Posts Tagged ‘Parent Trigger’

Save the date!

February 1, 2013

Former California State Senator (and head of California’s Democrats for Education Reform) Gloria Romero will be in the Austin-area on February 27 and would like to talk to parents. Please let us know if you would be interested in attending!

The Suburban Education Gap

November 16, 2012

The U.S. economy could be $1 trillion a year stronger if Americans only performed at Canada’s level in math.

By ARTHUR LEVINE

Parents nationwide are familiar with the wide academic achievement gaps separating American students of different races, family incomes and ZIP Codes. But a second crucial achievement gap receives far less attention. It is the disparity between children in America’s top suburban schools and their peers in the highest-performing school systems elsewhere in the world.

Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program for International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for relatively well-off American students: Of American 15-year-olds with at least one college-educated parent, only 42% are proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study of the PISA results. That is compared with 75% proficiency for all 15-year-olds in Shanghai and 50% for those in Canada.

Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world—in Finland and Singapore—very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

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David Gothard

The problem America faces, then, is that its urban school districts perform inadequately compared with their suburban counterparts, and its suburban districts generally perform inadequately compared with their international counterparts. The domestic achievement gap means that the floor for student performance in America is too low, and the international achievement gap signals that the same is true of the ceiling. America’s weakest school districts are failing their students and the nation, and so are many of America’s strongest.

The domestic gap means that too many poor, urban and rural youngsters of color lack the education necessary to obtain jobs that can support a family in an information economy in which low-end jobs are disappearing. This hurts the U.S. economically, exacerbates social divisions, and endangers our democratic society by leaving citizens without the requisite knowledge to participate effectively.

The international gap, meanwhile, hurts the ability of American children to obtain the best jobs in a global economy requiring higher levels of skills and knowledge. This economy prizes expertise in math, science, engineering, technology, language and critical thinking.

The children in America’s suburban schools are competing for these jobs not only against each other and their inner-city and rural neighbors, but against peers in Finland and Singapore, where students are better-prepared. The international achievement gap makes the U.S. less competitive and constitutes a threat to national strength and security. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has estimated that America would add $1 trillion annually to its economy if it performed at Canada’s level in math.

So what do Americans do? We talk a great deal about the achievement gap. We write books and reports about it. We wring our hands at its existence. We adopt a revolving door of short-term reforms in response. But nearly 30 years after the alarming federal report “A Nation at Risk,” not one major urban district has been turned around. Many of our suburban school districts are losing ground. We have settled on a path of global mediocrity for students attending our most affluent schools and national marginality for those attending failing inner-city schools.

A Hollywood drama released in September, “Won’t Back Down,” offered an alternative. It told the story of two parents (one a teacher) determined to transform their children’s failing school in the face of opposition from administrators, teachers and unions. The protagonists faced apathy and intransigence at every turn.

Hollywood caricatures aside, the movie correctly conveyed that parents are the key. Parents need to say that they won’t stand for these intolerable achievement gaps. The first step is for parents to learn what quality education is and how it is achieved.

This isn’t a game for amateurs. Parents need to use every resource at their disposal—demanding changes in schools and in district offices; using existing tools such as “parent-trigger” laws and charter schools; organizing their communities; cultivating the media and staging newsworthy events; telling politicians and officeholders that their votes will go to candidates who support improvement; even going to the courts. If parents want change, they have the capacity to make it happen, but it isn’t easy.

At the same time, it is critical to recognize that school districts can’t perform miracles. They can’t overcome the tolls of poverty and poor housing, but they can close gaps. They can raise the floor and the ceiling of student academic achievement. Some schools in high-need districts and suburbs are already doing this. There is no excuse not to—and, if we hope to compete globally, there is no time to lose.

Mr. Levine, a former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College, is president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

A version of this article appeared November 15, 2012, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Suburban Education Gap

What Are We Going to Do With Those Failing Charter Schools?

November 14, 2012

Often great concern about failing (academically unacceptable) charter schools is shown by special interest groups that have a vested financial interest in protecting the ISD system status quo.  These groups never show concern for failing schools in their ISD system.  Let’s look at some numbers for low-income students in Travis County obtained from the TEA website.

During the 2010-11 school year, 3 charter schools were failing. There were 230 school-lunch-program students attending these failing schools.  This represented 5.9% of all the school-lunch-program students attending charter schools in Travis County.

For comparison during this same school year, Travis County had 12 ISD public schools that were failing.  There were 7,300 school-lunch-program students attending these failing schools.  This represented 8.8% of all the school-lunch-program students attending ISD public schools in Travis County.

So is the problem worse at charter schools or ISD schools?  In total numbers, low-income students in failing ISD schools is 7,300 versus in failing charter schools is 230.  But even as a percentage, ISD’s 8.8% is worse than charter’s 5.9%.

ISD defenders should worry about their big problem and be thankful that the charters have a smaller problem.

A School Board Defies a Judge’s “Parent-Trigger” Order

August 30, 2012

The Parent-Trigger War Escalates

Updated August 28, 2012, 1:20 p.m. ET

Shades of Faubus: A school board defies a judge’s order.

It has come to this in California’s saga over “parent-trigger” education reform: A local school board is openly defying a judge’s order, with one member declaring “If I’m found in contempt of court, I brought my own handcuffs, take me away.” So now the stalwarts of the status quo will break the law rather than allow parents school choice.

A California Superior Court judge ruled last month that several hundred parents in Adelanto, California had successfully pulled the nation’s first parent trigger to force change at their children’s failing public school. The judge “commanded” the Adelanto school board to let the parents “immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting” proposals to transform Desert Trails Elementary into a charter school.

At a recent hearing, the school board unanimously refused. Instead, the board wants to implement what it calls “alternative governance” reforms: a somewhat longer school day, a “technology infusion into the classroom,” better training of teachers, and a “community advisory committee” to oversee such changes. That is, the board wants to keep tinkering around the edges of a school that’s been classified as failing for six years in a row, with 70% of sixth-graders not proficient in English or math.

The board insists that it is following the law—notwithstanding board member Jermaine Wright’s vow to stand in the schoolhouse door in handcuffs. The board’s line is that because the new school year is about to begin, it’s too late for Desert Trails to become a charter school.

But the parents aren’t aiming for this year. They want to solicit charter offers for next year. Naturally, the board says next year is also impossible, because that will be too far removed from when the parents filed their petition in January 2012. So having obstructed the parents for as long as legally possible, the school board turns around and says too much time has passed for the “trigger” to still be relevant.

This is an invented standard that no law or regulation empowers the board to apply. And it follows last month’s court order that slapped down the board for its “abuse of discretion” in trying to disqualify parents’ petition signatures. The parents of Adelanto will now have to return to court to enforce the victory they have already won.

One appropriate response would be for San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Elia Pirozzi to take Mr. Wright up on his offer and jail him and the rest of the board for the contempt they are clearly showing to the court. Another would be to have senior political figures in the state speak up on behalf of the parents against such school-board bullying. Why isn’t Governor Jerry Brown or Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom holding a press conference in front of Desert Trails Elementary?

Education reform is the civil rights issue of our time, and union obstructionists are the equivalent of Orval Faubus, the Arkansas Governor who tried to block school integration after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. They should be treated with the same moral contempt that they apparently hold for the law and for the children of Adelanto.

A version of this article appeared August 28, 2012, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Parent-Trigger War Escalates.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

A judge lets parents pull the ‘trigger’ on a failing school

July 27, 2012

A Parent Power Watershed

Summer vacation has just turned sour for some of the mandarins atop America’s sclerotic education system. With a judge’s ruling last week in Southern California, a group of parents has become the first in the country to take over their children’s failing public school after pulling a “parent trigger.”

California enacted this reform as an unprecedented accountability measure in 2010. It allows parents of children in persistently failing schools to force dramatic change through petition drives. If a majority of parents at a school sign a petition, they can close that school, shake up its staff, or convert it to a charter.

At least that’s the idea. But implementing the law requires some minimum cooperation from the local school establishment, which in California has resisted parent trigger from day one. That’s how the parents of Desert Trails Elementary School ended up in court.

With their school classified as failing six years in a row, and 70% of sixth-graders not proficient in English or math, the parents of Desert Trails filed a trigger petition in January with 466 signatures, or 70% support. The local school board then asserted that the trigger drive had only 37% support. Some petitions had errors or omissions, the board said, and nearly 100 were no longer valid because parents had rescinded their signatures.

These rescissions followed an orchestrated campaign of intimidation at Desert Trails and across the community. Parents heard—from strangers who wouldn’t identify themselves—that the trigger would close Desert Trails immediately, or result in their children’s expulsion, or even put their own immigration status at risk. Such untruths had circulated around previous school-choice efforts, and they spread rapidly in a few crucial days—all of which suggested the strong arm of the California Teachers Association and its local allies.

But as we editorialized at the time (“Parent-Trigger Warfare,” March 2), state regulations don’t allow rescissions. Now San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Steve Malone has agreed, finding that the attempt to undercut the parents’ majority “amounts to an abuse of discretion.” As Judge Malone ruled, school officials can’t disregard a trigger drive simply “because in their judgment, converting the school into a charter school is unwise, inappropriate, or unpopular with District employees or classroom teachers.”

The ruling effectively hands Desert Trails to the parents, ordering the district out of their way as the judge says they can “immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting charter school proposals.” This represents a potentially revolutionary power shift. For all the PTA meetings and solemn assurances from superintendents and union leaders that parent input into public schools is sacred, the ability of parents to force change has typically been nil.

For kids in failing schools it’s unfortunate that California’s law took two and a half years to bear first fruit, but such is the reactionary power of unionized bureaucracy. The reform effort will require many more parents to pull their triggers—in California, and in the roughly 20 states considering parent-trigger laws. But this week’s court victory is a welcome precedent.

A version of this article appeared July 24, 2012, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Parent Power Watershed.

U.S. Conference of Mayors UNANIMOUSLY Endorse the “Parent Trigger”

June 27, 2012

A ‘radical’ reform goes mainstream, (but New York State retreats).

The U.S. is stress-testing Herbert Stein’s law like never before, but maybe the economist’s famous dictum—trends that can’t continue won’t—is being vindicated in education. Witness the support of America’s mayors for “parent trigger,” the public school reform that was denounced as radical only a few years ago but now is spreading across the country.

Over the weekend in Orlando, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously approved a resolution endorsing new rules that give parents the running room to turn around rotten schools. At “persistently failing” institutions, a majority of parents can sign a petition that turns out the administrators and teachers in favor of more competent hires, or dissolves the school, or converts it to a charter. Teachers unions loathe this form of local accountability.

The mayors note that this reform is targeted at the 2,000 or so high schools that count as “dropout factories,” where more than 40% of the freshman class fails to graduate. Most are in poor or minority zip codes where kids and parents have no other options. These 2,000 schools produce—if that’s the word—51% of U.S. dropouts.

The endorsement push was led by Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles—the union bosses are an “unwavering roadblock to reform,” he said—as well as Michael Nutter of Philadelphia and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, liberals all. Most of the mayors are Democrats. Parent trigger was a California inspiration, instituted in 2010 despite opposition from unions, which are suing to stop its implementation in the cities of Compton and Adelanto. It has since spread to Texas and Louisiana and variants are under consideration in 20 states.

The mayors’ vote of confidence is symbolic, since parent trigger typically requires the approval of state capitols. But it is still politically significant as another sign of how much the education reform debate has changed. Liberal mayors would never have dared to challenge union power even a few years ago, but now they see charter schools, parent trigger and even vouchers as a chance to side with parents against an increasingly unpopular special interest.

Not that Nirvana has arrived, as New York is proving. On Tuesday state officials in Albany announced that they had reached a deal to avoid making teacher evaluations public. Parents will only be allowed to view the performance ratings of their kid’s specific teacher, but not the ratings of her colleagues or those in future grades. In other words, parents can’t use the information to make a better choice if by chance they end up with a lemon. The rest of the public will be allowed access to the information in the aggregate, but not by name.

The double helix of union power and bureaucratic inertia explains why public schools have been immune to reform for so long. The growing consensus behind parent trigger and other reforms shows that while change is slow, at least it is possible.

A version of this article appeared June 21, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Notes From the Education Underground.

Parents sue Mojave Desert school to enforce the “parent trigger” and boost quality

April 16, 2012

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/04/05/state/n152215D69.DTL#ixzz1sFUK9MHp

Parent-Trigger Warfare

March 2, 2012

Harassment and altered documents at Desert Trails Elementary.

For over a year, teachers unions and their allies have used bureaucratic games and intimidation to fight “parent-trigger” school reform in California. Now comes evidence that they may have falsified documents.

In January, a group of parents in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto filed petitions to “trigger” changes at their children’s failing elementary school. That’s their right under a 2010 California law, provided the school’s academic conditions are dire enough and a majority of parents support pulling the trigger. Few dispute that Desert Trails Elementary fails its students, yet last week the Adelanto school district ruled that the trigger drive lacks majority support because 97 parents rescinded their original petitions.

But based on interviews we’ve conducted and sworn affidavits we’ve reviewed, it’s clear that many parents were harassed into rescinding.

In the Desert Trails parking lot and at front doors across Adelanto, strangers confronted parents and spread untruths about the trigger drive: that it would force the immediate closure of Desert Trails, for example, or result in the firing of all teachers, or cause certain children to be expelled. Some parents heard the trigger drive was an embezzlement scheme. Others had their immigration status questioned.

Trigger supporters suspect the malign influence of the California Teachers Association. Such bullying fits into its familiar anti-trigger playbook, and the untruth squads (which generally refused to identify themselves) pinpointed parents and ginned up rescissions with amazing efficiency over merely a few days.

At least three Adelanto parents have also signed affidavits swearing that the rescission documents bearing their signatures were doctored before being delivered (in photocopied form) to the district.

“I am absolutely sure,” reads the affidavit of one mother who refused to have her name published for fear of retribution, “that I did not check any of the boxes on the form claiming that I was misled, intimidated or bribed by the Desert Trails Parents Union,” which is the group that supports parent trigger. Yet her form on file with the district makes exactly these claims—a remarkable coincidence given the district’s rule that it would honor rescissions only if they cited such justifications.

We don’t know how many rescissions were falsified; the first two cases came to light only because someone was sloppy enough to file two versions of the same parent’s rescission, one without, and one with, boxes checked. But these cases cast doubt on the whole bunch, and the onus is on the district to prove their validity. Working with pro bono lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, the parents have called for investigations by the San Bernardino district attorney and sheriff—and soon, before any crucial documents suddenly go missing.

Some 20 other states are considering parent-trigger laws, so Adelanto’s experience is a harbinger. California passed its version precisely to give parents the ability to organize and challenge entrenched union and bureaucratic power. If those powers-that-be can get away with intimidation and tricks to preserve the status quo, then the reform is a farce.

Triggering School Reform—and Union Dirty Tricks

February 28, 2012

In California, parent power brings out the worst in the education establishment.
By DAVID FEITH

Where’s the toughest battlefield in American education these days? Certainly New Orleans and Harlem host controversially high concentrations of charter schools, while New Jersey and Louisiana boast governors who challenge teachers unions with verve. But for downright nastiness, Southern California is ground zero.

SoCal earns this dubious distinction largely because of the educational establishment’s rage over “parent trigger,” a reform that’s been on California’s books since January 2010. It’s a “lynch mob provision,” declared Marty Hittelman, president of the powerful California Federation of Teachers. Why? Because it gives unprecedented rights to parents whose children are stuck in failing public schools. If more than 50% sign a petition, they can force a school closed, shake up its administration, or turn it into a charter.

The first parent trigger was pulled in December 2010 at Compton’s McKinley Elementary School. Immediately, McKinley teachers began leaning on parents to rescind their signatures—first at a PTA meeting, then by pressuring their kids during school. Soon the school district insisted that parents validate their signatures by appearing at McKinley with official photo identification—naked intimidation of those who were undocumented immigrants and a violation of the First Amendment, said Los Angeles Superior Court. Yet the district persisted, soon rejecting every parent’s signature on technicalities that are still tied up in court a year later.

Which brings us to the latest brawl, in the small Mojave Desert town of Adelanto, 80 miles northeast of L.A. That’s where a second group of California parents recently submitted a trigger petition—for Desert Trails Elementary, where two-thirds of sixth-graders failed state exams in English and math last year. The 450-plus parents looked poised to succeed until Tuesday night, when the educational empire struck back.

At a public meeting, the Adelanto school board announced that, upon review, the trigger petition represented only 48% of parents—not the 70% that petitioners claimed when they filed last month. The loss of nearly 100 signatures, it turns out, was the result of a systematic and legally questionable pressure campaign waged against parents.

“About two weeks ago, the California Teachers Association flew in a cadre of paid operatives from Sacramento,” says Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, the liberal activist group that conceived of parent trigger and has supported the campaigns in Compton and Adelanto. “Suddenly parents were accosted in the parking lot by CTA operatives blocking cars from moving until the driver agreed to take a flier plastered with lies.” Operatives also went door-to-door across Adelanto.

Mr. Austin says many parents were told that if they didn’t rescind their signatures, Desert Trails would be closed within days. Others heard that all the teachers would be fired, and still others had their picture taken for refusing to rescind. One parent on Thursday told Parent Revolution’s lawyers that she withdrew her signature after being told that if she didn’t, other parents “were going to pocket all the money once they took over.”

In almost all cases, those spreading such misinformation refused to identify themselves. That was the experience of Desert Trail parent Jeffrey Hancock at his front door last weekend.

“They never said what organization they were with, and wouldn’t give their names. Just that they were ‘partners of Desert Trail parents,’” Mr. Hancock says. “We asked them specifically for their names because when they first knocked on the door we thought they were church people.”

Mr. Hancock adds that he and his wife were far less vulnerable to intimidation than were other parents. “Some of their citizenship is at stake—they might not be legal citizens—so it made them nervous.” He adds, “They were threatened with the INS.”

If this is true, it wouldn’t be the first time: In early 2010, Spanish-language fliers surfaced in several L.A. neighborhoods warning parents that if they voted to convert a public school into a charter, they “might be deported.”

CTA spokesman Frank Wells acknowledged that his union sent representatives to Adelanto, but he said their primary purpose was to hold information sessions for Desert Trails parents. The door-to-door rescission campaign was “parent-led,” he told the L.A. Times, and “as far as us going around and telling people to do something one way or another, the answer is no.”

Messrs. Austin and Hancock maintain their suspicions, largely because almost every one of the 97 rescinded signatures materialized over four days last week. That’s either a feat of superhuman community outreach, or the work of people whose jobs give them ready access to the names and addresses of Desert Trails families.

Whodunit aside, there’s a more fundamental question about the Adelanto rescission campaign: Was it legal? After last year’s Compton melee, the California State Board of Education published detailed regulations for the parent-trigger process. Those regulations clearly state that “parents and legal guardians of eligible pupils shall be free from . . . being encouraged to revoke their signature on a petition.” Says Mr. Austin: “The regulations are the game-changer here—they say rescissions are illegal. But we’re going to have to sue and set that precedent.” Sounds like a solid case.

Win or lose, the Adelanto experience holds several lessons for parent trigger. First, some quarters of the education establishment will oppose parent power no matter its packaging. In contrast to the Compton effort, the Adelanto trigger drive was announced publicly in advance, and parents sought to negotiate terms with district officials rather than bring in an outside charter to take over the school. This soft approach evidently meant nothing to the union.

But the Adelanto model highlights that parents in the future might be able to work around hostile unions altogether, instead exercising leverage over district officials. “At Desert Trails,” Mr. Austin points out, “parents aren’t thinking of trigger as an end in itself”—say, the path to a charter school—”but as a tool to get power to bargain. That’s transformative.”

A Second CA “Parent Trigger” Petition Blocked by School District

February 23, 2012

Parents Fail in Bid to Turn California School into a Charter

School-district officials in a Southern California town rejected an attempt by parents to convert their low-performing elementary school into a charter school, the second time an effort to use California’s new “Parent Trigger” law has been blocked.

A group of parents of students at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., turned in a petition last month that they said had the signatures of nearly 70% of the school’s parents. Under the state’s Parent Trigger law, passed in 2010, parents can force a district to close a school, convert it to a charter-—a public school run by a nongovernment group—or replace the principal and the teachers if at least 50% of the parents sign a petition. Similar legislation was passed in Texas and Mississippi last year and is being considered in other states.

During a school-board meeting Tuesday night in Adelanto, district officials said that 97 parents had withdrawn their signatures because the parents said they were duped into signing the petition or misunderstood its intent. This left the group about a dozen names short of the bar.

The school board, by law, has given the parents 60 days to try to verify the names of at least 50% of the parents at the 650-student school. The parents say they will try again.

The effort in Adelanto was only the second time parents had tried to take advantage of the California law. A petition initiated last year by parents in Compton has been tied up in a lengthy court battle with the school district.

Teachers unions have generally opposed the trigger laws, arguing that troubled schools need more resources rather than sweeping staff changes or closing. Parents leading the Adelanto petition have said that their calls for change in Desert Trails went unheeded for years. School district officials said some of the overhauls the parents sought would be costly and difficult to implement.

Write to Stephanie Banchero at stephanie.banchero@wsj.com


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