Pro-public school demonstrators marched in Los Angeles as part of the national “walk-in” for public schools.
The 20th Street Elementary School was one center for the protest because it has been targeted for privatization by the billionaire-funded “Parent Revolution.”
“Parents at 20th Street filed a petition earlier this month to convert the school into a charter school. To make the change, they’re using the state’s “parent trigger law” that allows parents to decide who will take control of a low-performing campus once the school district confirms that a majority of parents had signed a petition.
“The parent group hasn’t yet chosen an organization that would run the charter school. Under state law, only parents who signed the petition will have a vote. The advocacy group helping them, Parent Revolution, is backed by nonprofit organizations that support the growth of charter schools, including the Walton Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Arnold Foundation and the Broad Foundation.
“The petition drive has divided the campus, with supporters accusing teachers of misconduct and retaliation. The union, in turn, has accused Parent Revolution of using deceptive tactics to gather signatures. Both sides have denied any wrongdoing.
“The signs and posters at 20th Street focused on what students loved about their school — the teachers, the music — scrawled in colorful, children’s handwriting.
“Some rallygoers at Hamilton High School in Palms were more direct in their attack on the charter school expansion plan, which was originally spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. That proposal laid out a plan to spend $490 million to double the number of charters in L.A. over eight years.
“Protesters held white posters that proclaimed in black block letters: “Billionaires, have a heart. Your plan will tear our schools apart!” and “Billionaires: Pay your taxes so we can get smaller classes!”
Journalist Yasha Levine wrote the single most comprehensive article about the “so-called” Parent Trigger and the takeover of the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California.
Levine went to Adelanto to interview parents and teachers. He immersed himself in the issue.
The article is timely because a few days ago, the Adelanto school board refused to renew the charter for Desert Trails charter schools. Read Levine’s article for context.
It starts like this:
When NSFWCORP sent me to Victorville this January, I little expected that the neighboring town of Adelanto would become ground zero for a fight between billionaires on one side, and poor, vulnerable minority parents and children on the other.
I first heard about the fight through the local right-wing paper, the Victorville Daily Press, which gleefully announced on its front page that a local school, Desert Trails Elementary, had just made history as the first school in the nation to be privatized under California’s new “parent trigger” law. The paper described the takeover as “promising a fresh start to the failing elementary school,” and claimed it had received widespread support from parents.
The national press gushed in similarly glowing terms. The LA Weekly described the Adelanto privatization as an “historic moment for the education-reform movement picking up steam across the nation.” The New York Times dutifully compared the takeover of Desert Trails to “Won’t Back Down.” An “issues” movie starring Face of Indie Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Won’t Back Down” promotes the parent-trigger law as a panacea for America’s public-education problems, one that “empowers” parents to fight back against self-interested public school teachers and their union.
All in all, everyone agreed that this takeover of Desert Trails Elementary represented a triumphant moment for parents and their children, a victory for the people over rapacious elementary school teachers and their unions.
But something didn’t seem right about this story — it was too pat, too much like a triumph-of-the-spirit Disney tale, too much like Maggie’s movie. So I made some calls and started spending some time in Adelanto, to find out what really went on there.
Motorists entering the City of Adelanto are greeted with a big blue sign that reads: “The City With Unlimited Possibilities.” It’s not clear who came up with this slogan, or when. But, these days, the sign is a cruel joke.
Founded in 1915 by the guy who invented the modern electric iron, Adelanto never amounted to much. Mostly it served as pit stop and junkyard to a nearby George Air Force Base. The base closed more than a decade ago, and home values have collapsed since the last real-estate bubble popped. Entire neighborhoods emptied out, and building companies went belly up, leaving behind half-finished “master planned communities” that still stand there, desiccating in the dry heat. Signs advertise brand-new three-bedroom McTractHomes for zero down and $800 a month.
Today, Adelanto is the end of the line. A poor, desert town, the city serves as a dumping ground for low-income minority families who have been squeezed out of the Greater Los Angeles-Orange County region and pushed out over the San Bernardino Mountains into the bleak expanse of the Mojave Desert, where housing is dirt cheap and jobs almost non-existent.
The numbers tell the story: Of the 32,000 people who call Adelanto home, one out of three are below the poverty line. Per-capita income is just under $12,000 — nearly three times lower than the California average, and about as much as the average person earns in Mexico. There are almost no jobs here, and Starbucks ranks among the city’s top-ten employers.
Nearly two-thirds of the population are Latinos, many of them undocumented. Another one in five are African-American. Then there are the 5 percent of the population that the census bureau classifies as “institutionalized,” which is nothing but a wishy-washy bureaucratic way of saying that 1 out of 20 Adelanto residents is currently rotting in jail — a rate five times higher than the national average. Adelanto does not have its own high school, but dropout rates in the neighboring suburb of Victorville, also hard-hit by the subprime bubble, are among the worst in the state — hovering somewhere around 50%.
If you stand at the city’s welcome sign, you can just make out its three major prison facilities: a giant federal prison complex to the north, a brand-new state prison to the west, and just north of that, California’s largest private immigrant deportation facility. The last was built recently by Geo Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison contractor.
I would spend several weeks talking to the parents of children enrolled in Desert Trails Elementary, meeting with them in local taco joints and strip mall diners and talking about what happened. As I had suspected, their version of events turned out not to match the Disney version in national papers.
The parents told me that a Los Angeles-based group calling itself Parent Revolution organized a local campaign to harass and trick them into signing petitions that they thought were meant for simple school improvements. In fact those petitions turned out to be part of a sophisticated campaign to convert their children’s public school into a privately-run charter — something a majority of parents opposed. At times, locals say, the Parent Revolution volunteers’ tactics were so heavy-handed in gathering signatures that they crossed the line into harassment and intimidation. Many parents were misled about what the petition they signed actually meant. Some told me that the intimidation with some of the undocumented Latino residents included bribery and extortion.
They first noticed something was up in the summer of 2011, when small groups of parents decked out in Parent Revolution T-shirts started appearing around town, going door to door to speak to parents of Desert Trails Elementary kids, spreading the word that they were organizing a “parent union” to try to improve the quality of their children’s education.
At that, local parents who’d been involved in school affairs started to grow suspicious. According to several I spoke to, two of the leading members of this new “parent union” had previously served in the school’s Parent Teacher Association, and had resigned amid accusations of improprieties.
Why would they suddenly start a new parent organization? Spite? Revenge? And what exactly was Parent Revolution?
The fight over the future of the Desert Trails Elementary School was a nasty chapter in the history of public education. A billionaire funded group called Parent Revolution to the poor community to persuade parents to sign a petition to change their school. Some thought they were signing a petition for improvements; others knew the petition would turn the school over to a charter operator. A majority of parents signed the petition, but some tried to withdraw their signatures when they realized that they were agreeing to hand the management of their school over to a private board. A judge ruled that those who had signed the petition were not allowed to change their minds, so the petition succeeded with a minority of parent votes. Eventually only a small minority of the parents at the school selected a charter operator to run the school. The main accomplishment of the Parent Trigger was to bring conflict and divisiveness, not better education, to the community.
As I reported in the last post, the local school board rejected a renewal of the charter. You can expect that this matter will go to court, as the Parent Revolution organization has millions of dollars in its coffers.
Since California suspended state testing in its transition from its old standards to the Common Core, there was not much score data. But the crux of the matter can be found in the board’s discussion of governance. Who really was in charge of the charter?
Read this document, in which the board outlines its reasons for denying a renewal of the Desert Trails charter. The key section begins at the bottom of page 4, which reviews the unusual governance structure of the school.
DTPA’s governance structure raises a variety of concerns. DTPA is governed by Desert Trails, Inc., a nonprofit public benefit corporation. However, Desert Trails, Inc. has a sole statutory member, Ed Brokers Educational Services (“Ed Brokers”), another nonprofit public benefit corporation. Among other broad authority vested in Ed Brokers is the authority to approve a majority of Desert Trails, Inc.’s directors as well as removing any director at any time, thereby effectively giving Ed Brokers absolute control over the corporation and the Charter School. Thus, while technically DTPA is governed by Desert Trails, Inc., it is for all intents and purposes actually governed by Ed Brokers, and the Desert Trails, Inc. Board is under Ed Brokers’ authority.
Neither the Charter nor the bylaws provide any information about this sole statutory member of the Desert Trails, Inc. corporation, and the District is given no involvement or effective oversight authority over Ed Brokers. As a result of this structure, grave concerns arise as to what, if any, real authority the Desert Trails, Inc. Board has over DTPA, and corresponding concerns about the District’s ability effectively to exercise its oversight obligations. This corporate structure and DTPA’s Charter do not effectively ensure public access and accountability by specifically requiring Ed Brokers to comply with the Brown Act, Public Records Act, Political Reform Act, and/or other conflict of interest laws applicable to public agencies, and other similar laws and requirements that dictate transparency and public accountability in the operation of the public school system, including charter schools.
It is a most unusual arrangement, and it gets even more complicated.
The first-ever use of the parent trigger, one of the very few ever in any state, was at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California. The Gates-, Walton-, and Broad-funded Parent Revolution sent in organizers to gather signatures from parents to convert the low-scoring school into a charter. When the petitions were presented, many parents asked to have their names withdrawn because they did not understand that they were signing away their public school. The matter went to court, and the judge held that the dissidents could not take their name off the petition. The battle over the school split the community. (see here and here and here.)
Now the school board has voted to withdraw the charter. Charter supporters vow to go to court to stay open.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.