Publication Date

April 2015


Patricia Hill


American Studies (AMST)


English (United States)


This thesis analyzes the changing role of the Parent Teacher Association from its inception in the 1890s to today and provides a blueprint for practical change to return it to prominence as a valued and powerful education advocate. Using a strong foundation in civic engagement and the role of women throughout American history and providing a thorough background of the current public education crisis in America, this work highlights the untapped potential of a once-active, now passive PTA. Since its founding in the late 1800’s, the PTA peaked in membership rates and advocacy effectiveness in the mid-twentieth century and has been declining ever since. During its heyday in the 1960s, the PTA benefited the American public education system as an organization that boosted parent participation, built relationships within and among communities, and connected the nation in the fight for education excellence. While its strong federation model afforded the PTA opportunities to infiltrate nearly every public school district in the nation, the very flexibility that spiked its membership and effectiveness in the 1960s caused a fracturing of the PTA as an organization that once operated as one organism, to one that is now hyper-localized in individual neighborhoods. This work questions the legitimacy of the effectiveness of the PTA today, weighs its costs and benefits, and uncovers the ways in which the PTA institutionalizes inequality and immobility by allowing local branches at individual schools and districts, where parents can afford to donate significant time and money, the privilege of self-determination. In some neighborhoods, the PTA means attending galas, auctions and bake sales, while in many others, the PTA translates to cafeteria dinners during parent workshops on how to raise bilingual children. By exploiting the traditional American ideological backdrop of the American Dream, the PTA improves absolute mobility, while hampering the relative mobility of children across the United States. Today, the PTA is a passive echo of the organization it once was. This work concludes on a hopeful note, by offering solutions to the PTA’s current issues while acknowledging the PTA’s considerable potential to refocus and serve American families during the current education crisis and beyond.



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