to initiate the Parent Act, which sought to strengthen the parent participation policies in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In January 2002 the ESEA was signed into law as the No Child Left Behind Act, authorizing more than 40 programs that provide federal funds to nearly every school district in the nation. This law includes many of the parent involvement provisions of the Parent Act and, for the first time, defines the term parent involvement based on National PTA's standards for parent/family involvement programs. These standards, developed and published in 1997 and based on research from Johns Hopkins University that affirmed that parent and family involvement increases student success, guide the development of quality parent involvement programs in schools and to help evaluate their effectiveness.
In 2000 National PTA published a comprehensive work, Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs, which incorporates the six standards and field-tested strategies for building effective parent involvement programs. The PTA created a nationwide training program based on the book, as well as a complementary parent education program How to Help Your Child Succeed, which focuses on ten practical strategies for helping children succeed in school and in life.
National PTA has long supported arts education as an essential element in the education of children and has encouraged parents to nurture their children's artistic expressions. As a result, for more than thirty-two years National PTA has sponsored a nationwide arts recognition initiative, Reflections Program, which encourages young artists in grades pre-K–12 to express themselves through literature, musical composition, photography, or the visual arts. In 2000 almost 700,000 young people participated in the program through their local PTA chapters.
Safe and Nurturing Environments
In response to the issue of intolerance purported to be at the heart of such violence as the September 11, 2001, tragedy and the rash of U.S. school shootings in 1998 and 1999, the PTA published the Respecting Differences Resource Guide in 2001. The guide is intended for use by PTAs and schools to promote diversity and inclusiveness in their communities in the hopes of eliminating episodes of intolerance, discrimination, and violence. It reflects the PTA's longstanding commitment to the individual worth of all people as articulated by founder Alice Birney, "The National Congress of Mothers, irrespective of creed, color, or condition, stands for all parenthood, childhood, homehood."
An early example of this commitment was seen in the PTA's support of parent teacher associations in African-American schools in the segregated south during the first quarter of the twentieth century. This support evolved into the creation of the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT) in 1926, headed by Selena Sloan Butler.
The PTA responded to the television industry's increasing promotion of violence, sex, and stereo-typing in programming by launching its Take Charge of Your TV project in 1995. Developed in cooperation with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Cable in the Classroom–cable TV's educational arm–the project is a workshop that teaches parents to become more discriminating viewers of television so that they, in turn, can educate their children.
In collaboration with the International Truck and Engine Corporation (a manufacturer of school bus chassis), the PTA created a school bus safety program, Be Cool. Follow the Rules in 1993. The program uses a host of resources that convey multiple messages promoting school bus safety to multiple audiences including parents, schoolchildren, school administrators, and school bus drivers.
Support of Public Education
Throughout its history, National PTA has advocated for a strong public education system. Its efforts have focused on adequate federal funding of public schools, education equity, ongoing teacher training, and support of comprehensive education reforms among other issues. The PTA consistently has fought against voucher and tax credit programs that would divert federal money away from public schools. Currently, National PTA supports federal education policies that expand parent involvement, promote equity, and help states and schools build the capacity they need to provide high quality educational services for all children.
As identified in National PTA's strategic plan, a primary objective of the PTA is to train all 6.5 million members to be effective advocates for children and youth by the year 2020. Part of that objective will be accomplished through National PTA's programming and training efforts, and through its advocacy and legislative work in Washington, D.C. With a network of 6.5 million advocates, the PTA will be an even more powerful voice to express its concerns regarding children in classrooms, in communities, in state legislatures, and on Capitol Hill.
Through its many resources, National PTA keeps members and the public apprised of the issues affecting children and youth, and provides the means to help parents, teachers, and others work effectively for children. Some of these resources include Our Children, National PTA's magazine for members and others concerned about the health, education, and welfare of children; Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs; and the National Standards for Parent/Family Involvement Programs.
National PTA's online presence, www.pta.org, includes parent involvement information and tips, resources regarding children's health and safety, and updates on legislation affecting families. There is also a password-protected members' area filled with materials exclusively for PTAs, including several electronic newsletters providing timely information on a range of child- and member-related topics.
Each June, National PTA holds a convention, enabling PTA members and nonmembers from across the country to attend workshops and other education sessions on a range of subjects focusing on National PTA's three-fold mission of child advocacy, parent education, and parent involvement. National PTA also hosts a biannual legislative conference in Washington, D.C., where participants hone their advocacy skills and legislative knowledge.
Raising Awareness of the PTA
To better identify itself as the national association, in the summer of 2001 National PTA launched a nationwide media campaign to raise public awareness of its identity as the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States.
See also: Family, School, and Community Connections; Parental Involvement.
National PTA. 2002. <www.pta.org>.
Pamela J. Grotz
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