Caroline Grannan writes here about the rise and fall of a Big Reform Idea called “the parent trigger,” championed by an organization called Parent Revolution. Ben Austin started Parent Revolution as a way to empower disgruntled parents to take control of their low-scoring public school and turn it over to a charter operator. Austin led the charge for new legislation to codify Parent Revolution’s big idea (Gloria Romero claimed credit for writing the legislation; she became executive director of DFER after leaving the legislature). Parent Revolution attracted millions of dollars from the usual billionaires, including Gates, Broad, and Wasserman.

After many favorable articles, editorials, and massive publicity, what has PR accomplished?

Not much.

Grannan writes:


“Parent Revolution (PRev) started in Los Angeles in a blaze of publicity in 2009, predicting with great fanfare and much enthusiastic press coverage that it would transform many “failing” public schools into charter schools. 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 the school to close. PRev lobbying led to a California law in early 2010 allowing parent triggers statewide.

“Despite the fanfare, in those seven years, PRev has succeeded in turning only one school into a charter school – Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto (San Bernardino County), Calif., in 2012. That effort ripped the school community apart — splitting up friendships, creating deeply hostile factions and even leading to schoolyard fights among the kids. Reports on the results of the charterization are wildly mixed, and the mainstream media, which descended on Adelanto eagerly to cover the battle, lost interest in following up afterward.

“Parent Revolution began in 2009 under the auspices of Los Angeles’ Green Dot charter school chain, launched by the mercurial, once-admired Green Dot founder Steve Barr. The intent appeared to be to enable Green Dot to take over schools.

“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, as has the story of PRev itself. 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.

PRev has run parent triggers in a few schools around Los Angeles, claiming to have achieved some changes less drastic than charterization. In one case, its petitions got the principal fired – and all but one or two teachers left the school in protest, with many parents objecting that they hadn’t meant to get rid of the principal or drive out the teachers.
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“There’s never anything but the most vague and sketchy press follow-up of PRev efforts. Reports pop up in the press trumpeting PRev efforts that are never heard from again. I started following PRev to begin with because former PRev Executive Director Ben Austin told the press he had operations going in my school community in San Francisco. Yet there has never again been a sighting of PRev operations here.

PRev moved to the national stage, lobbying to get laws allowing parent triggers in various states. Because my ability as a volunteer to keep tabs on every PRev activity is limited, I can’t give a complete count of what states PRev lobbied in and what states passed parent trigger laws, but the efforts and the story that the parent trigger was spreading nationwide were widely and enthusiastically covered in the press.

“During those campaigns, PRev had paid staffers pose as school parents and testify before lawmakers – as was known to happen in Florida and Texas – and PRev claimed routinely and falsely that it had successfully transformed many schools in California, as reported in the Florida press.”

In short, after spending millions of dollars, PRev took over one public school.

PRev now plans to advise parents on how to choose a school.

PRev has been yet another disastrous failure for corporate reform.

The parent trigger fires blanks.