Update on parent trigger

The parent trigger is a hot issue in many states now. It started in California, launched by the organization Parent Revolution, a fake-grassroots operation founded by charter-school mogul Steve Barr and funded by the likes of Gates, Walton et al.

Here’s a summary of the current parent trigger landscape in California and a brief history of the previous parent triggers, put together from California sources who have followed the issue.

Parent Revolution currently has two or three parent triggers going and likely more in the wings, all of the known ones in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

It appears that in the current parent triggers, Parent Revolution has backed off its policy of all-out attacking the teachers, the administration and the district — backed off waging full-scale war on the school, as it did in Compton and Adelanto, its main previous parent triggers (see below).

Now it’s taking a mild tone, saying in effect, “Let’s work together to make some changes,” and the administrations and district are cheerfully responding, “OK!” Whether these changes are effective ones remains to be seen; they’re rather vaguely described. Parents could certainly have gotten involved on their own — through the PTA or PTO, or working with the School Site Council (the school governance councils in California, which include parents). There’s no reason they needed an outside operator like Parent Revolution. Many feel that at this point this is just Parent Revolution trying to justify its continued existence and continued funding from its wealthy backers.

Parent Revolution may well claim that it was able to rattle the saber because of the way it ripped apart communities in Compton and Adelanto, frightening administrators at the current parent trigger schools into responding and cooperating. It’s hard to know how to respond to that, though the soundness and ethics of attacking and ripping apart low-income school communities as a tactic, to enable subsequent saber-rattling, is highly questionable.

Here’s the background on California’s previous parent triggers:

McKinley Elementary School, Compton, Calif.: Compton is a high-poverty district in urban greater Los Angeles. (In the past, both its district and its community college have gone bust — the district went bankrupt and the community college lost its accreditation.)

This is what Parent Revolution claims as its first parent trigger, though there was a previous failed attempt that it pretends to have forgotten (see below).

Parent Revolution planned the Compton parent trigger, decided that a charter operator would take over the school, and chose the charter operator (Celerity) BEFORE deciding what locale and what school to target. Then it set up an operation run by paid operatives to go door to door in Compton collecting signatures. Parents have said that the approach by the signature gatherers is: “Sign here to improve your school.” Some said they were told the petition was to improve traffic safety around the school or to beautify the school.

The petition drive was rather furtive and there were no meetings or open public discussion of the effort (or the options). The district was taken by surprise when the petition was presented. There was a blaze of publicity. Many McKinley parents said they did not want the school to become a charter and wanted to rescind their signatures. At one school board meeting, reported in the press, “hundreds” of parents crowded the meeting to protest against becoming a charter.

Parent Revolution launched the effort as an all-out attack against the school, its teachers, and the school and district administration, and of course the teachers’ union — Parent Revolution is ferociously hostile to teachers’ unions, though it claims not to be. Parent Revolution filed charges accusing teachers of civil rights violations (the charges were reported in the press but there have been no follow-ups on what happened with them). There was conflict, hostility, rage, media frenzy.

Eventually a judge threw out the petitions on the basis that the signatures weren’t dated — meaning it couldn’t be confirmed that the signers were parents at the school at the time they signed. (Parent Revolution portrayed this as oppression, but since Parent Revolution sponsored California’s original parent trigger law, it can hardly claim ignorance of the fine points of the law.)

The Compton district found a site for Celerity to open a charter anyway. According to the press, only 20% of the McKinley students transferred to the charter they had supposedly been clamoring for. Actually, enrollment figures for McKinley show a 13% drop when the charter opened (and it’s not known whether all of those families transferred to the charter), so even 20% appears to be an exaggeration. Clearly, McKinley families were NOT clamoring for a charter and they DID vote with their feet — overwhelmingly to stay at McKinley.

Desert Trails Elementary, Adelanto, CA — Adelanto is a high-poverty and working-class town in the high desert east of L.A. If you have seen the movie “Erin Brockovich,” it’s not far from the town shown in the movie as polluted by PG&E. It’s said that the outside Parent Revolution operatives liked to compare themselves to Erin Brockovich, in fact.

In Compton, even though the parent trigger got overwhelmingly positive, unquestioning press coverage, eventually the fact that Parent Revolution orchestrated the entire operation from outside did start to come back to bite it. So they made a much bigger show of creating a supposed local parent organization, and Parent Revolution rented a house in town as a base of operations for the “local” organization.

There was a confusing setup in which parents were asked to sign two petitions. One asked for a long list of improvements at Desert Trails — largely items that the teachers and administrators would love too, but that are unaffordable without draining resources from the district’s other schools. (Ironically, some of these are things such as small class sizes that are widely derided by the “reform” movement of which Parent Revolution is a part. “Reformers” such as Michelle Rhee also deride the claim that schools need more funding.) The second petition called for turning the school into a charter. The signers were told that the second petition would just be used as leverage to win the demands in the first petition.

Then only the charter petition was presented. There was outrage, anger, conflict and hostility. Many parents wanted to rescind their signatures. Parent Revolution did a massive PR campaign blasting the teachers, their union, the school administration and the district administration. It wound up in court and a judge ruled that the parents could NOT rescind their signatures — “gotcha!” — disempowering the parents, obviously. There is language in the parent trigger law that clearly states that signers CAN rescind their signatures, so it’s unclear how the judge came to that conclusion.

Eventually the proceedings for a charter operator takeover continued. Parents who signed the petition were invited to vote among two or three charter operators who were bidding to take over the school. 53 parents voted, out of a school with a student population of more than 600. They overwhelmingly chose one operator. That operator runs a school in the greater general area that is far, far smaller than Desert Trails and serves a much lower-poverty population — it also serves a much lower-poverty population than its surrounding district, indicating that it’s handpicking students, which it supposedly can’t do when it takes over Desert Trails. Thus the charter operator has no experience running a school such as Desert Trails. That operator is to take over as of the 2013-14 school year.

The most visible Desert Trails parent in support of the parent trigger was Doreen Diaz. She has since been hired as a paid staffer by Parent Revolution. In the recent efforts to pass a parent trigger law in Texas, she testified before the legislature, representing herself as just a parent activist (as opposed to a paid operative) — Parent Revolution staffers have done this elsewhere too, such as in Florida. But when Diaz was asked point-blank while speaking to the Texas legislature if she was a paid Parent Revolution staffer, she admitted she was, and there was quite an explosive reaction among the legislators to her sudden admission that she was misrepresenting herself.

The previous “forgotten” parent trigger effort: This was at Mount Gleason Middle School in Sunland-Tujunga, a district near Los Angeles (pronunciation: Ta-HUNG-a). A former parent at the school, Lydia Grant, started a petition drive. She initially wanted to turn it over to a charter operator, but couldn’t get any parent support for the petition. Then she changed to wanting to replace the principal. Apparently she was succeeding in collecting some signatures.

The Los Angeles Daily News (which covers the L.A. suburban area and is aggressively anti-public-school, anti-teacher and pro-“reform” in both its editorial positions and its news coverage) wrote a positive story about Grant’s petition drive.

But Grant’s petition effort seems to have quietly fizzled. It appears that it never got the staff/operational support that Parent Revolution provided at McKinley, Desert Trails etc. Perhaps Parent Revolution wasn’t willing to support an actual grassroots effort truly generated by a member of the school community, as opposed to its initiatives orchestrated from outside.

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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