Posts Tagged ‘Waiting for Superman’

The Evil Empire Strikes Back

November 20, 2012

Even when reform passes, teachers unions engage in massive resistance.

Education reformers had good news at the ballot box this month as voters in Washington and Georgia approved measures to create new charter schools. But as the reform movement gathers momentum, teachers unions are giving no quarter in their massive resistance against states trying to shake up failing public education.

In Georgia, 59% of voters approved a constitutional amendment that creates a new statewide commission to approve charter schools turned down by union-allied school boards. Instead of absorbing the message, charter opponents are planning to sue. The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said last week it will join a lawsuit against Governor Nathan Deal to block the change. According to Caucus Chairman Emanuel Jones, because the ballot measure’s text didn’t discuss the details of how the schools were selected, “people didn’t know what they were voting for.”

This is the legal equivalent of sending back a hamburger because you didn’t know it came with meat. Georgia voters rallied around the charters because they want something better for their children than the dismal status quo. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that as of April only 67.4% of the state’s freshmen graduated from high school in four years. Last year a state investigation of Georgia schools found that dozens of public educators were falsifying test results to disguise student results.

A different battle is unfolding in Chicago, where the city’s teachers union is getting ready for its second showdown with Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In September, teachers went on strike and won a pay raise and limits on test scores in teacher evaluations. Now the union is fighting the city’s plan to close underused schools in an effort to consolidate resources.

Chicago Public Schools have some 600,000 seats but only 400,000 kids, while the district faces a $1 billion deficit next year and over $300 million of pension payments. Yet at a protest rally last week, Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey declared that the union was “serving notice to elected officials, if you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city.” Remind you of Selma, circa 1965?

The tension is especially acute for black parents whose children are trapped in the worst public schools. In other states, black organizations that march in lockstep with Democrats and their union allies have also been slow to catch up, but the message is getting louder. In Harlem last year, thousands of parents protested the NAACP’s role in a lawsuit to block school closings and the expansion of charter schools.

No reform effort is too small for the teachers union to squash. In this month’s election, the National Education Association descended from Washington to distant Idaho, spending millions to defeat a measure that limited collective bargaining for teachers and pegged a portion of teachers’ salaries to classroom performance. In Alabama, Republican Governor Robert Bentley says he’s giving up on his campaign to bring charter schools to the state after massive resistance from the Alabama Education Association.

Unions fight as hard as they do because they have one priority—preserving their jobs and increasing their pay and benefits. Students are merely their means to that end. Reforming public education is the civil rights issue of our era, and each year that passes without reform sacrifices thousands more children to union politics.

Now that the election is over, is it too much to ask that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan drop their union coddling and speak truth to union power? Alas, it probably is.

A version of this article appeared November 19, 2012, on page A18 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Evil Empire Strikes Back

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.

Romney on DC Vouchers

May 30, 2012

The Republican endorses the D.C. scholarship program.

President Obama has done better on education than on any other domestic issue, especially in supporting charter schools. But campaigns are about contrasts, and on Wednesday Mitt Romney drew a welcome one by supporting school vouchers.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., the GOP candidate endorsed the district’s voucher program that the Obama Administration has tried to kill despite its clear success: “In the Opportunity Scholarships, the Democrats finally found the one federal program they are willing to cut. Why? Because success anywhere in our public schools is a rebuke to failure everywhere else. That’s why the unions oppose even the most common-sense improvements.”

Right on all counts. With their voucher lifeline, D.C. students began outperforming public-school peers in reading and graduating at rates above 90%, as opposed to 55% in public schools. The program is hugely popular among parents and attracts more than four applicants for every spot. It even saves money, as each voucher is worth about half the $18,000 that D.C. generally spends per student.

With White House support, Democrats killed the program in 2009, and the Administration even rescinded scholarships already promised to 216 families. Last year House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman revived the vouchers, but Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget zeroes out funding again.

Mr. Romney’s voucher embrace marks progress from his days in Massachusetts, when his support for school choice ended at charters. It also reveals how much the education reform debate has advanced, as the choice movement expands and more parents demand better options for their children. New York City charter schools, we learned this week, received 133,000 applications for the 14,600 seats they have available next year.

In any other business or service in America, entrepreneurs would be able to meet that demand. Only in public education are they stymied by union politics. Mr. Romney has the moral and political high ground on vouchers, and we hope he keeps it up.

A version of this article appeared May 24, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Romney on Vouchers.

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

Alert to Ed Reformers Living Near Austin! Come to the AISD School Board Meeting!

December 17, 2011

This Monday (12/19) at 7 pm.  Come to the AISD School Board meeting.

Come support IDEA Public School, an exemplary charter school, in their bid to operate the perpetually failing Eastside Memorial High School.

Get there early (5pm) to get a seat in the hearing room at 1111 West 6th Street, 2 blocks west of Lamar.

There will be plenty of teacher’s union folks.

We need to show the school board that there are folks on the other side of the issue.

Watch the Dramatic House-Floor “Parent Trigger” Debate

May 27, 2011

If you would like to watch the dramatic debate on the evening of May 23 between Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), and the House Representatives of AFT and the San Antonio public school superintendents, follow these instructions.

1. Go to this Texas Legislature Online link.

2. Click on the video link labeled

Date – 05/23/2011, Time – 2:00p.m. – 11:44p.m.

(You will need to download “RealPlayer” to view the video, if you don’t already have it on your computer.)

3. After clicking the correct video link, a video window should open up showing the floor of the Texas House.  It is best to maximize the window to your full screen in order to more accurately move to particular points in the video.  At the top of the video window you should see “Monday, May 23rd 2011 2:50pm”.  If that does not appear at the top of the video, you have clicked the wrong video link and should close this video window, go back to the initial link and start over.

4. The video will look very blurred.  Don’t attempt to adjust your video viewer controls.  The goal of this video is to give you rough information about who is speaking, what they are saying, and some sense of the non-verbal cues that the speaker is showing.

5. You will see in the lower right corner a number showing the time duration of the video.  This video is 8(hours):49(minutes):55(seconds) in duration.  Now wait about 1 minute watching the video to make sure you have the audio on and at a good volume for your ears.

6. Don’t Panic!!  You don’t have to sit in front of your computer and watch everything that happened in the House chamber on the evening of May 23.

7.  Click on the pause button to pause the video.  Look in the lower right corner.  In front of 8:49:55 you will see 34Kbps 1:xx /, where xx is a two digit number.  This number counts up from 0:00 to 8:49:55.  It is the duration point on the video.  This number is not the time on the House chamber clock.  Rather, it shows how much time has passed on the video to reach this duration point.

8. You can change the duration point on the video by dragging or clicking ahead or behind of the button sliding on the “duration track” at the bottom of the video that visually shows where the duration point is.  If the video “freezes” for more than thirty seconds, click the square “Stop” button and it will unusually “un-freeze”.  I will give you specific duration points on the video that are important to the debate we are interested in.

9. Okay, I hope you non-techies have patiently and successfully gotten through the first eight “challenges” of this project.  Now for the good parts.

10. The duration point where the debate on SB 738 begins is duration point 5:34:45.  Move the button on the duration track to a duration point as close to, but less than 5:34:45.  Now run (or un-pause) the video and watch the drama as Rep. Mike Villarreal presents and defends the amendment that he wants to add to the SB 738 to give more parental empowerment to the bill.  The full debate ends at duration point 6:40:40 when Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher (D – San Antonio) submits a “point of order” that finally kills the amendment, in spite of having the amendment and the entire bill passed on two record votes.

11. After you have watched the entire debate, which lasts 1 hour and 6 minutes,  there are a few significant moments (duration points) that I want to highlight.

12. The first significant moment is the beginning of the debate where you see Rep. Villarreal desiring to help the parents and children suffering in failing schools.  I wouldn’t have believed it were true if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Less than a month ago, I saw him berate a novice testifier on a franchise tax credit bill by referring to tuition tax credits as “tax-credit vouchers”.  Something dramatic has happened in the last year.  At dur. pt. 6:34:10, Rep. Villarreal explains what has happened.  The oldest of his two children began school last year. He and his wife were committed to using the public schools in their district, but his child’s assigned school was academically unacceptable.  So with his political influence he persuaded the San Antonio ISD Superintendent Robert James Duron (who will reappear later in this drama) to convert his child’s school into a campus charter school.  But instead of saying “I got mine, screw the rest of the peons” like President Obama has done, Rep. Villarreal has had the virtuous character to say, “I’m not satisfied with improving just my child’s school.  I’m going to use my political power to fight for all Texas children trapped in failing public schools.”  He has suddenly catapulted himself  to be the most important member of the House and maybe the entire Texas legislature for the cause of education reform.  For the first time in at least 10 years, Rep. Villarreal has made education reform a bi-partisan issue in the Texas Legislature!  He is an intelligent and courageous Democratic champion of the parent seeking a good education for their child.  I think that this transformation may be more important than the fact that SB 738 finally passed (without Villarreal’s amendment).  Please use this link to encourage and thank Rep. Villarreal for fighting the good fight on May 23.

13. At dur. pt. 6:10:05, Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) speaks in defense of the amendment and in support of Rep. Villarreal.  Rep. Patrick spent many years as a public school teacher and ISD school board member.  She has received awards from groups associated with the public school system.  She was elected to the House in a contentious primary where she defeated the incumbent, who was known as the education reform leader in the House and Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, with the help of all the public school status quo groups.  She has had the reputation of being one of the stalwart status quo leaders, even if it wasn’t deserved.  I confess that that was my opinion until I saw her walk to the microphone and defend Villarreal’s amendment.  Now I cannot says where she stands with regard to education reform, but clearly she is open-minded about some level of education reform.  That is good news for education reformers.

14. At dur. pt. 6:14:22, Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) provides a refreshing, but curious, note.  He eloquently describes how school choice benefits all children both in and out of the public school system by holding school administrators accountable by the pressure of market forces.  But after clearly winning the debate, he reenter the real world and says that he won’t use his vote to support what he knows to be true out of fear of retribution from the status quo political power groups.  I believe that we can at least thank Rep. Strama for his debating eloquence and candor about his political fears.

15.  At dur. pt. 6:37:55, Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) begins his creatively obscure logic about how Rep. Villarreal’s amendment will not benefit, but perhaps hurt the students in San Antonio’s failing schools. Notice carefully at dur. pt. 6:39:25 where Rep. Farias admits the reason he is disparaging the amendment.  He was instructed to do so by “Dr. Duron”.  He is referring to Dr. Robert James Duron, the superintendent of San Antonio ISD, the largest school district in Bexar County.  Duron has been handsomely paid to manage this school district.  His annual base pay has been $266,494 as of Oct. 2009, up from $254,998 for the two previous years. This does not include his generous benefit package.  Unfortunately he hasn’t managed as well as he has been paid.  For both the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years his district was rated academically unacceptable.

Remember, Dr. Duron is the man who instructed Rep. Farias to stop an opportunity for the parents in his district to repair the problems that Duron is responsible for fixing.  For those of you who would like to contact Dr. Duron about this situation, I provide you this link.   

If you have made it to the end of this post, I thank you and comend you for your interest in education reform.  Let’s help Rep. Mike Villarreal make his dream a reality for all of Texas.

Victory for the Parents and Children in Texas’s Low-Performing Schools!

May 26, 2011

Yesterday SB 738 was sent to the Governor’s Desk because of the hard work of its author, Sen. Florence Shapiro of Plano, and Rep. Mike Villareal of San Antonio.

This bill empowers parents of the children who attend a low-performing school to be directly involved in the process of improving their children’s school.  Before the passage of SB 738, these parents had no voice or involvement in improving the school that was inadequately serving their kids.  But now, this blatant disregard of parental authority has been corrected.

Rep. Mike Villareal deserves a special honor in this victory.  

He submitted an amendment to improve the bill by empowering the parents to start the turn-around of their low-performing school several years earlier.  With great patience and gentleness, he withstood repeated attacks from members of his own party to block this improvement to the bill.  In the end, Rep. Villareal could not prevail over those who defended the status quo.

I believe we have a new standard bearer for education reform in the Texas House.  All members of the House that say they want the best for the education of Texas’s children should line up in support of Rep. Villareal and follow his courageous example.

Vouchers Also Cost Taxpayers Less

May 16, 2011
  • Wall Street Journal
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
  • MAY 12, 2011

Jason L. Riley’s “The Evidence Is In: School Vouchers Work” (op-ed, May 3) might have mentioned what for many might be the most important reason to send kids to private school: the huge savings to taxpayers.

The stunning total taxpayer cost of the inferior Washington, D.C public schools is over $28,000 per student. Even after pulling the special-ed kids’ cost out of the average, the taxpayers are paying about $23,000 per D.C. public-school student.

Contrast that absurd public-school outlay with the cost of a D.C. education voucher—up to $7,500 per student. The actual average D.C. voucher school charges only $6,620 (many are Catholic schools).

Taxpayers save over $15,000 annually in direct costs per D.C. voucher student. Another plus for private schools is that there is no unfunded public-pension taxpayer liability.

D.C. is running a highly restricted voucher program, complete with a lottery to pick the lucky few low-income recipients. Instead, D.C. (and urban school districts throughout the nation) should be moving toward an orderly transfer of the education of our young from government to private schools. That is, we should do so if we care more about the kids and taxpayers than we do about the powerful education labor unions.

Richard Rider

San Diego

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


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