Posts Tagged ‘California’

Los Angeles Charter Uprising

May 22, 2017

Voters elect a pro-reform majority on the local school board.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

One reason public schools in big cities are so lousy is union control of local school boards. This has long been true in Los Angeles, but last week charter-school advocates dealt a major blow to the failing status quo by winning a majority on the district’s Board of Education.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has some of the country’s lowest-performing public schools. In 2015 only one in five fourth-graders rated proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. While Los Angeles boasts more charter schools than any district in the country, they still account for merely 16% of enrollment. Two years ago the Great Public Schools Now initiative, which is backed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, set a goal of enrolling 50% of the district’s students in charters. The unions naturally went nuts.

As union schools lose students (and thus taxpayer funds) to charters, the school board has become even more reactionary. Last month the board voted to support three bills before the state legislature in Sacramento that aim to limit autonomy for charter schools. One would prevent charters from appealing rejections by local school boards to county and state boards. The appeals process is one reason charters in Los Angeles have been able to expand despite school-board resistance.

Anti-charter board members have tried to convince parents that rising graduation rates show that traditional public schools are improving. But the real explanation is that the board dumbed down graduation requirements and allowed students to pass courses with a D grade. Half of last year’s graduating seniors were ineligible for state public universities, according to the education nonprofit The 74.

School board president Steve Zimmer, who was ousted last week, declared that “teachers are not failing. Students are not failing. Schools are not failing.” Parents who voted in the local elections believe otherwise.

Unions tried to vilify pro-charter candidates Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez by portraying them as tools of Donald Trump, though both were endorsed by President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the state’s progressive former Senator Barbara Boxer. There’s nothing progressive about failing low-income minority kids.

Appeared in the May. 22, 2017, print edition.

Parent-Trigger V-Day

July 21, 2015

Alexander Hamilton said an independent judiciary is essential to guard against “serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.” Last week a California judge reaffirmed this wisdom by overruling local school district officials who tried to thwart parents from using the state’s parent-trigger law.

In January parents filed a petition to convert Palm Lane Elementary in Anaheim into a charter under California’s 2010 parent-trigger law, which allows a majority of parents in any failing school to force changes. Palm Lane had made the state Department of Education’s list of underperforming schools since 2003. Fewer than 40% of students scored proficient in English in 2013. About 85% are Hispanic, and most are low-income.

School district officials and the teachers union tried to stymie parents at every turn. The union even complained that signature gatherers were bribing parents with free iPads, a false allegation that the district superintendent repeated in a cautionary letter to parents. In February the school district rejected the petition on dubious grounds, which included claims that parents had made paperwork errors, such as failing to “submit a separate document that identifies the lead petitioners.”

Though more than 60% of parents signed the petition, the district threw out dozens of signatures that could not be “verified.” That is, the parents could not be reached between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to confirm that they signed the petition. Maybe that’s because they were working. This left parents 12 signatures short of the 50% threshold, so they sued the district for improperly rejecting the petition.

Last Thursday Orange County Superior Court judge Andrew Banks ruled in favor of the parents on all counts and rebuked the district’s conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair.” He also scored district officials for violating their obligation under the trigger law to work in good faith with parents—a responsibility many other districts have disregarded as well.

Judge Banks has ordered the district to accept the petition and allow parents to immediately begin soliciting charter school proposals. Palm Lane will become the second school in California where parents have successfully triggered large-scale reform. There would be more if unions working with district officials hadn’t intimidated parent organizers.

Palm Lane parents were assisted by the trigger law’s author, former state Democratic Senator Gloria Romero, who helped seek outside legal counsel. The case shows how far the union and administrative bureaucracy will go to preserve their monopoly, even breaking the law. Palm Lane’s parents are heroes for fighting back, but the scandal is how hard they had to fight to fulfill a basic legal right.

 

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.

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

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.”

Broke—and Building the Most Expensive School in U.S. History

September 7, 2010

What a juicy story!  Free (taxpayer) Money! Highlights:

At $578 million—or about $140,000 per student—the 24-acre Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in mid-Wilshire [CA] is the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history. To put the price in context, this city’s Staples sports and entertainment center cost $375 million. To put it in a more important context, the school district is currently running a $640 million deficit and has had to lay off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. It also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the worst test scores.

The K-12 complex is a jarring reminder that money doesn’t guarantee success—though it certainly beautifies failure.

[T]he school boasts an auditorium whose starry ceiling and garish entrance are modeled after the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub…  Talking benches—$54,000—play a three-hour audio of the site’s history.

[Thomas] Rubin, [a consultant for the district’s bond oversight committee, was asked] whether some of the school’s grandiose features … were worth the cost. “Did we have to do that? Hell no. But there’s no accounting for taste,” he responded.

The district’s building spree has sparked outrage from charter schools, not least because they are getting only a tiny piece of the bond pie. California Charter School Association President Jed Wallace says a charter school can be built at a seventh of the cost of the Kennedy complex…. For example, the nonprofit Green Dot built seven charters in the area—to serve about 4,300 mainly low-income students—for less than $85 million in total. These schools also have a collective graduation rate that’s nearly twice as high as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which Education Week magazine pegs at 40%.

Mr. Rubin says it’s unfair to compare charters with traditional public schools because charters aren’t saddled with onerous government regulations regarding labor and environmental standards. What he doesn’t say is that charter schools don’t have taxpayers as a backstop. Traditional public schools “have no accountability or restraints,” Mr. Wallace bristles. “They don’t have to make the tough choices when costs run over.”