By Caroline Grannan
Parents Across America founding member, San Francisco
The so-called Parent Trigger continues to be peddled nationwide as a cure for challenged schools, despite a track record of zero successes and a history of misrepresentation by its backers.
The Parent Trigger is a process that allows parents who collect enough signatures on petitions to close their school or “force change,” including turning the school over to a charter operator.
In the latest Parent Trigger twist, parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., turned in petitions and a long list of demands to their school in early January. The parents were organized by Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles operation founded by charter school operator Steve Barr and amply funded by the Gates Foundation and other forces that back the currently favored corporate education “reforms.”
Parent Revolution’s signature tactic is attacking and blaming teachers, portraying them as selfish deadwood who obstruct kids’ education (and even as torturers).
Yet most of the Desert Trails parents’ demands are heartily shared by teachers, school administrators and teachers’ unions – and opposed by the corporate education reform forces that fund Parent Revolution.
The parents want smaller classes, but Bill Gates and other so-called-reformers advocate larger class sizes for low-income kids’ public schools (though not for their own kids’ elite private schools, needless to say).
The Desert Trails parents want arts, music and science, but the relentless, punitive testing regimen endorsed by Gates and his fellow corporate reformers has squeezed out everything but math, English and test prep – lots and lots of test prep.
The parents want resources that cost much more than the funding California schools receive – such as school nurses, more playground and hallway supervision, and wraparound community services including clinics in schools – but the corporate reformers insist that schools don’t need more money.
The parents want all teachers to have advanced degrees – yet the corporate reformers promote the message that beginner teachers are superior and disdain experienced teachers as deadwood. And the ongoing attacks, punishment and blame rained down on teachers by corporate reformers, including Parent Revolution, are geared toward driving many highly qualified teachers out of the profession.
The Desert Trails parents have inadvertently allied themselves with their children’s worst enemies.
To sum up the model of “reform” promoted by Parent Revolution’s funders and allies: It emphasizes increased testing and fewer enrichments; private operators’ taking advantage of profit opportunities from public education; regimented classroom practices and school climates for low-income students; and deprofessionalized and disrespected teachers – in fact, virtual education instead of teachers whenever possible. The corporate model of “reform” emphasizes profits for the private sector, not resources and enrichments for the kids at Desert Trails Elementary.
Parent Revolution is inciting frustrated parents to dismantle their kids’ school, but is it realistic for even these committed, capable and hardworking parents to take over and run a school? It’s a challenging, complex, labor-intensive and time-consuming task. Parent Revolution can’t help them, as its staff has no experience in schools. Parent Revolution has never transformed a school, improved a school or even worked in a school; its staff includes no educators.
What happens when the school is dismantled and it’s time to rebuild something from the wreckage?
Despite having achieved no successes in schools, Parent Revolution has won plenty of positive press – especially with its message that teachers are to blame for all the challenges of high-poverty schools. The organization has painted teachers as the enemy that must be demolished. Yet anyone with experience in a school community knows that waging war against teachers will not improve education; teachers must be partners.
Parents Across America strongly supports the Desert Trails parents’ call for smaller classes, more enrichments, adequate resources and highly qualified teachers. But turning for help to an organization that implicitly works against those goals, and waging war on the school’s educators, are not the roads to success.
Partnering with teachers, becoming deeply involved in school governance through the School Site Council and the PTA, volunteering in classrooms, and advocating for more support for schools will lead to real improvement. The Parent Trigger is a parent deception, not parent empowerment. It’s a distraction from the real work our schools require – implementing proven, common-sense strategies for parent involvement and meaningful education reform.