I thought I’d take you through the newest school reform industry experiment on public schools they don’t use in places they don’t live. This latest quick-fix, miracle gimmick is branded The Parent Trigger and it comes with a movie, although not action figures or a Happy Meal toy.
Media who blindly climbed aboard this train wreck are now having second thoughts. I’ll allow them to explain why they shouldn’t have backed Parent Trigger like star-struck morons:
From the start, the most serious problem with California’s promising but sloppily written “parent trigger” law has been its failure to require an open, public process. That’s especially troubling when the law’s power is considered closely. If half or more of parents at an underperforming public school sign a petition, they can force dramatic change in how the school is run — they can turn it into a charter school, for example, or require that the principal or the entire faculty be fired.
But that means these documents aren’t so much petitions as they are votes. Through majority rule, parents don’t request reform; they require a governmental agency — the school district — to take action.
Yet these petition drives differ from most elections. There is no public balloting place and no mechanism to ensure that all of those eligible to “vote” — i.e., the parents of the school’s students — are notified. No public forums or debates are held to guarantee that parents hear both sides of the issue. This process does a disservice to parents, some of whom miss out on opportunities to become more informed about their options — or in some cases even to know that a petition drive is underway — before nearly irreversible decisions have been made. Yet neither the Legislature nor the state Board of Education has moved to fix these problems.
The most recent trigger petition, at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts, makes the need for revamping the law more obvious than ever. A petition requiring the removal of the principal, Irma Cobian, was signed by 53% of the parents. According to organizers, the parents didn’t want a charter school and wanted to keep all the teachers. But they apparently weren’t aware that many of those teachers thought highly of Cobian. After the petition was accepted by the district, 21 of the school’s 22 teachers indicated in writing that they would seek to transfer from Weigand, and some parents expressed regret over signing the petition.
It’s like…VOTING. Oh, well. Too late. No one could have predicted, mistakes were made, and Parent Trigger lobbyists weren’t greeted as liberators, after all. Except, the trigger process has been a divisive disaster twice before:
Influential groups like Parent Revolution and StudentsFirst have been lobbying for the cause and searching for parents to test out the fledgling laws. The legislation’s supporters are eager to use “Won’t Back Down,” which is financed by conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media, to popularize the parent-trigger policy.
Parent Revolution, supported by the Gates, Walton Family and Wasserman foundations, on Friday announced plans to host “Won’t Back Down” screenings with panel-led discussions in 19 states over the next four weeks. But in both Compton and Adelanto, the process has proved divisive.
Parents on both sides have accused each other of intimidation and harassment and called police on one another. PTA meetings have erupted into shouting matches, and kids have been bullied for wearing pro- or anti-trigger law shirts to school.
Desert Trails PTA Vice President Lori Yuan, whose 7- and 9-year-olds attend the school, won’t be lining up to see “Won’t Back Down.” Yuan, 39, is among the faction of parents actively opposing the trigger effort. “Why do the people that attend Desert Trails today get to determine a future when there’s a whole community that technically owns the school?” Yuan said. “This is not a grassroots movement.”
Her public school is now privatized. Fifty unelected parents out of 600 chose the charter chain. I want to go deeper than the people who stupidly and recklessly swallowed this thing whole and now regret it. I want to look at this experiment on small “d” democracy grounds. I’m getting involved on the campaign end of a local initiative to build a new public school here. It’s been debated for two years. We initially asked for millions of dollars from the community, but we lost on a ballot question so we came back with a smaller, cheaper proposal. I don’t know how many at the meeting(s) were currently parents of public school children but it doesn’t matter, because the public schools here are a community asset so obviously the whole community gets a vote on large decisions. I was talking about this Parent Trigger thing with my husband and I asked him what he thought would happen in this district if a bare majority of parents with children currently attending the local public school voted to radically change our public school with no broader community input at all. He said he could not imagine doing that, but if we did, there would be “actual civil unrest.” Having attended several meetings on the school building plan here, I agree with him.
We have a public senior center here. It’s county-owned. Say I’m a disgruntled senior and I don’t much like how the center is run. Can I pass a law that codifies a process that cuts out future users of the center and the broader public who built it and fund it? What about the public library? A public transit system? If you’re ON THIS BUS RIGHT NOW, raise your hand if you want to fire the driver! Does “public” mean more than “publicly-funded”? Can we ask the reform industry and the politicians they bought to define what “public” means to them?