Archives for category: Parent trigger

Bill Raden writes in Capital & Main about the status of the Adelanto elementary school that was converted to a charter school via the “parent trigger.” The article is almost a year old; I didn’t see it sooner. Thanks to reader Jack Covey for bringing it to my attention.

Raden writes:

Throughout 2011 and 2012, the eyes of the education world were focused on Adelanto, a small, working class town in California’s High Desert. A war had broken out there over the future of the K-6 Desert Trails Elementary School and its 660 low-income Latino and African-American students. When the dust settled, Desert Trails Elementary was gone. In its place was a bitterly divided community and the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, the first (and so far, only) school in California and the U.S. to be fully chartered under a Parent Trigger law, which allows a simple majority of a school’s parents to wrest control of a low-performing school from a public school district, and transform it into a charter school.

Tiny Adelanto’s turmoil reflects a much larger battle now being fought across America between defenders of traditional public education and a self-described reform movement whose partisans often favor the privatization and deregulation of education. At least 25 states have considered parent trigger legislation and seven of them have enacted some version of the law, including Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas. Though funded by tax dollars, the trigger charter is private, meaning it is not bound by many of the rules and much of the governing oversight or transparency of a traditional public school.

At the end of Desert Trail’s inaugural, 2013-14 school year, a group of eight former Desert Trails teachers hand-delivered a 15-page complaint to the Adelanto Elementary School District (AESD), charging Desert Trails with an array of improprieties and its executive director, Debra Tarver, with unprofessional and sometimes unethical conduct.

Among the most serious accusations are charges that administrative chaos at Desert Trails has resulted in both a stampede of exiting teachers and staff; that uncredentialed instructors have taught in its classrooms; and that Desert Trails had an unwritten policy of dissuading parents of students with special learning needs from seeking special education. The teachers also allege that they had to endure a bullying regime in which, they say, they were continually screamed at, spied on, lied to and humiliated in front of parents and their peers by Tarver and her deputies. Capital & Main spoke with the teachers, four of whom agreed to go on the record for this story. (“The High Desert is a small place and Debbie Tarver has a long reach,” said one teacher who requested anonymity.)

Teachers complained that they had to buy supplies out of their meager salaries.

The teachers interviewed for this story, who were paid about $3,300 a month, claim the school’s extreme miserliness shortchanged teachers and students on basic classroom tools. Over the first year, they said they each spent up to a full month’s salary, and in some cases more, on unreimbursed, out-of-pocket expenses.

“At the start of the year,” recalled kindergarten teacher Bertha Miramontes, “I ended up spending $1,000 because the décor in my classroom, [Tarver] said, was not good enough. I would spend anywhere between $200 to $300 per month to get supplies — writing paper, pencils, construction paper, tissues for my kids’ noses, hand sanitizer, crayons.”

These teachers also say that Tarver, who as executive director of a charter school is paid a salary commensurate to that of a San Bernardino county school district superintendent by both Desert Trails and LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy — a combined annual salary of around $200,000 — ordered the student water fountains shut off for the duration of the bitterly cold High Desert winter, rather than pay for overnight heat to prevent the pipes from freezing.

The biggest problem was teacher attrition, which was unusually high, even for a charter school.

But the scores went up.

One thing on which the two sides do agree is that Desert Trails did post test-score gains.

“We had 47 percent of our scholars who [rated] proficient and advanced,” Tarver said of the California Standards Test results for 5th grade science, “and we only had a 15 percent rate of those that were below and far below [state standards], which is a huge difference from the 30 to 40 percent that school had for the past 10 years.”

More comprehensive, schoolwide scores, she said, wouldn’t be released by the school for another month.

For the ex-teachers, it is a tarnished achievement that came at the terrible price of shattered morale and the stability and consistency that underpin a quality education.

“It wasn’t the holistic, well-rounded education that they were promised,” Salazar asserted. And [teachers leaving] is difficult. It’s hard on the scholars and it’s hard on their families.”

The parent trigger was enacted in 2010. Five years later, this is the result. Some will say it was worth the struggle because the test scores are higher, although the students are not the same as in the Desert Trails school. Others will say the destruction of the school and its community was not worth it. The charter company must surely be happy to have achieved ownership of a multi-million dollar property and the state funding that goes with it.

What bothers me, I must admit, is the promiscuous use of the term “scholars” to describe little children. They are students; they are children. They are not scholars. A scholar is someone who devotes his or her time to the deep study of an academic pursuit to advance the frontiers of knowledge and publishes his or her findings. I truly don’t understand what is gained by distorting language. But then, reformers do this so often that I should not be surprised. When they eliminate bonuses for advanced degrees by teachers, it is “reform.” When they eliminate certification as a requirement for all teachers, it is “reform.” When they close a community’s school and hand its assets over to a private corporation, it is “reform.” Sigh.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board sort of endorsed the parent trigger idea, even though the law passed in 2010 has produced no noticeable improvements. The expectation when the law was passed was that only 75 schools would be allowed to implement the “parent trigger,” but less than a dozen have even sought the authority. Efforts to gather parent petitions were spearheaded by a corporate reform group called Parent Revolution, which exists to promote the parent trigger. Parent Revolution received millions of dollars from “reform” foundations, but has produced meager results. There has been no groundswell of popular demand by parents to seize control of their public school.

The idea behind the parent trigger was that parents were yearning to seize control of the school their children attended and to turn it over to a charter operator. The assumption was that the school “belongs” to the parents (who may not be parents in the school next year), but not to the community that built it and funds it.

The editorial says:

The law, passed in haste in 2010 in an effort to empower parents at lower-performing schools, lets them force dramatic change if half or more of them sign a petition. They might demand the replacement of some or most of the staff or vote to turn their school over to a charter operator. They might even close the school altogether. Under the law, the parent trigger is an option only at schools whose scores on the state Academic Performance Index fell below the proficiency mark of 800 and that failed to meet their federal improvement requirements, called Adequate Yearly Progress, for several years in a row. The law limited the trigger option to 75 schools on a first-come-first-served basis to see how it played out; at the time, officials expected the number to be quickly met and expanded.
But that hasn’t happened. There have been only four schools in which parents filed petitions that succeeded in forcing a change. Parents at five more schools used the petition process as leverage to negotiate changes, a much less disruptive process, without ever filing an actual petition.

It is hard to know whether these changes have resulted in improved academic performance because the state has for the moment stopped reporting test scores during the switch to new standardized exams. Yet it’s encouraging to see that parents have some clout, especially low-income parents who felt their children were stuck at problematic schools. That was the original idea: to give deeply frustrated families a chance to take action when educators ignored them.

So, nine or maybe ten schools have used the parent trigger, despite intense efforts by Parent Revolution and major foundations to promote parent takeovers. There is no evidence for improvement in these nine schools. And there is no evidence that students had low scores because “educators ignored” parents.

In Adelanto, where the parent trigger was implemented, the petition was signed by a majority, but many parents did not understand what they had signed and tried to withdraw their signature; a local judge would not permit it. When it came time to pick a charter operator, the parents who had not signed the petition were not allowed to vote. So a minority signed the petition, and a minority of a minority selected the charter. That was not “parent empowerment.”

The Los Angeles Times concludes:

A new trigger law should create stricter guidelines to target truly low-performing schools, and should prohibit school closures through petition. Trigger petitions must be made public, with all parents informed, and the larger community given a chance to be involved. When a petition prevails and parents are considering proposals for changing management of the school, all parents should have a voice and a vote in the decision, not just those who signed the petition.

The parent trigger remains an intriguing if so-far-unproven idea, but the time has come to start imagining a more thoughtful version.

I disagree. I don’t believe that users of a public service should be given the option of privatizing it on behalf of the public that paid for it, past and future. This is akin to allowing riders on a public bus to vote to sell the bus to a private bus company, or letting tenants in public housing vote to sell the project to a developer. A local public school belongs to the community, not to those who are using it this year.

The parent trigger is fairy dust. California should get rid of a bad law and concentrate on proven strategies to improve schools and improve the lives of children and families.

In an article funded by the Walton Family Foundation, Education Week sums up the sad history of the “parent trigger” law. Clearly, the writer struggles to show the accomplishments of the law, but it is hard to hide its failings.

Two people–Gloria Romero (former state senator in California, former director of Wall Street-backed Democrats for Education Reform in California) says she wrote the law. Ben Austin, former leader of Parent Revolution, says he wrote the law.

The Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and other foundations poured millions into Parent Revolution, hoping that parents would vote to turn their public schools over to charter operators.

At the end of the day, five years later, here is the scorecard: six states passed similar parent trigger laws. “So far, nationally, only one school, Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., has been transformed into a charter while another six schools in the state have used the parent-trigger law in some way to secure changes on their campuses.”

Only one school turned charter, and that happened only after a bitter fight among parents. Parents who did not sign the parent trigger petition were not allowed to vote in choosing a charter. Ultimately only 53 out of 600 parents selected the charter operator to take control of their public school.

Some reform.

A few days ago, I posted about a proposal by powerful Republicans to “reform” public education with a grab-bag of failed policies that punish public schools and demoralize teachers while creating a flow of public dollars to the private sector.

 

In this article, the brilliant and persistent Sara Stevenson explains the details of the proposal. Stevenson, a member of the blog’s honor roll, is a librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin. She has had more letters published in the Wall Street Journal than anyone I know. She believes in setting the record straight, and she believes in public education. That’s why this destructive proposal made her blood boil.

 

The bill could well have been written in ALEC’s corporate offices. It has everything on the corporate free-market wish list.

 

Stevenson writes:

 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry
Taylor, R-Friendswood, delivered the terrible news last week: The
Senate education plan contains no financial help for school districts,
600 of which are already suing the state for inadequate and
inequitable funding. It offers no testing relief for students in
grades 3 through 8 who must sit for up to four hours at a stretch
taking multiple standardized tests.

 

Furthermore, their proposals are
merely warmed up, stale leftovers written by the American Legislative
Exchange Council, a corporation-funded group that emphasizes free
markets and limited government. Here’s a sample serving:

 

Giving letter grades (A-F) to individual public schools.

A “parent trigger” law, which allows the majority of parents at
individual failing schools to petition for new management.

Removing limits on full-time virtual schools and online courses.

Tying teacher performance to compensation.

Creating a “college and career readiness” course for Texas middle
school students.

Creation of a statewide district to manage failing schools.

 

The most dispiriting part of this education plan is that it proposes
absolutely nothing that will help educators with the serious charge of
preparing our young citizens for their adult lives. Our schools are
terribly underfunded. After the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion in
education dollars in 2011, Texas ranked 49th among the fifty states in
per pupil spending. Today we are spending less money per student than
we did ten years ago. How can the Legislature’s continued starving of
school districts help us with the very real challenges we face?

 

Less state funding for schools translates into larger class sizes,
fewer teaching assistants and painful cuts to electives, arts, PE,
libraries and clinics. Texas educators are willing to work hard in
daunting circumstances, but the more our legislators insult us with
unoriginal, ineffective schemes as they deprive us of necessary
resources, the more those of us with choices will flee our beloved
profession. The best teachers will refuse to work in an environment in
which they cannot be successful. I give this lazy, irresponsible
education plan a big, fat zero.”

 

Never mind that not one of these proposals is new or that not one of them has been successful anywhere.

 

Ideologues don’t care about evidence. The goal is to dismantle public education, a fundamental, essential institution of our democracy. In doing so, they override local control and funnel taxpayers’ dollars to entrepreneurs and religious institutions. There is not a shred of evidence that any of their proposals will improve education.

 

These men are not conservatives. Conservatives conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up community institutions. These men are radicals and anarchists, destroying heedlessly, mindlessly, zealously, without regard for the damage they do to the lives of children, families, educators, and communities.

Texas Republican leaders in the state senate unveiled their ambitious plan to enact the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) agenda for privatization of public education.

With the help of Texans for Education Reform and a battalion of highly paid lobbyists, the Republicans will promote charters, school choice, and accountability measures to stigmatize public schools.

Texas schools have high numbers of students who are poor and who are English language learners. The senate has no new funding measures, despite the fact that $5 billion was cut from school funding a few years ago.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is a voucher advocate. “On Tuesday, he said “148,000 students, approximately, today, are trapped in 297 school campuses across our state that have been failing for more than two years.”

His agenda includes school choice and other items, including:

“Giving letter grades (A-F) to individual public school school campuses each year based on their performance — something already done for districts;

A stronger “parent empowerment” law, often called “the parent trigger,” that would allow parents to petition for new management schools that have been failing for two years rather than five;

Removing limits on full-time virtual schools and online courses;

Making sure high school students can take more courses that count for college credit;

Creating a “college and career readiness” course for Texas middle schoolers.”

The spokesman for teachers was critical:

““None of the proposals offered by Sen. Taylor and the lieutenant governor would give teachers and students the time and resources they need to improve teaching and learning,” said Texas State Teachers Association President Noel Candelaria. “The Taylor-Patrick agenda fails to meet the needs of five million public school students whose schools have been inadequately funded by the very legislators who are eager to declare schools a failure based on standardized test scores.”

The Taylor-Patrick agenda is a grab-bag of failed ideas cribbed from the ALEC play book. None of them has been beneficial to students or successful anywhere.

An effort to use California’s controversial “parent trigger” law to convert a public school into a privately managed charter school failed in Anaheim.

The law was passed five years ago when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and the state school board was dominated by charter interests. Although heavily financed by the Waltons and other corporate interests, the “parent trigger” drive has succeeded in seizing control of public schools only twice in five years.

“Parents at the school, located in an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community, failed to collect valid signatures representing 50% of pupils enrolled, as the law requires, said Supt. Linda Wagner. She said the district found that 133 of 488 petitions were not valid because the students had moved away, could not be found in the district records or were not signed by a parent or legal guardian, among other reasons. The district verified 48.4% of enrolled students.

“But former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who wrote the law and now helps parents improve their schools through her new Center for Parent Empowerment, accused the district of manipulating the numbers. The district rejected 12 petitions because those signed could not be reached “after multiple attempts,” according to documents, but Romero said officials never asked petition organizers to help locate them, as she said state regulations require.”

Romero was previously California director of pro-charter hedge fund managers’ “Democrats for Education Reform.” DFER was denounced by the state as a front for corporate interests.

There is something fundamentally undemocratic about letting this year’s (or last year’s) parents to privatize a community institution, built and paid for by the entire community.

This commentary was written by a veteran education advocate who must remain anonymous because of a career situation. All sources are cited.

 

The billionaire-funded education “reform” operation Parent Revolution recently announced that its longtime director, Ben Austin, is leaving. I’ve followed Parent Revolution (PRev) since the beginning, so to mark the occasion and the new year, I’m presenting some informal history and observations – including predicting the likely fizzle of yet another once-hailed fad.

 

PRev has fallen drastically short of its own projected impact. PRev created the “parent trigger,” whereby a 50%+1 majority of parents at a school can sign a petition forcing “transformation” of the school, or forcing it to close. The parent trigger was originally projected to turn many “failing” public schools into charter schools. In reality, since its founding in 2009, it has turned just one public school into a charter, inflicting ugly divisiveness on the community in the process and resulting in wildly conflicting reports about the charter’s effectiveness.

 

PRev continues to tout itself as a success. It has won ample favorable press coverage from the beginning, and has persuaded legislatures in several states to pass laws allowing the parent trigger, though there are no reports since of parent triggers actually taking place in those states. PRev lists a string of high-ticket funders, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (of Enron), the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Its funders seem unlikely to maintain their enthusiasm as the lack of actual results becomes increasingly evident.

 

PRev began in 2009 under the auspices of Los Angeles’ Green Dot charter school chain, launched by the mercurial, once-high-profile Green Dot founder Steve Barr. The intent appeared to be to enable Green Dot to take over schools. PRev said it was targeting “failing schools,” but in early 2010 I researched the test scores, based on California’s Academic Performance Index, of the existing Green Dot schools. It turned out that 14 of the 15 Green Dot schools had lower test scores than the public schools PRev was targeting and defining as failing. In other words, by Green Dot’s own definition, almost all of its own schools were failing, which would seem to raise questions about Green Dot’s efforts to save other schools.

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/11/local/me-greendot11
Barr’s name is no longer mentioned in connection with PRev, possibly because of his checkered history, including a rapidly squelched flap about misuse of funds and some much-publicized failed projects. The story of Barr and the Green Dot charters he founded has been marked by rifts, feuds and separations. Since PRev began operating on a statewide and then national scope, there has never again been public discussion of Green Dot taking over a parent trigger school.

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/02/local/la-me-greendot2-2009dec02

 

PRev at first operated only in Los Angeles. At the time, it was easy to follow online discussion forums connected with the schools PRev was targeting, and there were many comments from parents along the lines of “Parent Revolution, leave our school alone.” A budding parent trigger at Mount Gleason Middle School in the community of Sunland-Tujunga won press coverage in early 2010. But based on online discussion at the time, that parent trigger effort appeared to have only one supporter – a former parent at the school who wanted to have the principal fired. The effort evaporated. There were apparently no completed parent triggers in LAUSD during that time.

http://www.dailynews.com/20100214/parents-pulling-trigger-on-school

In 2010, the California Legislature passed a law allowing the parent trigger statewide. The parent trigger was to offer four options for parents to choose: turning the school over to a charter operator; replacing the principal and/or much of the staff; closing the school; or a restructuring process to be determined.The parent trigger was entrenched deeply in right-wing philosophy and ideas, including advocacy of privatizing public services and hostility to teachers, their unions, and their due process and job security. But PRev disguised its right-wing foundations by decking itself out conspicuously in Democratic Party trappings. Ben Austin had Democratic Party credentials, as have a number of paid PRev operatives, as well as then-state Sen. Gloria Romero, who sponsored California’s parent trigger legislation.
The first parent trigger: McKinley Elementary, Compton, Calif. 2010-11

After the state legislation passed, PRev embarked on its first parent trigger late in 2010, at McKinley in the impoverished Los Angeles County city of Compton. Reporter Patrick Range McDonald of the politically maverick/libertarian advocacy newspaper L.A. Weekly followed the process but didn’t write about it until late in the game, after the parent trigger petitions had been submitted.

 

The coverage made it clear that actual McKinley parents had been absent from the process. McDonald, writing from an openly pro-Parent Revolution viewpoint, reported that PRev had looked around the state for a school to target: “Parent Revolution decided to focus on McKinley Elementary School and approach parents there after researching the worst school districts in California,” he wrote. The article recounted how PRev had already determined that the school would become a charter and had pre-selected a charter operator before approaching any McKinley parents: “Already waiting in the wings [was] Celerity Educational Group. … Around the same time that Parent Revolution was researching Compton Unified, Celerity was looking to open a school in the stubbornly anti-charter district. The two organizations found each other.”

http://www.laweekly.com/2010-12-09/news/Californias-Parent-Trigger/

 

The Weekly article described the signature-gathering operation run by PRev – polished and professional but carried out “quietly,” without open community discussion: “[PRev Organizing Director Pat] DeTemple set up a computer program to track trends in the progress of his staff’s work,” McDonald wrote. “Once a parent signature was obtained, DeTemple input that parent’s address in the program, and a green dot appeared on a digital map of Compton. If a particular block in McKinley Elementary’s feeder area showed no green dots, he’d ask one of the five salaried organizers to make a follow-up visit to the block. … Field organizers… canvassed a large chunk of the 10-square-mile city of Compton, knocking on hundreds of doors, walking its sidewalks and driving its streets, asking people if their children attend McKinley.”

 

Emphasizing the furtiveness of the effort, the article described DeTemple’s decision to deliver the signatures on Dec. 7, 2010, as he semi-facetiously compared the “surprise attack” to Pearl Harbor: “Remembering that Dec. 7, 1941, was the ‘day of infamy,’ when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, DeTemple can’t help but eye Dec. 7. ‘It’ll be a surprise attack,’ he quips.” On that day, after its stealthy signature-gathering operation, PRev presented the petitions to the school district in a blaze of publicity, including chartering buses to take the press to the event.
The Weekly’s McDonald helped shield the signature-gathering from public view by not writing about it until it was complete. Apparently unversed in education issues, McDonald and fellow Weekly reporter Simone Wilson illuminated damning details of the operation despite their open intent to promote PRev’s viewpoint. However, the money and influence PRev wielded insulated it from much harm to its public image, and the oddity of the press’ actively helping to shroud in secrecy a process aimed at turning a public resource over to a private operator attracted no notice.

After the petitions had been presented, the Weekly’s Wilson covered a Compton school board meeting at which, her report related, “hundreds of angry parents” from McKinley showed up to protest the charter takeover they had supposedly demanded – “many of whom say they were tricked into signing the Parent Trigger petition without understanding its gravity.” Reports have quoted parents as saying they had signed petitions they thought were to improve or “beautify” the school. One said she thought it was to improve parking around the school.

http://www.laweekly.com/informer/2010/12/14/compton-school-takeover-supporters-pull-out-youtube-evidence-of-teachers-intimidation-tactics-hundreds-of-angry-confused-parents-show-up

These flies in the ointment didn’t register with the mainstream news coverage, and the process continued. There was legal back-and-forth about handing the school over to Celerity. Eventually, that plan fell through and McKinley was left as it was. Celerity opened a charter nearby. Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Newton gloated in September 2011 about what he predicted would be McKinley Elementary’s destruction: “The charter operator that would have taken over McKinley opened a school down the street, and it quickly filled up. A second one is opening in the neighborhood. By this time next year, parents will have voted with their feet, and McKinley will be a ruin.”

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/19/opinion/la-oe-newton-parent-trigger-20110919

 

But actually, California Department of Education statistics do not show parents rushing to vote with their feet. McKinley’s enrollment dropped only 12.9% when the new Celerity charter opened in fall 2011 – there’s no way to know whether all those students transferred to the charter or left for other reasons – and has made modest bumps up and down year by year since. Four years later, McKinley continues to exist as a high-poverty public school and is apparently not a “ruin.” (There’s also no indication that Celerity has opened a second charter “in the neighborhood.”)

The only “successful” parent trigger: Desert Trails Elementary, Adelanto, Calif., 2012

In spring 2012, PRev found a foothold at this high-poverty school in a prison town in the high desert east of L.A. Despite the hugely favorable press coverage of the McKinley parent trigger, PRev had gotten dinged for the total absence of parent involvement, and it made a much bigger show of including parents in its next high-profile effort.

It was becoming apparent that charter operators actually don’t consider it desirable to take over existing struggling schools, with existing problems and already-enrolled students whom the charter operators may find undesirable. It’s evident that most or all prefer to start new schools. That became a problem for a process intended to turn public schools over to private operators. During the Desert Trails battle, there was no mention of a pre-selected charter operator “waiting in the wings,” and in the end, PRev had to scrounge to find one.

As predicted by parent trigger critics (and, realistically, by anyone with common sense), the effort in Adelanto ripped the school apart, creating a tense, angry atmosphere and destroying friendships. PRev engaged in an odd tactic, circulating two petitions for parents to sign – one calling for a list of improvements in the school such as more resources and smaller classes, the other for turning the school over to a charter operator – and then submitted only the petition calling for the charter. It’s not clear whether all signers signed both or understood that there were two petitions; those details are murky. After the petition was presented to the school district, the battle continued, with some parents asking to remove their names once the odd two-petition process came to light. Eventually a judge ruled that once a parent had signed a parent trigger petition, it was a done deal and the signer had forfeited the right to change his or her mind.

After more angry controversy and lots of publicity — this time the effort had not been stealthy, and parents opposing the petition were vocal — PRev dredged up two or three charter operators who said they were willing to take over the school, and held a vote for parents who had signed the petition to choose (only the petition signers could vote). An operator was elected, the school community scattered, and the charter operator took over as of the 2013-14 school year. Reports so far are wildly mixed. Some mainstream news reports have been glowing; other accounts portray a “dysfunctional” and “law-breakingly unprofessional” school. As with all charter takeovers of existing schools, it’s not clear how many of the students from the previous school enrolled at the charter or remained there.

http://www.sbsun.com/general-news/20130728/parent-trigger-law-changes-failing-adelanto-school-into-new-charter

http://capitalandmain.com/adelanto-report-card-year-zero-of-the-parent-trigger-revolution/
Once again, despite the largely admiring press coverage of PRev’s effort, it was apparent that the Desert Trails operation had been problematic, with the divisiveness it wrought on the school and greater community, the strange dual-petition strategy, and the brouhaha over the refusal to allow parents to rescind their signatures.

 

Beyond Adelanto

 

As all this was going on, PRev was lobbying in other states for the passage of parent trigger laws. The lobbying efforts were marked by deceit – from claims that California had seen numerous schools transformed by parent triggers to paid PRev operatives masquerading before state legislatures as grassroots parent activists. At least six other states now have parent trigger laws on the books, but there are no reports to be found of any actual parent triggers.

 

In California, reports have surfaced occasionally about PRev activity at schools that later simply fades out, including in San Diego, Orange County and Pasadena. PRev has been a presence in a few Los Angeles schools and touts itself as a huge success, but the acclaim otherwise has been muted. Since the Adelanto fracas, no other charter takeovers have made headway.

 

The Los Angeles Times has long been an enthusiastic supporter of the “reform” camp that created and sustains Parent Revolution, but its enthusiasm for the parent trigger has been rapidly diminishing. A June 2013 Times “voice of the newspaper” editorial headlined “The ‘parent trigger’ trap” raised concerns about the dubious results of a parent trigger at Weigand Elementary School in Watts:

 

“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 [most or all of those teachers did wind up leaving], and some parents expressed regret over signing the petition.

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/24/local/la-me-weigand-20130525
“Weigand’s test scores are low,” the editorial continued, “but it’s unclear how much of the problem rests with Cobian, who has won praise for some of her work … Many (parents) were stunned to learn that the teachers didn’t share their views.”

 

The Times editorial called for open, public discussions in the parent trigger process. “This misunderstanding would undoubtedly have been avoided if there had been a more public airing of opposing views. … 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. … Reformers might fear that a more open process would lead to more misinformation and even intimidation of parents by teachers or others with a vested interest in the status quo, but a closed petition means that parents are shut off from debate and discussion that lead to truly empowered decision-making.”

 

What of parent triggers elsewhere? There’s still some activity in Southern California, including a current effort at Palm Lane Elementary in Anaheim, near Disneyland – a school already suffering turbulence over principal turnover.

 

A highly touted effort in Pasadena has faded. An involved Pasadena parent gave me an update as of December 2014: “The Parent Revolution effort here comes and goes. I haven’t heard of anything lately. Our former board member and Parent Revolution supporter Ramon Miramontes is submitting two charter school applications himself. He was responsible for Celerity Charter opening up a school, and now they have closed it and left town.”

 

The September 2011 Los Angeles Times column by Jim Newton that had applauded the impending “ruin” of McKinley Elementary also touted budding parent triggers at Los Angeles Academy Middle School and Woodcrest Elementary School, both of which have apparently quietly fizzled. A teacher at L.A. Academy Middle School told me, “They chose not to target our school after all.”

 

At this point it seems fairly safe to declare the parent trigger a failure. If its creators had sincerely intended to improve the education and well-being of low-income, high-need students, that would be a sad thing. As someone who has observed the machinations of education “reform” operatives for years – and who is aware of how much philanthropic funding is available for credible-looking, skillfully promoted fads – I don’t believe they had any such intentions. The level of deception and skulduggery PRev has engaged in throughout its history demonstrates the lack of sincerity.

 

The outcome is indeed a sad thing for those who were trusting enough to genuinely hope that the parent trigger would empower parents and improve the lot of disadvantaged children.

 

Even if the parent trigger had ever been effective and its process transparent and honest – even if it had ever been sincerely intended to improve schools – critics have pointed out the fundamental flaw in the notion that the parents who are currently using a public resource should be the lone voice in the design and operation of that resource. It’s as if the passengers on the municipal bus decided on their own to hand the bus over to a private operator, or the people in the park at a given moment elected to put it under private management.

 

Another Los Angeles Times “voice of the newspaper” editorial, in September 2013, further summed up the problems. The editorial was headlined “Fix the ‘parent trigger,’ ” – though most rational observers would see that such a badly flawed process is beyond fixing: “The lack of a public forum is fundamentally wrong. These are public schools, and the petitions have the force of law. The fate of taxpayer-funded schools should not be decided in secrecy.”

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-parent-trigger-lausd-20130920-story.html

Ben Austin is stepping down as head of the organization called “Parent Revolution,” which is funded by the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and numerous other foundations. Austin was instrumental in passage of California’s “parent trigger” law in 2010. Under that law, if a majority of parents sign a petition, they can take control of their community’s public school and hand it over to a private charter operator, fire staff, or make other changes.

 

In the past four years, several other states have copied California’s “parent trigger” law.

 

Despite the millions spent to promote the idea of the “parent trigger,” very few schools have actually utilized it. According to the article, four years after the law’s passage, only three schools in the Los Angeles area have converted to charters, and three have used it to force changes (like the firing of a respected Hispanic principal). There are as yet no results for the schools that converted to charters, since they are so  new. Actually, the only school I am sure was turned into a charter by Parent Revolution was Desert Trails in Adelanto. If you know of others, please let me know.

 

The conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz made a movie (“Won’t Back Down”) to publicize the “parent trigger” idea, but the movie did poorly at the box-office and didn’t have much impact, despite an excellent cast and extensive publicity.

There is one school in the United States where the “parent trigger” has been used to convert a public school to a charter school: Desert Trails in Adelanto, California.

 

According to this article in Capital and Main, the new charter is a disaster. Children with special needs are ill-served. Teacher turnover is outrageously high. Teachers buy supplies out of their meager salary.

 

Among the most serious accusations are charges that administrative chaos at Desert Trails has resulted in both a stampede of exiting teachers and staff; that uncredentialed instructors have taught in its classrooms; and that Desert Trails had an unwritten policy of dissuading parents of students with special learning needs from seeking special education. The teachers also allege that they had to endure a bullying regime in which, they say, they were continually screamed at, spied on, lied to and humiliated in front of parents and their peers by Tarver and her deputies. Capital & Main spoke with the teachers, four of whom agreed to go on the record for this story. (“The High Desert is a small place and Debbie Tarver has a long reach,” said one teacher who requested anonymity.)….

 

The most telling outward sign that all was not right at Desert Trails, however, may be its startling turnover in administration and teaching staff. During its first year, teachers say, the charter lost a principal (Don Wilkinson) and a director (Ron Griffin) — both before the Christmas break — its vice principal, six classroom teachers and its behavioral specialist. In addition, only nine of Desert Trails’ first-year teacher roster — or 33 percent — are returnees this year. Desert Trails’ charter promises “less than five percent annual employee turnover.” And, teachers say, Desert Trails seems to be running true to form for the 2014-15 year, with four teachers jumping ship as of this writing — including two from the kindergarten level….

 

 

 

 

Colleen Wood, parent leader in Florida, active in 50th No More, and board member of the Network for Public Education, here remembers a true champion of children and public education, Terry Stetson Wilson, who died suddenly a few days ago. Colleen asks that we all Tweet a comment to honor Terry’s good life and work for others. Write your words on Twitter, marked #ForTerry. For her dedication to our children and our society, I add her to our honor roll of heroes of American education.

Colleen writes:

“Relentless, persistent, and dedicated. That is what comes to mind when I think of Terry Stetson Wilson, a friend and fierce advocate for public school children in Florida. Terry unexpectedly passed away Monday evening leaving behind her husband, Tom, two adult children, Christopher and Linzy, dear friends, and countless beneficiaries of her advocacy.

Terry’s work began like many of us when she was first concerned with her own child’s school experience, and grew over time into what is now the Florida Gifted Network. If your child received gifted services in Florida, you can thank Terry Wilson.

When her own children graduated, Terry didn’t leave public education behind. The day she died a group of us were sitting together working on building a statewide coalition. We talked about needing to expand our group, and attract new supporters to public education when someone said we needed more people like Terry. People who stayed even after their own children were gone. She was a role model and inspiration to each of us.

Through her 30 years of advocacy, Terry fought for a high quality public education for every child, and became a staunch defender of teachers. She saw the onslaught against our public school teachers and knew it was not a battle they could win alone. When teacher merit pay was first proposed in Florida in a bill known as SB6, and many of us were upset, Terry wanted action. She always prodded us to do something.

And she did. Terry and a few others formed a Facebook group called Stop SB6. Within a month there were over 60,000 members. That group was a driving force behind the push for our Governor to veto the bill, but many people didn’t know Terry was behind it. She often flew under the radar, but her impact was far-reaching.

And if she met you, if she knew you cared about public education you were hooked. A day didn’t go by without an email, text or call about something you needed to do, and you needed to do it now. Funny thing is that after her death, we’re all learning that’s how Terry was in her whole life: from her family, to her friends, to her love of Florida and fishing. She wanted you to support you, help you, and get you to do something. Now.

In every fight in Florida, from parent trigger to school grades, her first question was, “What are we going to DO?”

We’ve been struggling with how to honor Terry, and then it occurred to us – what are we going to DO? What action are we going to take today to honor Terry and defend public education?

So that’s what we’re asking of you. #ForTerry what are you going to do today to support and defend public education? Share with all of us and #ForTerry who inspired you to this work.

In the words of our colleague, Ray Seaman, “That is perhaps one of the many things Terry taught all of us who had the pleasure of knowing and working with her. Tireless, impatient persistence is oftentimes the only way you get things done, and you never know who you’ll inspire by it.”

We will all have to be tireless, impatient, and persistent if we are to save our schools and our children. Terry inspired all of us to be just that, and we know she’ll inspire you to do something too. #ForTerry.

– Colleen Doherty Wood, parent advocate, 50thNoMore.org

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