I’m Going to Parenting Magazine’s Mom Congress

Mom Congress is Parenting Magazine’s way of improving schools. Created in 2009, Parenting magazine began the Mom Congress on Education and Learning. Can you imagine hearing from Seth Nickinson of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, Kelly Chapman Meyer of The Teaching Garden, Jill Vialet of Playworks, Robin Schepper of Let’s Move!, author, James Howe, Michelle Rhee of Students First, Dr. Robert Needlman of Reach Out and Read, and Arnie Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education?

Me, neither. But, guess what – I get to imagine it because . . .

I won the nomination for Colorado! I’m going to Mom Congress!

That means I’m going to Washington D.C. to try to make a difference and meet with leaders in education. Talk about a dream trip and something I’m totally passionate about!


So far here’s what I”m thinking are my top three priorities for discussion — please let me know what YOU think and what you feel is most important! If you’re like me, and you just might be, you know there is so much that needs to improve, it seems like an overwhelming list.

My Top Three Priorities in Education Today

1. If we really want children to be reading on grade level by third grade (and I wonder if we really do?), we MUST use all our best teachers and money to ensure this happens.

In my opinion, this means all K-3 classes should be 15 or under with a full time aid, a classroom library, and a master teacher who can differentiate and teach using a constructivist approach.

2.  Principal and teacher evaluations must change to include student and parent feedback and include consequences – and not be about test scores! Here’s why Michelle Rhee gets criticised — she wants consequences and that’s why the unions don’t like her.  I agree with her even though I was a union member in Douglas County Schools. If ineffective teachers continue to teach our children, without motivation to change or without being fired, then there will never be improvement in education. Furthermore, if principals who do not understand instruction, who are not instructional leaders and good communicators with parents, continue to lead ineffectively and only be evaluated at the district level, things will never change within their schools.

3. We must support teachers with time, well-qualified support staff and plenty of excellent professional development opportunities. If we want teachers to do their jobs well then we must give them the tools to do it!

Ironically, I’ve been trying to make a difference in my local school where I asked for less traditional teaching and a more constructivist approach. Think globally, act locally, right? But so far that hasn’t worked out well. In fact, it’s gone quite badly. But, I’m still glad I’ve spoken up and taken a stand for improving the school, even if I’m not the most popular person there, and even with all the other things that have happened because of it. (I’ve removed some of what’s happened for personal reasons.)

I can say this — there are so many things that need work in public schools – it’s hard to know where to prioritize our time and resources.

So, my questions for YOU is . . .

What are your biggest concerns in education right now?

What do you want policy makers to prioritize? and why?


Mommy and Me Preschool Book Club

Abe Sets the Stage for Learning

Inspire Young Writers With “13 Words” and WIN one for yourself


  1. Jean-Marie says

    A very deserving honor! You are a perfect representative of moms all over trying to make a difference. Good luck and I look forward to hearing about your adventures!

  2. Robin says

    I just had a student teacher yesterday ask me what I would change about education today and my quick answer was “parent involvement.’ This congress is a perfect example of what I’d like to see at a smaller level in our district. Good Luck!

  3. says


    my concerns:

    IEP’s: why the laws make it so difficult for children to receive an IEP. there are so many variables…15 point deviation on standardized tests, diagnosis by doctors for….but why a child can have all of these things – but if they aren’t actually failing in the classroom, no help is provided.

    labeling: pro’s and con’s – should schools be able to influence our children’s future with labels like ED (Emotionally Disabled)?

    learning to test: how standardized testing is hurting our children and only teaching them to study for a test and pass it instead of teaching them to learn for life.

    i could go on and on….feel free to email me if you’d like more amiegr8tstuff (at) aol (dot) com

      • Laura Taylor says

        Melissa – you will find that you’ll get plenty of support on getting rid of standardized testing from the NEA. You will also find that they are well represented at Mom Congress.

        Don’t be surprised to see the Parenting Execs fawning all over the NEA folks, the Secretary of Education and others. They’re like little groupies.

        Where you want to connect is with the other Moms. You will be blessed!


    • Laura Taylor says

      Amie – what you describe is a 2E child – Twice Exceptional – both Gifted and Challenged. The 2E Network in LA has made great strides in their community in bringing awareness of this issue. Needing an IEP does not have to be triggered by poor grades. This is misinterpretation by school officials who don’t want to see a portion of their budget spent directly on one child.

      The US Dept of Education is holding a webinar on IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and parent’s rights under this law. You may want to get on the call and see what you can learn. Here’s the info below:

      The U.S. Department of Education invites you to participate in the webinar which focuses on Family Engagement and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

      Title: News You Can Use: Family Engagement and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

      Description: The webinar will focus on the Department of Education’s commitment to family involvement, particularly for families of children with disabilities or at risk. The webinar will also focus on the resources that the Department provides to help families understand the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, their rights under IDEA, and how to work with schools to improve their children’s future. Melody Musgrove, Director, Office of Special Education Programs, will be the featured speaker.

      Date: Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 1 p.m. EDT, Noon CDT, 11 a.m. MDT, 10 a.m. PDT

      Registration Information: To register for the webinar, go to http://tadnet.ilinc.com, and click on “Public Sessions” (second option in the red ribbon on top)

      Please share this information.

  4. Hallie Doyle says

    so, so, SO excited that you are representing us, Melissa! You are so bright, insightful, committed. I can’t wait to hear about your experience! BIG congrats!

  5. Dana Doyle says

    I think the biggest concern for education right now is to get the early childhood/elementary ed curriculum designs and philosophies to actually match qualified/quality developmental research (which is NOT what is happening today in MOST programs). When we get the developmental “foundation” sturdy, the rest is easier accessed and truly integrated.

  6. says

    I hope that you will bring up collective bargaining rights and the all out assault on America’s teachers. They need to be lifted up for doing their jobs, not beaten into the ground. My daughter’s kindergarten class has over 20 kids in it and only one teacher, no assistants. Several of the children have needs and are disruptive. Honestly, I give her a lot of credit for all that she does to help the kids learn. I’ve volunteered in her classroom on a few occassions and have a lot respect for her work ethic. I expect a quality education for my children. The teachers deserve fair pay and benefits. They also deserve respect for their chosen profession. They certainly don’t deserve to be belittled and villainized by John Q. Public and mainstream media like what is currently happening here in Wisconsin.

    I also agree with your readers that parental involvement is key. If parents would devote some time to volunteering at the school and take an active role in their child’s education, just think how much stronger the educational system would be. Volunteering doesn’t just have to occur during the day, while class is in session. I have helped organize book fairs and science fairs that have taken place at night. Our last book fair resulted in $1500 worth of new books for our school library as well as $1000 of books for the classrooms. Over 90 students participated in our science fair. Instead of complaining, take action — use your time and skills to help better the situation.

    • says

      I think you’re preaching to the choir here. My concern is how to get parents involved that aren’t reading about these issues – that don’t share the opinion that it must be a community effort. What do you think? How do we invite those parents into the school to help when there are many reasons why they’re not — jobs being one.

    • Laura Taylor says

      Is your district – like others – spending 95% of its budget on payroll? No sustainable business could operate with that much of the budget going to salaries. Unions have collectively bargained themselves into their own demise. The fully loaded labor rate for my district is $90 per hour per teacher in some district’s its as high as $135 per hour.

      This is why when budgets are tight they have to cut teachers. Teachers unions have bargained so much of the pie for themselves that there are now Principal’s Unions so they don’t get left behind.

      Perhaps, like LA, we need to have a Parent’s Union.

  7. Tasha Christensen says

    That is so great girl! You totally deserve it! You have worked so very hard! I wanted to check our you blog since I have been such a slacker and trying to get my ducks in a row with my biz. How are you doing? How are the girls?

  8. says

    My concerns are that kids aren’t getting an education. They’re only learning how to pass the NCLB test(s). NCLB needs to be thrown out so that teachers can TEACH. Arts & physical education need to be restored. And letter grades need to be used so kids fail when they don’t learn.

    I want policy makers to prioritize EDUCATION, not test results. I want teachers to get respect & better pay. (I’m not a teacher, nor am I involved with one, just fyi.) I want an emphasis placed on well-rounded education and different ideas, not the rote of yesterday or standardized testing like that required by NCLB, which I think has thoroughly shutdown actual education.

    Good luck. Thanks for fighting.

    • says

      I don’t know of any teachers that like NCLB and totally agree with you about the importance placed on these tests. Imagine if we spent all that money on training, books, lower class sizes, etc? Thanks so much for your comment.

  9. says

    I think we should eliminate competitive sports from all schools up to and including high school. 1. These programs take up way too much of a school’s budget, which could be better spent on math, sciences, and other classes that would better prepare youngsters for the future. 2. Less than one in 10,000 high school athletes will ever become a professional athlete. This means we’re also wasting their time with pipe dreams, time that could be better spent getting an actual education. 3. High-school sports promote cliques between the members of the team, which leads to bullying of kids who aren’t on the team. In the worst cases, this has even led to rape. 4. Too many teens are injured–sometimes even permanently–or killed because of school sports.

    If we want our kids to have a better future, we have to prioritize school budgets accordingly. We have to encourage kids to emulate the great minds of the world, like Steve Jobs, not celebrities and athletes who more often than not behave badly. Eliminate all competitive sports from all schools up to and including high school, and there will be plenty of money left over for the things that matter.

  10. says

    First of all, congratulations!

    I would also like to see classes limited to 15 students with 2 adults, however I would understand an exception if you added adults while adding children. But every teacher should have at least one aide in their classroom.

    I agree with Janelle regarding the fact that parental involvement is key, however we need to acknowledge that there are parents out there who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not get involved. Schools should welcome parents and provide opportunities for them to be involved, but they can not require that parents help out. I know parents who hate schools and speak openly against the teachers. It is sad, but true, there are some really mean people out there, and some of them have kids.

    What are your biggest concerns in education right now?

    The fact that so many kids seem to be hopelessly falling short of the set goals. I was confused at why my daughter’s teacher was saying how well she was doing in reading, when she was no where near grade level. Then I realized that none of the kids were reading at grade level.

    What do you want policy makers to prioritize? and why?

    Allocating resources responsibly. There are so many things our children need to learn, and so many tools and enriching activities that help them to learn. But with only so much money, and only so much time in the day, we (unfortunately) have to pick and choose. We can’t abandon the basics like reading and math, but enrichments like music have a proven track record in helping kids with the basics.

    One thing I believe would help us as a country would be if every school offered an after-school program that filled in the gaps where the regular school day didn’t have time.

    I look forward to following the results of this summit!

  11. Marcie says

    I watched an intriguing TED talk by Salman Khan who proposes a way to standardize curriculum world-wide using video and online gaming. The idea is currently being piloted in several classrooms. I am in no way connected to him, I just think the idea’s brilliant.

    Essentially he proposes “flipping the classroom”. In the current system, teachers teach a lecture in class then assign homework problems to practice the concept. Then there’s a test and the class moves on regardless of whether or not everyone “got it”.

    Using this method, student’s learn concepts at their own pace through online video from the best possible teacher. They then practice it using online gaming methods. The teacher receives reports on what each child learned, has mastered, is having trouble with. The classroom then becomes the place where teachers and peers help students understand what they are individually struggling with. And the data stays available from grade to grade.

    Here’s the link –> http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html

  12. Lynette says

    First I’d like to say congratulations! Not only a huge honor for you, but I’m sure it must feel like a huge responsibility as well and as a mother, I thank you for taking on the challenge. I know it’s a huge one. I agree with your priorities, particularly about class size and consequences. Unfortunately, I know enough teachers to know that regardless of what goes on in the classroom, without the support and encouragement at home, children are prone to fail to accomplish some of the goals. In light of that, consequences for the teachers could be challenging to determine. Regardless, I DO NOT believe that we should allow children to progress through school if they are not where they should be. Certainly, this would help trends to present themselves, and it would also help to call out cases where the issue lies with the parents or children so that help can be provided when needed.

    As the mother of a pre-schooler, and a 2nd little one due to arrive next month, I really appreciate your efforts on behalf of our children! Good luck, and I look forward to hearing about your experience.

    • says

      In most districts, it is looked upon badly to fail students because it affects the rating of the school. And, in the rare cases where it happens, the parents can still force the school to move their child to the next grade. Or at least that used to be the case several years ago. I’m assuming it still is.

  13. says

    So proud of you Melissa! Can’t think of anyone better to represent CO! I love how your blog is evolving – kudos! And, I adore the picture of you and your girls. So precious.

    Because we have yet to enter Kindergarten, I am not at all versed on curriculum matters, testing or many of the things other parents are able to comment on with kids in school. But, as I get more involved in learning about today’s education system, I have formed opinions (surprise!) on how it is being managed.

    You know I am a strong proponent of the free market system and believe that unions and too much government involvement are what’s hampering our schools from being the best in the world. We all know that the United States spends way more per student than any other country, and we have seen that pouring more money into the system is not working.

    I think what WI has done by giving teachers the CHOICE to pay union dues, instead of being forced, is an important first step in disentangling teachers from bureaucrats. What NYC has done with a new charter school offering teachers $125K to start, but without tenure, is a great step towards rewarding and attracting good teachers, and weeding out bad teachers. And what CO has done today, in Douglas County, to give parents the CHOICE to spend their education tax dollars on the school of their choosing, public or private, is a monumental second step. What D.C. needs to know is that CHOICE is the only thing holding us back from progress. Give teachers and parents more power in decision making and you will create competition which will elevate the teaching profession and the learning environment.

    When it comes to the particulars, I can only lean on what you and others here have said. I agree with all your stated priorities, as well as Amy Beth’s. Especially what Amy Beth had to say on parent involvement: “Schools should welcome parents and provide opportunities for them to be involved, but they can not require that parents help out.” We all know it’s important, but there is no magic bullet to get parents involved. It can’t be legislated, so your time is better spent discussing things that can be affected.

    I also agree with Katie: “Arts & physical education need to be restored. And letter grades need to be used so kids fail when they don’t learn,” and disagree with Shevi on competitive sports in secondary education. As someone who participated in sports at the secondary level, I think it was crucial in preparing me to play at the high school level. Not to mention the values it instilled in me.

    Lastly, I agree with Shevi that we need to “prioritize school budgets accordingly.” Going back to my first point – how much we’re spending isn’t the issue. It’s where is it going?

    • Laura Taylor says

      Chris – there isn’t much that Mom Congress actually “does”. Mostly Melissa will be listening to a lot of presenters. She will have some time to connect with other Moms – but not a ton. My recommendation, Melissa, is to get connected with Gwen Samuels from Connecticut (2010-2011 Delegate). She is a dynamo and has been working at the legislative level in Connecticut as well as at the local and district level.

      Don’t be dismayed by the dog and pony show – it is after all a way for Parenting to hype some of its sponsors/advertisers. They cover a lot of topics and really it is mostly geared towards helping give YOU some more tools to do what you do where you live. They aren’t going to get a message to the Federal Government. They make nice with Secty Duncan – like I said above – like his groupies.

      We had a “town hall” meeting that was a pure sham. It was televised and four Mom Congress delegates were pre-selected (unbeknownst to the majority of us) to ask him questions. They had a line to the back of the hall of local people wanting to ask questions about the education budget – Duncan talked to 2 of these 40+ people that were bussed in especially for this event (dog and pony show). The people who attended were not happy. We had a nice big photo taken and that was about it.

      The Lesson Plan for Change that we worked on as a group on the final day was the best – however, Parenting put their upper-white-middle class spin on it before it went to print. But that’s Parenting for you.

      Just remember who you’re dealing with and you won’t be disappointed.

      The MOST valuable thing about Mom Congress are the other Moms! You will be so glad you went.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *