Archives for category: Parent trigger

Joanne Barkan has written several brilliant essays about the billionaires who use their philanthropies to undermine democracy and public education.

This is one of her best.

She writes:

“For a dozen years, big philanthropy has been funding a massive crusade to remake public education for low-income and minority children in the image of the private sector. If schools were run like businesses competing in the market—so the argument goes—the achievement gap that separates poor and minority students from middle-class and affluent students would disappear. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation have taken the lead, but other mega-foundations have joined in to underwrite the self-proclaimed “education reform movement.” Some of them are the Laura and John Arnold, Anschutz, Annie E. Casey, Michael and Susan Dell, William and Flora Hewlett, and Joyce foundations.

“Each year big philanthropy channels about $1 billion to “ed reform.” This might look like a drop in the bucket compared to the $525 billion or so that taxpayers spend on K–12 education annually. But discretionary spending—spending beyond what covers ordinary running costs—is where policy is shaped and changed. The mega-foundations use their grants as leverage: they give money to grantees who agree to adopt the foundations’ pet policies. Resource-starved states and school districts feel compelled to say yes to millions of dollars even when many strings are attached or they consider the policies unwise. They are often in desperate straits.

“Most critiques of big philanthropy’s current role in public education focus on the poor quality of the reforms and their negative effects on schooling—on who controls schools, how classroom time is spent, how learning is measured, and how teachers and principals are evaluated. The harsh criticism is justified. But to examine the effect of big philanthropy’s ed-reform work on democracy and civil society requires a different focus. Have the voices of “stakeholders”—students, their parents and families, educators, and citizens who support public education—been strengthened or weakened? Has their involvement in public decision-making increased or decreased? Has their grassroots activity been encouraged or stifled? Are politicians more or less responsive to them? Is the press more or less free to inform them? According to these measures, big philanthropy’s involvement has undoubtedly undermined democracy and civil society.

“The best way to show this is to describe how mega-foundations actually operate on the ground and how the public has responded. What follows are reports on a surreptitious campaign to generate support for a foundation’s teaching reforms, a project to create bogus grassroots activity to increase the number of privately managed charter schools, the effort to exert influence by making grant money contingent on a specific person remaining in a specific public office, and the practice of paying the salaries of public officials hired to implement ed reforms.

“You Can’t Fool All of the People All of the Time

“The combination of aggressive style, controversial programs, and abundant money has led some mega-foundations into the world of “astroturfing.” This is political activity designed to appear unsolicited and rooted in a local community without actually being so. Well-financed astroturfing suffocates authentic grassroots activity by defining an issue and occupying the space for organizing. In addition, when astroturfers confront grassroots opposition, the astroturfers have an overwhelming advantage because of their resources. Sometimes, however, a backlash flares up when community members realize that paid outsiders are behind a supposedly local campaign.”

Barkan describes the Parent Trigger Law, which was financed by billionaires to enable low-income parents to take control of their schools and turn it over to a charter operator. The money was used to send organizers into low-income communities, create discord, and persuade parents to sign petitions. “The process was bound to divide communities, and it was open to abuse and outside manipulation. But most important, the law destroyed the democratic nature of public education. This year’s parents don’t have the right to close down a public school or give it away to a private company any more than this year’s users of a public park can decide to pave it over or name a private company to run it with tax dollars (see Diane Ravitch, Reign of Error, 2013). Voters—directly or through their elected officials—decide on and pay for public institutions in a democracy.”

In retrospect, Parent Trigger was a bust. Seven years and many millions of dollars later, only one or two schools were charterized. And there have been no studies of whether it made a difference. The billionaires did get a hardworking Mexican-American principal fired, and almost every member of her staff left with her in protest. What a waste.

Barkan writes that the most grievous misdeed of the billionaires is their assault on democracy. If they can’t get what they want through normal channels, they use their resources to buy what they want.

“Philanthropies risk losing their tax-exempt status if they donate directly to candidates for public office, so some foundations have tried other ways to ensure they have the people they want in key posts.

“The Los Angeles–based Broad Foundation stipulated in the contract for a $430,000 grant to New Jersey’s Board of Education that Governor Chris Christie remain in office. As the Star-Ledger reported (December 13, 2012), the Newark-based Education Law Center had forced the release of the contract through the state’s Open Public Records Act. For the center’s executive director, David Sciarra, “It is a foundation driving public educational policy that should be set by the Legislature.” The Broad Foundation’s senior communications director responded, “[W]e consider the presence of strong leaders to be important when we hand over our dollars.”

“The foundation sector will fight reform ferociously—as it has in the past. When asked to forgo some influence or contribute more in taxes, the altruistic impulse stalls.

“The keep-Chris-Christie clause was not the first time a staffing prerequisite was discovered in a grant contract with a public entity. In 2010 Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee negotiated promises for $64.5 million in grants from the Broad, Walton, Robertson, and Arnold foundations. Rhee planned to use part of the money to finance a proposed five-year, 21.6 percent increase in teachers’ base salary. In exchange she demanded that the union give her more control over evaluating and firing teachers and allow bonus pay for teachers who raised student test scores.

“In March 2010 the foundations sent separate letters to Rhee stating that they reserved the right to withdraw their money if she left. They also required that the teachers ratify the proposed contract (Washington Post, April 28, 2010). Critics challenged not only the heavy-handed intrusion into an acrimonious contract negotiation but also the legality of the stipulation on Rhee: hadn’t she negotiated a grant deal that served her own employment interests? The teachers ratified the contract, but the extremely unpopular Rhee resigned in October 2010 after Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had hired her, lost the Democratic mayoral primary. By that time, much of the grant money had been spent, and the new schools chancellor kept Rhee’s policies.

“Private foundations have used another tactic to exert influence on the Los Angeles Unified School District: they paid the salaries of more than a dozen senior staffers. According to the Los Angeles Times (December 16, 2009), the privately financed “public” employees worked on such ed-reform projects as new systems to evaluate teachers and collect immense amounts of data on students. Much of the money came from the Wasserman Foundation ($4.4 million) and the Walton Family Foundation ($1.2 million); Ford and Hewlett made smaller grants. The Broad Foundation covered the $160,000 salary of Matt Hill to run the district’s Public School Choice program, which turned so-called low-performing and new schools over to private operators. Hill had worked in Black & Decker’s business development group before he went through one of the Broad Foundation’s uncertified programs to train new education administrators. A Times editorial on January 12, 2010 asked, sensibly, “At what point do financial gifts begin reshaping public decision-making to fit a private agenda?…Even the best-intentioned gifts have a way of shifting behavior. Educators and the public, not individual philanthropists, should set the agenda for schools.”

The Plutocrats want to abolish public control of public education. They have sponsored one failed “reform” after another.

They never learn.

Remember when privatizers came up with the “parent trigger?” It was 2010, right after the release of the charter propaganda film “Waiting for Superman,” and the “reformers” assumed that parents everywhere were longing to seize control of their public school and give it to a charter chain. They thought it was a brilliant idea to turn public schools over to the charter industry and use parents to do the deed. All that was needed was a petition that was sign ed by 50% of parents plus one, and the school could by law be privatized.

The first such bill was passed in late 2010 by the California Legislature. A charter enthusiast named Ben Austin created an organization called Parent Revolution, funded with millions from Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, and other billionaires. Parent Revolution sent organizers to poor communities to foment parent anger and collect signatures.

The producer of “Waiting for Superman” signed up star talent for another movie to promote the idea of the Parent Trigger. The movie was called “Won’t Back Down.” It failed at the box office and was the lowest grossing movie of the year.

Other states passed Parent Trigger legislation, on the assumption that parents were yearning to turn their public schools over to charter operators.

One of those states was Louisiana, which passed a Parent Trigger in 2012.

Mercedes Schneider reports here that the law is On the books, but no parent group has ever applied to turn its public school into a charter.

The only option for those who pull “the trigger” is to join the celebrated Recovery School District. Schneider lists the names of the Failing schools in the RSD.

Guess it is not that easy to fool parents into privatizing their schools.

Seven years after passage of the Parent Trigger law in California, either one or two schools have converted to charter status, and only after a bitter fight among parents about the validity of petitions. Its main effect is to divide communities.

How many millions were spent to convert one or two schools to charters? Billionaires probably for a tax write off. They don’t care.

You remember Ben Austin? He is the guy in Los Angeles who started an organization called Parent Revolution whose purpose was to organize parents to seize control of their public school and turn it over to a charter operator. This process was made possible by a law passed in 2010 called the Parent Trigger, which says that a majority of parents can sign a petition to grab control of their school and fire the principal, the staff, or give the school to a private charter operator.

A bunch of billionaires, including Eli Broad, gave him millions of dollars to pay organizers to train parents to sign petitions. For a few brief shining moments, the Parent Trigger was the New Coke of education. Rightwing billionaire Philip Anschutz funded a movie to sell the Parent Trigger, but it flopped in the blink of an eye.

Seven years and many millions of dollars later, Parent Revolution can claim the capture of one public school for the charter industry. One. And they got a dedicated Hispanic principal fired. That’s it.

So it’s time for Ben Austin to start a new organization with another pile of money, including billionaire Eli Broad. It is called Kids Coalition. Apparently Austin’s new strategy is to sue and sue until every child has a great education.

That will work about as well as the Parent Trigger, but hey, it’s a living, for as long as the money keeps coming in. Eli has so much. What’s another few million?

The most interesting part of the story is the photograph of Austin. I tried to decipher the books behind him. There is Michelle Rhee’s “Radical.” Steve Brill’s paean of praise to DFER (“Class Warfare”), something by David Brooks. The thinking of a reformer. A real radical. A guy who knows how to start organizations with catchy names. A guy who has his hand on the pulse or purse of very wealthy donors.

My favorite quote from the story:

“He also noted that when he drops off his daughters and walks them into their classrooms, the classroom looks, smells, and operates the same way his LA Unified classroom did 40 years ago.”

Maybe he could succeed in changing the smell of the classrooms of L.A. Distribute a spray can to every teacher. That will definitely produce a new smell.

Viola Davis is one of the most gifted actors of our time. She has won the Tony Award, the Academy Award, and many other awards. She has never forgotten her humble origins and those who helped her rise to the top.

When she received the Tony award in 2010, she gave a powerful speech. She thanked God, her parents, and her teachers at Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island. In that order.

I recall leaping to my feet when I heard her speak in 2010, because that was the very time when the city of Central Falls and the state of Rhode Island threatened to fire the entire staff of the High School that Viola Davis attended. To fire them en masse, from the principal to the lunch room staff. Arne Duncan congratulated the state officials for having the “courage” to fire everyone, and President Obama echoed Arne’s insult.

It was also the year of “Waiting for Superman,” and the corporate assault on the public schools went into high gear.

But then there was Viola Davis, thanking her teachers. I learned later that her own sister was a teacher at Central Falls HS.

But…but…but…then, Viola Davis took a leading role in the film “Won’t Back Down,” funded and produced by arch-evangelical billionaire Philip Anschutz (one of the “Superman” funders). “Won’t Back Down” celebrates the parent trigger, telling the fictional story of a parent and a teacher who were so disgusted with their public school that they gathered signatures and flipped the school over to a charter operator. I didn’t get to see the movie because it opened in 2,500 theatres (Anschutz owns the Regal theatre chain) and its receipts were so bad that it closed within a month and disappeared.

Last night, Viol Davis moderated Laurene Powell Jobs’ XQ extravaganza, which asserted that high schools are obsolete and need to be reinvented.

Viola Davis, please watch the speech you gave at the Oscars at 2010.

We need a real champion for public schools.

Trump and DeVos want to eliminate the schools that made you who you are today. Our public schools need your help. They are far from perfect. They need real reform, not a wrecking ball and disruption.

Viola Davis, help us. Join the millions of parents and educators who want better public schools.

The billionaires don’t need your help. We do. They are using you.

Join the Network for Public Education. Help the children and teachers whom the billionaires despise.

In the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions, Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee and allies in the privatization movement tried to get a parent trigger law through the Florida legislature but met a solid wall of parent resistance. Now the same forces are gathering for another run at privatizing the Sunshine State’s public schools. The method is to declare not just F schools eligible for charter takeover, but D and F schools; to get more such “failing” schools by raising the bar on the testing. Voila! A bigger market for the charter industry!

Does it sound familiar: legislating the privatization of “failing” public schools? This time, it seems like they have merely removed the parents from the “parent trigger.” And, by removing the option of a district managed turnaround option, this bill will force persistently low performing schools to close or become privatized. Like the previous “parent trigger”, this bill is about pushing a political agenda and little else. And the House has set aside $200 million education tax dollars to further this agenda.

Should it matter that when the House Education Committeeworkshopped strategies to “Close the Opportunity Gap”, the only invited speakers were from charter networks (KIPP, Uncommon and GreatHearts)? Should it matter that the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee only scheduled charter chains to speak during its workshop addressing “innovative” ways to close the achievement gap (Basis, Achievement First,IDEA, SEED)? Why not hear about successful district managed turnaround plans?

Should it matter that House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has made this bill a House priority, is married to a lawyer who founded a successful Pasco County’ Classical Preparatory (charter) School which is planning an expansion?

Should it matter that Rep. Manny Diaz Jr, who has been an outspoken proponent of this legislation (claiming “it is our moral responsibility to make this move and provide this option for our kids”), is employed by Florida’s largest charter chain, Academica?

Should it matter that the Florida Department of Education has repeated raised the bar and changed the School Grades calculations, which has potentially masked improvements and/or achievement of students in these so-called “failing” schools? In 2015, Commissioner Pam Stewart celebrated Florida ranking 7th in the nation in student achievement and reported that students in Florida who receive free and reduced lunches outperform those who receive free and reduced lunches in all other states. Is it possible these schools may have made significant gains that are unappreciated by the current accountability system?

Should it matter that school grades can be shown to be a reflection of the socioeconomic status of the student body? Researchers have been able to predict school grades based on US census data alone…

Should it matter that the FSA was never evaluated for fairness, reliability or validity for at risk sub populations of students, including low socioeconomic level, minorities and English Language Learners, the very kinds of students overrepresented in these chronically underperforming schools?

And finally, should it matter that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools and often perform worse? Sometime, charters appear to do better because they can control the types of students they choose to serve. And THIS may explain why, even when Speaker Corcoran is dangling $200 million under their noses, successful charter networks appear to be uninterested in becoming Florida’s “Schools of Hope”.

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.

“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.

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.