Archives for category: Parent trigger

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.
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.


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.

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.”


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.

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.”


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.
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.
“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.”

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,

Two parents who fought the takeover of their public school and its conversion to a charter school have been charged with vandalizing the school last June. They deny the charges.

The vandalism occurred at the Desert Trails elementary school in Adelanto, California, which was the site of a bitter battle among parents after the state’s “parent trigger” law was invoked. The school is the first school where the 2010 law led to a charter conversion. The parent trigger law and the conversion process in Adelanto was led by a group called Parent Revolution, funded by the Walton Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, and the Gates Foundation.

During the battle over the future of the school, parents were divided, lawsuits were filed, and ultimately only 50 parents chose a charter operator for a school of 600 children.

Some lessons:

One, vandalizing a school is wrong, no matter who does it or for what reason. It is criminal. Those who committed this crime must be held accountable.

Two, the parent trigger process is inherently divisive, tearing communities apart, when parents, teachers, and the community should all work together on behalf of the children.

Three, the “parent trigger” is a failed law, created during the Schwarzenegger era to allow charter operators to take over public schools by slick campaigns. Four years after its passage, there is only one school that has been taken over, after a divisive campaign, and there is still no evidence that charter operators can provide better education than properly resourced public schools.

Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution, recently wrote a post for Huffington Post saying that “community power” saved Superintendent John Deasy, whose job was on the line in Los Angeles.

Parent Revolution is an organization funded by the Walton Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation to promote the “parent trigger,” that is, to encourage parents to seize control of their public schools and impose changes, such as handing the school over to a private charter operator and/or firing the staff.

Ellen Lubic, a professor and community activist, wrote the following commentary on Austin’s post. She begins with introductory remarks, then follows with a point-by-point dialogue.

I welcome a response from Ben Austin.

Lubic writes:

I have taken this opportunity to respond to Ben Austin’s misleading account about the events at the LAUSD Board of Education meeting on Oct. 29 wherein the Board was to decide on extending Supt. John Deasy’s contract. I am a semi-retired higher education professor of public policy and an educational researcher and have been in this field of education for 40 years. I grew up in Los Angeles and attended public schools from elementary through university. Last winter I started Joining Forces for Education, an organization of retired teachers who believe strongly in public schooling and are dismayed at the overarching rush by billionaires such as Broad, Waltons, Murdoch, Kochs, Anshutz, Peterson, Bloomberg, Tilson, and others, to privatize them so as to make all public education in America a free market opportunity for accumulating wealth. We also are focused on the many dangers of flawed laws like the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010 which too often are used to manipulate uninformed parents into turning over their schools to profit making charter operators who use ill trained Teach for America students at low cost, and who fire long term, highly trained professional teachers, to improve their profit margin.

The misleading article by Ben Austin needs some first hand correction. I will do this point by point as I was in the midst of this ‘show’ for many hours, from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM, waiting to enter the BoE building on Beaudry, and then I was in the Board Room. As a handicapped, older educator, I was the first one permitted to enter the building on this very strange day and found myself inadvertently in the midst of the Austin-paid day of partying that he now calls “a huge public outcry.”

[What follows is point-counterpoint, identified by author.]


Last week, something extraordinary happened
Grassroots organizations across Los Angeles organized and fought against powerful special interests and long odds. For one single moment the people of Los Angeles stood together for the simple proposition that we must elevate our kids above our politics. And the people won.
The “special interests” Austin alludes to are the parents, teachers, and community, and the taxpayers of California…We, the People. As opposed to the special interests who paid for this day of scripted actors and a phony scenario, the tycoons law firms and PR firms representatives who beat the drums for this media device, using highly paid organizers from Parent Revolution and United Way.
This carefully orchestrated photo op event was put on by Ben Austin and his young Westside followers from Parent Revolution, the group he started in 2009 with major financing from the Waltons of WalMart fame, Eli Broad of the Broad Academy which trains CEOs like Deasy to run school districts according to a business model, and some others of the wealthiest people in the world, and also the ever questionable United Way. The two event leaders, Gabe and Ryan, both young men in suits and paid in the neighborhood of a reported $200,000 a year to help run these “non profits” rapidly drummed up this dramatic scenario over the weekend before the LAUSD Board of Education meeting on Oct. 29 when the Board would evaluate a new 3 year contract for Supt. John Deasy.
Deasy, who we are told leaked to the the LA Times that he had resigned the previous Wednesday, was helped with this created “public outcry for him to stay” by about 100 – 160 bussed-in inner city people. This group of mainly Latino community members, included a few older women who spoke as parents, but many were young ‘partying’ Latino youth who claimed that they were paid for the day of acting and who all clapped and cheered when Monica Garcia entered the Bd. room. Gabe and Ryan also arranged for Teach for America teachers to leave their classrooms, making taxpayers foot the bill for substitute teachers. There were many staff and young lawyers from the various law firms which work for Broad and the billionaires seeking to privatize public schools. These were the people handing out free food and drink to the bussed-in actors and even to a homeless man who participated in their chants.
Although Austin claims to have had a major group of collaborators in attendance, many of those he lists claim not to have been any part of this PR stunt, nor to have known about it.
When I drove up to the building in early morning I saw the most unusual sight of a row of buses, a large police presence, and many media vans parked in the red zone. There were about 100 or so people milling around the front entry although the line for the public was not very long. At the front of the line was Ben Austin looking every bit a ‘surfer dude’ in a grimy plaid jacket and unkempt hair. He was ‘high fiving’ with many of his group at the ‘coup’ he felt he had pulled off. He claims not to have gotten into the meeting yet he was in the front of the line, so if he chose not to enter the meeting room, it was not for lack of seating since at least 1/4 of the room was empty. Many his cute young Westside supporters in their green Parent Rev t-shirts were there. However, I did notice that most of the day’s actors did leave after the photo op, so they were not very serious about this vital Board meeting. They had had much fun, for pay we were told, outside the Room.
The media bought in to all of this. They interviewed only pro Deasy folks, and did not seem to seek out others who were there who were anti Deasy. This became the spin on the evening news…just as Austin be. The power of the billionaires PR and law firms is vast and showed clearly that day. I personally went up to a KNX reporter after the meeting and volunteered to be interviewed in response to this set up. She talked with me for at least 20 minutes, but the evening news reflected only what Austin and his collaborators had intended, and no mention was made of the anti Deasy people who were not allowed to speak.
In the Board room, I sat next to an older well dressed man who was taking notes even faster and more detailed than I. I noticed he had a credential hanging from a Stanford Law School lanyard and I asked him if he was Deasy’s lawyer. He seemed embarrassed and defensive and said he was not a lawyer, though he quickly took off and pocketed the lanyard. He was quite out of place seated in the midst of the yellow daisy brigade, those who had been handed daisies by the young lawyers leading the show (daisies for Deasy chants, and to be easily recognized by Vanessa, the monitor who handed them, alone, speaker’s forms). The young Latino men seated behind me told me that they loved the day and that Monica Garcia was wonderful and they came at her personal invitation.
I spoke with many of the participants, from the dozens of young SCRIPTED chanters, to the young women lawyers in blue jeans who handed out the their hand painted signs for the actors to carry in a protest circle for benefit of the media which filmed it all. Gabe and Ryan were also handing out printed sheets of paper with both chants and talking points for the actors to use. I was amazed at how rapidly these power brokers had pull off this detailed media event. Young inner city participants told me that they had been called over the weekend and were both mandated, and wooed, to attend.
How did that happen? While the LAUSD still has a long way to go, for the past three years it has been steadily improving in a number of key categories. Under Superintendent John Deasy’s leadership, LAUSD students have been learning more, scoring higher and graduating in greater numbers. They’ve also been suspended a lot less.But change is hard. Lots of politicians spend a lot of time talking about kids. But a genuine kids-first agenda — where we make every single decision as if it would literally impact our own children — still remains disturbingly radical when compared to the status quo.Two weeks ago, word leaked that Dr. Deasy might be leaving. Dr. Deasy often faces powerful opponents who challenge his independent, kids-first agenda. These interest groups have been working for years to push him out. This was their moment.
The teachers of LAUSD voted an overwhelming 91% NO CONFIDENCE in Deasy some weeks prior to this farce meeting on Oct. 29. Voices from all over Los Angeles County and the entire state complained for many weeks at the terrible decisions of Deasy, the Broad anointed Supt., and his Broad grad pal, Asst. Supt. Aquino, not only about the firing of innocent teachers, the embedding of charter schools in public school venues, keeping so many in teacher jail, and not reporting egregious teacher offenders to the State as required by Education Code, but mainly about the huge $1 BILLION dollar expenditure of taxpayer money for iPads at over retail cost and with no keyboards and no plan for WiFi (which had been investigated by a prior Board as a serious and dangerous health issue for young children) and for having made no plan for who was responsible for loss/theft/breakage of these soon to be outdated iPads. Deasy had been the education face of these iPads when Apple advertised them for school use, and he was also a stockholder, so many people question what seemed a sweetheart deal.
As to word being leaked to the LA Times of the Deasy resignation, the ‘insider’ information at the Times is that Deasy and his crew were the leakers, so as to prepare for this charade of phony “public” support. Some weeks prior to this meeting, Monica Garcia, the big Deasy supporter on the Board, sent out a cyber letter by eblast from her office at Beaudry to support Deasy, but she signed it with the names of two others. These kinds of things have muddied the truth for a long time. A few weeks ago the other Deasy Board supporter, Tamar Galatzan, decided for the first time in LAUSD history, to call for censure of the Board’s current president for accusations made against him from 12 years ago, and already a settled issue, but she clearly set this up to deflect from the investigation of the committee headed by new Board member Monica Ratliff, into the financing and choice decisions surrounding the iPad fiasco. (Jaime Aquino in public testimony called all the real and vast public outcry, including articles by the LA Times, just “NOISE” and said it was a minor distraction.) This investigation is now turning up many financial and other decisions made by Deasy and his staff wtih NO transparency to the Board nor the public which foots all the bills and should be his ultimate employer.
With this vast amount of publicly voiced disapproval, Deasy should have been gone, and not given another 3 years of these ill advised decisions which could easily lead to to bankrupting LAUSD. In private sector he would have been removed long ago, but with the lawyers from the biggest and most powerful law firms in America, who represent Eli Broad (who got Deasy hired without a search forother candidates), Bloomberg, Murdoch, Waltons (all of whom who poured money into the LAUSD School Board elections), and their ilk, who are determined to make public education a huge free market investment opportunity, and with their well paid toadies like Deasy and the mendacious and manipulative Ben Austin, a majority of the Board renewed his contract. This is a travesty.
During a 72-hour window leading up to the board meeting, parents looked at each other and realized that nobody was coming to their rescue. Parents recognized that they must become the change. So they organized. One mom at my daughter’s neighborhood elementary school even organized parents during our annual “Halloween Haunt” festival.
Austin lives on the Westside among the weathiest LA residents.
As to how this event was all put together, you can read the Ravitch posts of Oct. 28, 29, 30 to see the real facts with the actual tweets between the leaders of Parent Rev and United Way as to how to do this for the most media impact. A farce all the way…Moliere could not have done it better.
The day was all phony! It was a set up, all orchestrated by the lawyers and PR folks, from the phony orange robe the young lawyers and Gabe and Ryan handed to a young woman to pretend she was a recent high school grad, to the setting up the circle of Latinos who were told to keep their faces angry and aimed always at the media cameras as they chanted the scripted words while carrying the signs made by the leadership, to the lawyers handing out of the daisies for the hired ‘Public” to wear behind their ears, and then, the coup de gras of speaking to the Board.
I was first person to enter the Board Room and immediately requested a speaker’s form from the Board’s monitor, Vanessa, to give my testimony to the Board and the public. She stood near a phalanx of police who lined the wall of the room. I was told emphatically that no one would speak that day. However within mere moments, some of the bussed in folks with their daisies were handed numbered speakers forms. I again asked the monitor, Vanessa, for a form, and again she told me I was not allowed to speak, that only the bussed-in women could speak.
This was the most undemocratic, one-sided, set up I have ever witnessed at a public meeting in a building owned by the public. A few other people who were against rehiring Deasy asked for forms and they too were turned down. Only the pro Deasy ‘actors’ were given forms. They mainly testified in Spanish with an English translator generally reading from a script as to what they said. I spoke with some of these women outside as we waited so many hours for the meeting to begin, and they all spoke to me in English, but by using Spanish to give their testimony, and then with the translator, they each got 10 minutes to make their points, whereas the public comments are limited by the Board to only 3 minutes each. Only Mr. Walter Wattles, an older and most erudite member of the public who, I was told, was a former teacher, and who attends most meetings, was finally allowed to speak against the Deasy contract renewal. He had only 3 minutes to make his points, which spoke for all of us who recognize the many faults of this Superintendent.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and civic leaders across the political spectrum one by one stood up and stood behind this organic grassroots movement.United Teachers of Los Angeles, the local teachers union, stood alone — politically isolated on this seminal issue. Not even other teachers unions would support UTLA’s extreme cause.
At the end of the meeting, Warren Fletcher, president of UTLA came forward and demanded that a substitute teacher who had been screamed at, maligned and insulted, and fired on the spot, in a fit of uncontrolled rage by Deasy, and in front of her class, be allowed to speak about this incident. She did give her powerful testimony, and together with that of Wattles, and the No Confidence vote of thousands of teachers, and all the issues presented over many months by a multitude of teachers, it was clear that there are so many factors of his questionable behaviors, that Deasy should never have been rehired.
So what really happened behind those closed doors?
Following this outpouring of public support, Dr. Deasy emerged from last week’s school board meeting with an agreement to remain as superintendent through 2016.
Austin’s claim of an “outpouring of public support” is the biggest lie of all…there was NO “outpouring of public support” but rather it was a pay day and party day for all the hired actors, the scammed inner city attendees, and all the support staff from the law and PR offices and non profits which were active in the charade. I researched some of these non profits, and their Boards are filled with lawyers from the same powerful firms who represent the tycoons behind it all. These purveyors of planned disruption, all paid by a hidden community of vast wealth and power, created a totally dishonest scenario. They manipulated uninformed inner city people of color once again.
This sham was put in place not by the public, but by the power players who forced their voices to be the only ones heard.

How did community power save the superintendent?Saving Dr. Deasy did not happen because of the traditional power players: Mayors, philanthropists, unions or any other traditional institutional interest group. It didn’t even happen because of Dr. Deasy. He was actively discouraging his supporters — making it very clear that he felt it was time for him to go. Parents kept going despite his admonitions because this wasn’t about any single person. It was about our kids.
Clearly the manipulation by Deasy and his supporters used the non profits of Austin’s Parent Revloution, and United Way, to put this day together. Sadly, not only former Mayor Tony Villaraigosa who now works for the ponzi company Herbalife and who bragged about closing LAUSD public schools in favor of charter schools, and charter supporter and new Mayor Eric Garcetti whose wife worked for former Mayor Riordan to set up his Catholic School Charters, got in on this farce.
Austin ‘spins’ this to say the actual, voiceless real public, We the People with no access to the best law firms in the nation and no endless funding by the billioniares who even seek to manipulate our local elections, that we are the “power players”…. while Broad, Murdoch, the Waltons, Bloomberg, et al, are the downtrodden supporters of the communities living in poverty. It would be laughable if were not really the most disgusting deception.
The media repeatedly falls for this artifice and created spin. Are they just lazy, or do they collude for their own profit?
Austin speaks of doing this for “our kids” when his kids, and those of all the major players in this day of infamy, go to the best schools in Los Angeles, both public and private. None of them are inner city parents struggling to survive. Austin earns his big income (only a portion of which is approximately $250,000 from donations mainly from the Waltons to Parent Revolution) by using the inner city parents to his own end, and to further the goals of his benefactors, the Waltons, who support ‘parent trigger laws’ to break the unions, Teach for America to fire well trained teachers and use inexperienced and ill trained youngsters at minimum cost in their place, and ‘stand your ground gun laws’ for all Americans. The Waltons, now listed by Forbes as the richest family in the world, choose to starve their employees with low wages, and teach them how to apply for food stamps and free health care at the expense of the public, the taxpayers. These are Ben Austin’s bosses who pay him handsomely to manipulate society in their behalf.

If this movement did have a single leader, it was the team at United Way of Greater Los Angeles. They helped to organize this loose coalition of over 60 organizations, and they stood up and took and action when we had very little time or hope.But there were dozens of other leaders. Grassroots community organizations like Alliance for a Better Community, Community Coalition and Inner City Struggle helped to lead this movement partly because of Dr. Deasy’s commitment to poor communities and communities of color.Parent leaders like Amabilia Villeda, who serves as chapter coordinator for the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union, helped turn out dozens of parents to support Dr. Deasy. Amabilia and other parents worked collaboratively with Dr. Deasy to transform their failing school using California’s landmark parent trigger law. Today their children attend the first-ever school where the district is working collaboratively with a charter school to serve the same kids, while also providing free universal preschool for all neighborhood kids. Parent Union members spoke movingly about Dr. Deasy visiting them in the rain to extend his hand in partnership.
There was one parent there speaking for 24th Street, and these better informed parents chose not to turn their school over to be charterized, and instead worked with the administration to promote some positive change. This was unlike Adelanto/Desert Trails and Wiegand where minimally informed parent groups were manipulated to vote for change and then got charterized.
The scripted parents who spoke to the Board were not true representatives of the plethora of LAs inner city communities and parents. Not one representative of the tens of thousands of unhappy parents who are outraged by the Deasy administration, and who want public schools enriched, but not charterized, was allowed to speak at this ‘fix’ of a meeting.
Why did the BoE allow this?

Parents waited in line for hours to get into the meeting, even though many didn’t get in, including me. They passed the time by passing out “Daisies for Deasy.” In one resounding collective voice, the chants from hundreds of parents and community leaders could be heard from blocks away: “Don’t be Crazy — Keep Doc Deasy!”
This is pure baloney. Everyone waited for hours, not just the bussed in actors. There were only a few inner city parents, of those who were bussed in, who chose to stay and speak in favor of Deasy while the rest went home after the media left. They were given free food and drink as they waited outside. Music was played by the leaders for their enjoyment in this party atmosphere all set up by Gabe and Ryan at great monetary expense. One reporter estimated that it cost the leaders over $40, 000 to put on this media event party. Yes, the loud speakers that Gabe and Ryan had set up magnified the shouting from the printed chants they handed out, and that all their high paid professional worker bees led, loudly. It was a mind-bending sham and truly Goebbels-like behavior.
These are the unsung heroes whom our children may never thank, but who stepped up for them when it mattered.Under the leadership of Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic, the LAUSD school board listened to the will of the parents and the will of the people. Now is the time for all adults on all sides of this debate to start acting like grown-ups, including Dr. Deasy and his supporters.
We the real People, we the taxppayers and parents, need to hear from the Board about this travesty and why they colluded with the billionaire opportunists to orchestrate such a blatant undemocratic situtation? We need to know why they would allow the ‘use’ of the bussed-in community of color to make their singular scripted pro-Deasy points while those of us who wanted to testify as to Deasy’s faults were not permitted to speak? We find this disrespectful to all. Also we need to hear from Steve Zimmer who has done an about face since his election.
And we need to know why the Board extended the contract of this shoddy Superintendent for another 3 years? The Board got many angry emails from endless real community members who were outraged at this manipulated dance, but to date the Board has refused to reply to their electors.
It is time for us all to find candidates who are not intimidated by the wealth of the power players who actually run/own LAUSD, and the big businesses which grease so many palms for unjust enrichment. We need honest brokers for education.


Moving forward, everyone must commit to live by one simple rule: if it’s not okay on the playground, it’s not okay in our politics either. This is not about adult interests or petty political games. It’s about our kids. Anyone who deviates from that simple rule, as one mom at the board meeting scolded, we’ll have to put in a time-out.
“Time out” Austin says…yes, these robber barons would love us, the informed and activist public, to sit quietly while they play out their schemes to enrich themselves as they are diminishing the educations of our students in public school, and generations of students to come….all for an investment opportunity and profit. They want to shut down our voices while they continue to pick our pockets.
Ben Austin, whose resume reads like a story of a master of manipulation, from his Sacramento shenanigans, to his two full time jobs paid by taxpayer money while working for both Villaraigosa and the city of LA, and concurrently for Green Dot Charter School’s former director, Steve Barr. And now it seems payback time and Steve Barr, Austin’s not so Secret Sharer in the Deasy/Broad/Walton escapade, is still working at operating charter schools for major profit even though he left Green Dot under a cloud. This is all information that can be researched online.
Ben Austin is not a person to look to for truth telling, nor for pure motives.
Ben Austin is the executive director of Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents striving to improve their children’s education. Ben is the proud parent of two young daughters.
Various of these groups Austin lists below say that they were not part of this charade. Those participating were mainly supporters Michelle Rhee and Eli Broad, who are both board members and/or directors of some of these “non profits.” Other reports show only about a dozen organzations that were active participants on Oct. 29.


Community groups and organizations that turned out at the rally, aided with organizing efforts, or voiced their support to save Superintendent John Deasy’s job include: Alliance for a Better Community, ACLU of So Cal, the Advancement Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend The Arc, Campaign for College Opportunity, CARECEN, CCSA, CFY LA, Children Now, CHIRLA, City Year, Community Coalition, Communities in Schools, Educators 4 Excellence, Ed Pioneers, EdVoice, Families In Schools, Goodwill of So Cal, Green Dot,, KIPP LA, LA Gay & Lesbian Center, LA Small Schools Center, LACER Afterschool Programs, LA Educational Partnership, LA Gay and Lesbian Center, LAMP Community Center, Lanai Road Education Committee, LA Urban League, LA Voice, Mind Research Institute, Music Center, New Teacher Center, Parent Partnership, Parent Revolution, Parent Institute for Quality Education, Partnership for LA Schools, SEIU 99, Students for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, Students Matter, Teach For America, Teach Plus, The California Endowment, Think Together, UCLA Center X, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and the Youth Policy Institute.

Joanne Barkan has an excellent essay in Dissent magazine that explains how foundations founded by plutocrats use their wealth and political power to damage democracy.

She uses the example of public education to demonstrate how a small number of large foundations have captured control of public policy, taking it out of the hands of voters and parents to impose their will and get what they want.

She offers the examples of the AstroTurf groups created by the Gates Foundation; these are groups that pretend to represent local, grassroots groups but in fact carry out the wishes of the plutocrats.

Then there is the example of grants offered to districts that ar contingent on certain officials remaining in office.

Then there is TE example of the “parent trigger,” which manipulates parents to hand over their public school to a private corporation.

And another example is the practice of the Broad Foundation, which underwrites the salary of certain public officials to ensure that it gets its way.

She asks a god question: why are these plutocrats allowed to get tax breaks as they impose their control over and subvert a democratic institution?

This is a subject that deserves a book-length treatment. With her meticulous research skills and her understanding of the political dynamics involved, Joanne Barkan is just the one to do it.

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University here dissects the fundamental flaws at the heart of the corporate reform agenda.

This is the set of policy prescriptions that he reviews:

What I have found most intriguing over time is that the central messaging of these reformy template policy prescriptions is that they will necessarily improve accountability and transparency of education systems, and that they will do so largely by improving the responsiveness of those intractable systems through altered governance and finance, including but not limited to “market” based choice mechanisms.

The standard list of strategies that are supposedly designed to increase accountability and transparency of our education system include, among other things:

  1. Expansion of charter schools, coupled with multiple charter authorizers (including private entities) and minimized charter regulation
  2. Adoption of tuition tax credit programs providing individuals and corporations the option to forgo paying a portion of taxes by contributing that amount to a privately governed entity (or entities) that manages tuition scholarships to privately governed/managed schools.
  3. Parent trigger policies that permit a simple majority of parents of children currently attending any school within a district to mandate that the local board of education displace the entire staff of the school and potentially turn over governance and management of school’s operations (and physical/capital assets?) to a private management company to be operated as a charter school.

It is argued that current large bureaucratic public education systems are simply intractable, non-responsive and can’t be improved – That they are simply not accountable to anyone because they are run by corrupt self-interested public officials elected by less than 2% of eligible voters (turnout for board elections) and that they have no incentive to be responsive because they are guaranteed a constantly growing pot of revenue regardless of performance/quality/responsiveness.

Whatever problems do exist with the design of our public bureaucracies, I would argue that we should exercise extreme caution in accepting uncritically the belief that we could not possibly do worse, and that large scale privatization and contracting of private entities to provide the public good is necessarily a better and more responsive, more efficient, transparent and accountable option.

Read the entire post. He shows, step by step, why each of these claims are misleading; and why they do not lead to greater accountability or transparency, or even to better outcomes for students.

In his analysis of “parent trigger,” he writes:

Parent trigger is quite possibly the most ludicrous corruption of public governance and accountability on the education reformy education policy table. Put simply, parent trigger is the most ill-conceived subversion of governance I’ve seen out there in the reformy playbook.

And he explains why.

It is an important read.


I posted a link to this article yesterday. It is hilarious. It is a conference call in which Ben Austin, the leader of Parent Revolution, talks to Congressman George Miller, the senior Democrat in the House of Representatives. P-Rev is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Miller is beloved by the charter lobby and has received generous campaign contributions by the Wall Street hedge fund group DFER (Democrats for Education Reform).

Unfortunately, the link was taken down by someone at MyEdNext, and the article is no longer available online. I asked the author for permission to print the article, and she sent it to me for your reading pleasure.

Here it is.

‘Parents Can Only Listen’

I attended a conference call today initiated and led by Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution, to honor “National Parents Day.” The call from start to finish focused on the complexity of the parent trigger law, the controversy, the process, and the status of California schools.

Although the call’s password was “Parents,” parents couldn’t ask questions – only reporters could. Perhaps Parent Revolution should consider a name change or a re-branding.

I’m confused.

A few minutes into the call, a personable Ben Austin stated, “We’ve been outspent 100 to 1 by opponents of parent trigger.” Florida parents were opponents of parent trigger. I’m certain the money depleted from my personal savings account and those of the dynamo parents from Stop Parent Trigger and Fund Education Florida and others wouldn’t total a fraction of what Parent Revolution spent. I would have asked him to elaborate if parents were allowed to participate in the Parent Revolution, National Parents Day conference call but, we weren’t.

Austin later stated that there is well-funded opposition to Parent Revolution to the tune of $8 billion. Wow! As parents we shared packages of almonds and granola bars in the senate gallery vs. eating lunch outside because we spent our savings on travel expenses, child care, and shared hotel rooms. Maybe whoever has that $8B can buy us lunch in Tallahassee next year?

Austin reflected, ”I wish I had the army of lobbyists our opponents had.” The Florida lobbyist directory shows that the California firm, Parent Revolution, has three lobbyists registered in Florida along with Students First’s five Florida lobbyists, added to the eight from Jeb Bush’s Foundation. That’s 16 paid lobbyists not to mention Florida’s Charter Consortium, the Charter Alliance Group and each individual charter with multiple lobbyists who all advocated for parent trigger. That represents an estimated 220 paid lobbyists. I think Mr. Austin has his army in place, don’t you?

I’m confused.

When describing the controversy surrounding parent trigger, Austin discussed “conspiracy theories.” To counter a widely held theory, Austin definitively stated: “Parent Revolution opposes all for-profit charters.” Say what? Wait a minute. Parent Revolution was founded by Green Dot charter school chain operator, Steve Barr. Green Dot operates 18 schools in LA and will expand to handle multiple turnaround schools in Memphis in 2014.

Many charter chains register as “non profits” then set up “for-profit” firms to handle facilities, food services, operations. Does Green Dot charters have for profit firms operating their schools? If so, does Ben Austin oppose them? For-profit charter management is almost always the case in Florida. Mr. Austin, that’s not a conspiracy theory–that’s a fact.

I’m confused. Grassroots?

Mr. Austin talked about Parent Revolution being a grassroots effort. In 2012, Parent Revolution’s funders included: the Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers. This is anything but ‘grassroots.’

If Florida parents, who are in the trenches at schools, in board meetings, in the state capitol fighting for all children, could have 10% of Parent Revolution’s funds, we’d put education back on track in our state. I’d appreciate it if Mr. Austin would mount a campaign for that.

I’m confused. Parents represent the status quo?

Also participating in this call was Parent Revolution’s ‘hero’ Congressman George Miller-D (Martinez). In a quote released the day before Rep Miller said, “We can no longer pay lip service to parental involvement in schools. Instead parents must stand up and say that the status quo isn’t good enough for their children.” Say what?

Isn’t Rep Miller still the head of the Committee on Labor and Education? He was, I believe, for over a decade. Hasn’t he held office over 35 years? Yet now Rep Miller admits to paying lip service to parents in a conference call where parents are not allowed to ask questions! Forgive me, Congressman Miller, but I do believe you are the status quo.

Congressman Miller also said, “Parent trigger gives parents a voice and a say in the involvement in the quality of their child’s school. They have a right to be heard.” Just not on this conference call, I suppose. Congressman Miller, where can Florida parents be heard and when? We’ll be there.

I’m confused. No measurements?

Two great reporters asked substantive questions. It was unfortunate that Congressman Miller left before reporters were allowed to ask questions.

The first was Natasha Lindstrom. She asked: “What key measurements, Mr. Austin, are you looking for to determine if these turnarounds work?” Austin’s immediate reply was, “well, this is a two steps forward, one step back type process.” Say what? Mr. Austin seemed to take us on a tour of his stream of consciousness as he searched for a better reply. He talked about being a public school parent and how his daughter’s school is a good school. He said the benchmarks would “not be just test scores!” He discussed his favorite topic of the day being dead animal carcasses in a turnaround school where parents were forced to demand the carcasses be removed for health reasons. He concluded with, “if parents are happy with their child’s education, then it’s successful.” That’s a nice, straightforward answer. However Natasha Lindstrom asked for key measurements which, as you know, dangles over the heads of public school educators like a cleaver hung with dental floss.

To add to my confusion. Parent Revolution’s website states their goal is “to improve academic outcomes.” How does Mr. Austin expect to accomplish that without key measurements as factors? Perhaps they will change their goal to read “happy parents” so the website is properly aligned with what its Director says.

I’m confused. Relevant?

Next up was the K-12 News Network journalist, Cynthia Liu. Her spot-on question and follow up went directly to the core of the controversy over parent trigger. “Aren’t the examples you gave of effective parent petitions at Haddon Elementary and 24th Street Elementary evidence that Parent Revolution is irrelevant?” Boom!

Remarkably, the most memorable quote of the call followed that question when Mr. Austin said: “Parents don’t need Parent Revolution.” (No kidding, he actually said that!)

He explained that parents can work through PTAs and local school councils with grassroots petitions. Gee, Parents Across Florida has said that for years. Then Mr. Austin gave a lengthy example of a Los Angeles school that organized a protest demanding common sense changes. He said no one responded to them. So Parent Revolution, he concluded, is needed. It is relevant in cases like that.

However, if I’m not mistaken, the example he provided when no one empowered responded to parents was one that Parent Revolution was already involved in. Could that be why parent’s demands went unanswered? Could it be that the school was paralyzed over the turmoil created by a controversial third party with a reputation for instigating long court battles and creating divisiveness in communities?

I’m confused. Petition names can be rescinded?

The holy crow moment for me was when Mr. Austin stated: “Of course parents can rescind their names from a petition.” How many months of turmoil did the Adelanto, CA court case cost when their organization refused to allow parents to rescind their names and took them to court? How much did that cost taxpayers? Say what?

In what seemed to be a teeter-totter pattern of responding in this call, Ben Austin then jumped on the other side to say: “But, of course, signing a petition is just like voting.” He gave an example of someone who voted for President Obama in November but then chose to rescind afterwards. While the analogy is interesting, it simply doesn’t apply. A petition on a clipboard shoved at you by someone guaranteeing they’ll “improve the school with nurses, after school care, more books, etc.” while you’re dashing off to work is a far cry from casting a vote for President on election day. Good try though.

I learned that July 28th is National Parents Day.
I learned that a school in Los Angeles has a problem with dead animal carcasses being removed.
I learned that Parent Revolution sees parents as “them and us.”
I learned that a long time chair of an education committee says he wants to give parents a voice– now.
I learned that as much as I try to understand Parent Revolution’s position, their Executive Director confuses me.

Rita Solnet, Florida