Whenever I hear about No Child Left Behind, I can’t help but think about cooperative learning and Ronny Patnosh.

When I was teaching high school 10 years ago, “cooperative learning” was all the rage. As an enthusiastic young teacher, I dutifully arranged my classroom into groups for discussions and sharing. And I could quote every statistic on how this revolutionary educational change was going to magically transform our school. I was a convert.

Ronny Patnosh, on the other hand, was a mentor of mine with years and years of experience. He would shake his head knowingly as I spouted off my latest discovery. “Tim,” he’d growl, “make sure you learn that cooperative learning stuff really well, because in 30 years it will come back into style again.” Then he’d go back to his classroom and teach the heck out of American history. Kids loved Ronny. Kids learned. Kids remembered. And I’m not sure Ronny ever read a word about cooperative learning.

All this hubbub about the No Child Left Behind Act strikes me the same way. Some say it’s the solution for all of our education troubles. Others say it’s the cause of even more troubles. All the while, the best schools and the best parent groups keep on doing the basics—things that have little or nothing to do with NCLB—that make those schools so effective.

As I write this, our entire staff is in the middle of reading hundreds and hundreds of Parent Group of the Year entries. Interestingly, not a single one of those applications mentioned No Child Left Behind. Not one. Seems to me the best parent groups are like Ronny Patnosh—focused on doing good work and not distracted by the latest rumblings and grumblings from on high.

One of the most visible results of No Child Left Behind has been a huge focus on what’s being called high-stakes testing. Whether the emphasis on test results is good or bad, I do worry that parent involvement and creating community at school is sometimes a casualty of the new testing mantra.

“We don’t have time for that soft stuff. We have to prepare for tests. We can’t miss even a minute of learning time.”

There’s a huge flaw in that logic, and we as parent group leaders have to be out front in pointing out this flaw. Parent involvement and caring communities aren’t priorities that can come once the test scores are taken care of. Parent involvement and caring communities are prerequisites to taking care of the test scores and school success. A vibrant, empowered parent group is not a “nice to have” after the important stuff is taken care of. It’s a must have if you want the important stuff taken care of. Don’t let your school or your district forget that. While research clearly supports the importance of parent group work (don’t tell Ronny), it’s also the Ronny-approved, common sense approach.

Great teachers teaching within an atmosphere of respect and caring and community—that was the recipe for success in 1960, 1980, and today. And PTOs are a required ingredient.

Don’t let the latest educational fad, whatever it may be this year, leave parent groups behind.

We certainly won’t here at PTO Today.