The Radical School Reform You've Never Heard Of With parent trigger, families can forcibly change failing schools.
Ohanian Comment: I admit that part of me says "Go ahead, let the parents take over." But it is critical to look at who is really behind Parent Revolution.
In reading this article, I started with what the Wall Street Journal reporter failed to mention: The chair of the Board of Directors of Parent Revolution is Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Charter Schools. Besides close connections with Green Dot, Ben Austin, the Executive Director of Parent Revolution, has strong Democratic power ties, having worked in Clinton administration and ever mentioning in his short bio that he was an early backer of Obama. He was appointed to the California State Board of Education in 2010 and shills for "Waiting for Superman" at Huffington Post. Austin was Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles under Mayor Richard Riordan from 2000-2001, "where he helped craft the mayor's education reform policy." And how did that work out?
Clearly, this phenomenon doesn't look to be so much Parent Power as Privatization Power.
Then I saw that Ken Libby asked the right question months ago over at Schools Matter:"Can Ben Austin Speak for Parent Revolution without Speaking for Green Dot?" I would add "Or without acting as a shill for the Obama/Duncan plan?
Hmmm: Green Dot, Democrats, pseuo-Grassroots. . .can the Broad Foundation be far behind?
Back in February 2010, The Broad Report revealed, "The most important thing to know is that this organization is not grassroots; it's astroturf!" The Broad Foundation provided nearly 50% of the start-up funds for this "revolution," which is really a move for privatization.
As usual, Danny Weil was onto this with an incisive deconstruction of the whole mess at Daily Censored, Ocober 2009. Danny connects the dots, including the Green ones, like no one else. Don't miss this.
Reader comments at the Wall Street Journal hit a new low. You can read them if you go to the url below and then hit the 'comments' tag. But it isn't worth it. I just mention this because reader comments about education rarely have anything to do with the very serious issue at hand.
by David Feith
Debates about education these days tend to center on familiar terms like charter schools and merit pay. Now a new fault line is emerging: "parent trigger."
Like many radical ideas, parent trigger originated in California, as an innovation of a liberal activist group called Parent Revolution. The average student in Los Angeles has only a 50% chance of graduating high school and a 10% chance of attending college. It's a crisis, says Parent Revolution leader Ben Austin, that calls for "an unabashed and unapologetic transfer of raw power from the defenders of the status quo"Ă˘€”education officials and teachers unionsĂ˘€”"to the parents."
Parent trigger, which became California law in January, is meant to facilitate that transfer of power through community organizing. Under the law, if 51% of parents in a failing school sign a petition, they can trigger a forcible transformation of the schoolĂ˘€”either by inviting a charter operator to take it over, by forcing certain administrative changes, or by shutting it down outright.
Schools are eligible for triggering if they have failed to make "adequate yearly progress," according to state standards, for four consecutive years. Today 1,300 of California's 10,000 schools qualify.
To California's teachers unions, the parent trigger is anathemaĂ˘€”a "lynch mob provision," wrote the president of the California Federation of Teachers in his union's publication. By contrast, to the law's sponsor, Democratic State Sen. Gloria Romero, it represents "the power of a signature, the John Hancock in the hand of every parent in a school deemed to be failing." (And, adds Ms. Romero, "to refer to mostly minority, low-income, inner-city parents as a 'lynch mob' is really unbelievable.")
California's example has already inspired legislation in Connecticut, although Hartford lawmakers ultimately passed a reform package that doesn't give parents as much direct influence. That hasn't stopped the idea from catching on elsewhere.
State legislators in five statesĂ˘€”Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey and West VirginiaĂ˘€”tell me that they plan to introduce versions of parent-trigger legislation over the next six months.
"If it can pass in California, it can pass anywhere," says New Jersey State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, who plans to introduce his parent-trigger bill as soon as this month. Mr. Kyrillos is confident his bill will pass, especially since Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican, committed in September to supporting the kind of parent-empowering reform that "was recently done in California."
Even so, if what's past is prologue, states considering parent-trigger laws are in for some rough battles. "It was brutal," says Gwen Samuel, a mother whose State of Black CT Alliance led the push for a parent trigger in Connecticut. "Enjoy your family and prepare your strategy," she warns other states, "because unions are going to come at you with everything they have."
In California that's meant, among other things, misinformation campaigns. Earlier this year, before a vote on whether to turn Los Angeles's Gratts Primary Center over to a charter operator, a flier circulated warning parents not to support the charter option porque pueden ser deportadasĂ˘€”"because you might be deported."
"They're afraid to sign the petition," said one Los Angeles-area mother who is collecting signatures for a charter conversion. "Some teachers, parents, principals have mentioned that if they sign the petition it's gonna be for the school to be closed, which is not true."
The growing popularity of parent trigger challenges the common assertion that schools fail primarily because they serve apathetic families. Like charter-school lotteries bursting with thousands of parents and students, trigger drives demonstrate that legions of parents actively reject their children's failing schools.
The national spread of parent trigger will also demonstrate how the campaign for choice in educationĂ˘€”once a predominantly conservative and Republican interestĂ˘€”has gone bipartisan.
The backers of parent trigger in California included Parent Revolution's Mr. Austin, who served in the Clinton White House; the Democratic leadership in the state legislatures, including Sen. Romero; almost all Republican state legislators; the Democratic mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson; and the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was once a teachers union organizer. Also in favor is the California chapter of the NAACP.
Outside of California, the state legislators so far taking the lead are Republicans. And in Washington, incoming House Education Committee Chair John Kline (R., Minn.) says that he supports parent trigger, and that Congress "can make sure federal policy does not stand in their way."
What unites all these people is the view that parents should be empowered to make choices about their children's education. As Ms. Romero puts it: "We can wait for Superman, or recognize that Superman is us."
Stay tuned: By Christmas, says Mr. Austin, one group of Los Angeles parents will announce that it's reached 51% support for a charter conversion. The defenders of the status quo, no doubt, are readying for battle.
Mr. Feith is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.
Wall Street Journal