Posts Tagged ‘grassroots organization’

Will Unions Cripple Kentucky’s Belated Charter-School Effort?

March 2, 2017

Opponents of reform are pushing a weak bill that maintains the local school boards’ monopoly.

An elementary school in Stanton, Ky., Feb. 18.

An elementary school in Stanton, Ky., Feb. 18. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Kentucky is one of only seven states that doesn’t allow charter schools, making it something of an educational backwater. Republicans have been trying to pass charter-school legislation since 2009, only to be stymied by Democrats, who had a lock on the governorship and state House.

But charters’ time in the Bluegrass State may have finally arrived. In 2015 Republican Matt Bevin, a charter-school champion, was elected governor. Then last year Republicans seized control of the Kentucky House for the first time since 1921 and unseated Speaker Greg Stumbo, a staunch opponent of school choice. Republicans now hold large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly—64 of 100 seats in the House and 27 of 38 in the Senate.

Even teachers unions and local school boards seem resigned to the inevitability of allowing charter schools. To limit the damage to their interests, they’re trying to exploit divisions among Republicans to keep charters tightly contained by conceding regulatory authority to the local boards.

Kentucky schools rank about average nationwide, though large disparities exist among districts. Last year 77% of middle-school students in the Cincinnati suburb of Fort Thomas scored “proficient” on state math tests. Four miles away in Newport, only 30% did. For Jefferson County (Louisville), the figure was 39%.

“We have a great city, a beautiful downtown, trails,” says Lynn Schaber, a Newport mom whose second-grade son attends a Montessori school. “But people aren’t happy with the school system. As they say around here, it’s trikes, no bikes. People move out of the city once their kids get older than 3 because of the poor schools.”

Like many suburban and rural districts in Kentucky, Newport has only one elementary, middle and high school. Parents in low-performing districts who can afford it send their kids to private schools or move to districts with better schools like Fort Thomas, where the median home price is about twice that of Newport. Thus, public schools and cities become segregated along socioeconomic, and in some cases racial, lines. Nearly 90% of Newport students qualify for free or discounted lunches, compared with about 15% in Fort Thomas.

Such gaping inequities are driving support for charter-school legislation that would bring Kentucky’s education system into the 21st century. Last month state Rep. Phil Moffett introduced a bill that would allow local school districts, college governing boards, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, the Louisville and Lexington mayors, and the state Board of Education to authorize charters.

Multiple authorizers would enable students to travel outside their home districts to attend a charter. By contrast, district authorizers could limit enrollment to students within their bounds. This would be a huge impediment to charter growth in rural and suburban areas where there are fewer students. Newport’s system-wide enrollment is just 1,600 students—fewer than in some big-city high schools.

Mrs. Schaber has joined five other parents to devise plans for a charter school that will enroll students from six small cities across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. She notes that parents frequently move between the cities, depending on their job and housing. So it makes sense to form a regional charter.

Charter opponents are pushing a weaker bill that would vest local school boards with the sole power to authorize and regulate charters. That would let those boards, typically controlled by the unions, throw up roadblocks. While charters could appeal district decisions to the state Board of Education, the process would be cumbersome and costly. Only charters backed by well-heeled donors would have the resources to navigate and battle the education bureaucracy.

The experience of other states is instructive. Iowa, Kansas and Virginia don’t allow multiple authorizers and have few charter schools. Arizona, Minnesota and New York do, and have an abundance. Charters in the latter group of states are among the highest-performing nationwide.

The weaker bill would also require charters to participate in and contribute to the state’s insolvent public pension system, among the worst funded in the country. So they could be forced to pick up the retirement tab for union teachers in traditional public schools.

Local school boards have lobbied Republicans to reject legislation with multiple authorizers and instead back the diluted bill, which they say will hold charters more accountable. “People love their local school board,” says Mrs. Schaber. “They want to support it.”

That may be, but allowing local school boards to regulate their competition is fundamentally unfair. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled last year that a law allowing Amtrak to regulate freight trains that compete for track time could not be sustained under the Fifth Amendment: “Giving a self-interested entity regulatory authority over its competitors violates due process.” The same principle should apply when children’s futures are at stake.

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.

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Who’s Afraid of Betsy DeVos?

January 17, 2017

Trump’s Education nominee is the top Democratic target.

Democrats are searching for a cabinet nominee to defeat, and it’s telling that progressive enemy number one is Betsy DeVos. Donald Trump’s choice to run the Education Department has committed the unpardonable sin of devoting much of her fortune to helping poor kids escape failing public schools.

Progressives and their media allies have spent the last week roughing up Mrs. DeVos in preparation for her Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, which will feature the charms of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Liberals claim that Mrs. DeVos, wife of former Amway president Dick DeVos, is unqualified to lead the Education Department because she’s never been a teacher.

Yet the same crowd howls that bankers shouldn’t be regulating banks. Which is it? Managing a bureaucracy isn’t like running a classroom, though both require a steely resolve. Most Education secretaries have been former teachers or school superintendents—not that student test scores are better for it.

Perhaps Mrs. DeVos’s most important qualification is that she has the courage of her convictions. Progressives are willing to brook billionaires who use their wealth to expand government or augment their political influence. Hyatt heiress Penny Pritzker, whose family is a major Democratic patron, served as President Obama’s Commerce secretary. But a conservative who’s dedicated her private fortune to liberating poor kids trapped in lousy public schools? The horror!

The DeVoses have donated tens of millions of dollars to charity including a children’s hospital in Michigan and an international art competition in Grand Rapids. They’ve also given to Christian organizations, which the left cites as evidence of concealed bigotry. Yet education has been their main philanthropic cause.

During the 1990s, they patronized a private-school scholarship fund for low-income families and championed Michigan’s first charter school law. In 2000 they helped bankroll a voucher initiative, which was defeated by a union blitz. The DeVoses then turned to expanding charters, which have become Exhibit A in the progressive campaign against her. Unions claim Michigan charters are inferior to the state’s public schools and that 80% are run for profit.

These claims are spurious. Detroit charters are low performing—only 19% of students are proficient in English—but they’re better than the alternative. Charter students in Detroit on average score 60% more proficient on state tests than kids attending the city’s traditional public schools. Eighteen of the top 25 schools in Detroit are charters while 23 of the bottom 25 are traditional schools.

Two studies from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (2013, 2015) found that students attending Michigan charters gained on average an additional two months of learning every year over their traditional school counterparts. Charter school students in Detroit gained three months.

Eighty-percent of Michigan charters utilize a private education service provider. Yet only about half are operated by a for-profit entity, and almost all of these are mom-and-pop businesses run by Michigan residents. While unions have fought to keep failing public schools open, Mrs. DeVos backed a 2009 law allowing the state to close public schools—charters included—that scored in the bottom 5% of the state for three consecutive years. Only seven of the 54 schools with two strikes in the past two years were charters.

The real reason unions fear Mrs. DeVos is that she’s a rare reformer who has defeated them politically. Prior to being tapped by Mr. Trump, she chaired the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has helped elect hundreds of legislators across the country who support private school choice. Last year AFC and its affiliate groups spent $5 million on elections compared to the teachers unions’ $138 million. Yet 108 of the 121 candidates AFC supported won their races.

AFC has built a broad coalition that includes black and Latino Democrats, undercutting the union conceit that vouchers are a GOP plot to destroy public schools. In 2000 four states had private-school choice programs with 29,000 kids. Today, 25 states have vouchers, tax-credit scholarships or education-savings accounts benefitting more than 400,000 students.

Even if they can’t defeat Mrs. DeVos’s nomination, unions hope to leave her so politically weakened that she won’t be able to implement her agenda. The character assassinations—e.g., that she supports anti-gay groups—are primarily intended to turn the bureaucracy and public against her.

Yet their nasty campaign reeks of political desperation. You know progressives have lost their moral bearings when they save their most ferocious assault for a woman who wants to provide poor children with the education they need to succeed in America.

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The Education Gangs of Los Angeles

September 14, 2015

 

Meet the decorated former Green Beret

who is rallying Los Angeles parents to fight

the unions and reform the worst public schools,

one school at a time.

PHOTO: KEN FALLIN

Anaheim, Calif.

When most people think of this quintessential California suburb, the Angels baseball team or Disneyland probably comes to mind. But a five-minute drive from the “happiest place on earth” takes you to Palm Lane Elementary, ground zero in a fight between teachers unions and parents who are trying to fix California’s broken public schools. The conflict—as so often in American education—boils down to unionized teachers trying to stop minority children from attending charter schools.

Ninety percent of Palm Lane students come from low-income families. About 85% are Latino, and more than half aren’t native English speakers. Palm Lane has been on the California Education Department’s list of underperforming schools since 2003. In 2013 a mere 38% of students scored proficient or better in English on state tests. And Palm Lane is hardly an exception in the area: Four other elementary schools in Anaheim rank even lower on the state’s Academic Performance Index.

But Alfonso Flores is leading a grass-roots insurgency against the union-controlled regime at Palm Lane. The former teacher and father of four kids who attend public schools in Hesperia has used the state’s “parent trigger” law, passed in 2010, to force changes at a half-dozen schools in California. The law stipulates that if a majority of parents at a struggling school sign a petition, they can compel changes in school management or personnel. Sometimes, the parents contract with a charter-school operator. In one case, they hired a new principal. Parents have also used the law as a negotiating tool to force the district to make improvements like adding more staff.

As the new school year was getting started, Mr. Flores sat down with me in the park next to Park Lane that has served as a meeting place and training ground for parents in the trigger campaign. The 45-year-old decorated Gulf War veteran has plenty of stories to tell about doing battle with teachers unions that bring heavy artillery to every fight.

“It’s grass-roots,” he says of parent-trigger efforts, “and that’s what scares the teachers unions.”

Mr. Flores, a self-described “anchor baby” of Mexican immigrants, knows firsthand the value of escaping bad schools. As a child in the 1970s, he spent three hours daily on a bus trekking to and from a school in the San Fernando Valley under the Los Angeles Unified School District’s desegregation plan. Busing to achieve racial integration is hardly optimal, but Mr. Flores says it did allow him to avoid the horrendous schools in the Los Angeles inner city.

As a senior in high school, he signed up with the U.S. Army and after graduating served tours in Colombia, the Persian Gulf and Somalia. “I wanted a way to thank my country for allowing my parents to bring me to this great nation,” he explains. In 10 years the Green Beret earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, and he lost a kidney after being wounded in the 1993 rescue mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, that was depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

During his military service, Mr. Flores says, he was struck by his fellow soldiers’ deficient educations. They had to “redo grammar school” because they “couldn’t write a simple report,” he recalls. “The Pentagon has complained about high-school kids not able to pass the ASVAB”—the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

After an honorable discharge in 1998, he got his teaching credential from California State University at Dominguez Hills. His first teaching job was at Normandie Avenue, one of the worst elementary schools in L.A. One teacher, Mr. Flores recalls, would watch television while students filled in coloring sheets. A new principal tried to raise standards, he says, but if she entered a classroom without the teacher’s permission, she would get slapped with a union grievance.

In 2007, after being named a district teacher of the year, Mr. Flores was hired as the founding principal of the Global Education Academy, a charter school in South Los Angeles with an almost entirely black and Latino student population. Although most teachers were young and inexperienced, the charter far outperformed neighboring public schools. In 2008, 88% of its students scored proficient or advanced in math, compared with 37% districtwide.

The key to improving student performance, Mr. Flores says, was engaging parents. At most public schools, “parents are treated with hostility,” but at charters, administrators and teachers tend to “embrace parents as partners.” Teachers unions and their liberal allies blame poverty for bad schools, but Mr. Flores calls that an insult to good teachers who are helping poor children succeed: “Poverty is not an issue.”

In 2011 Mr. Flores joined the nonprofit Parent Revolution, inspired by the group’s role in California’s first parent-trigger campaign, at McKinley Elementary in Compton. McKinley parents wanted a high-performing charter operator to take over the failing school but were stymied by the teachers union, which had joined forces with the school district.

The union tactics at McKinley included requiring parents to show up at the school during the workday with a photo ID—a good way to scare off illegal immigrants—to verify their signatures. The trigger petition failed after a lengthy court battle, but Mr. Flores says the injustice propelled him to enlist as a parent organizer. “Before you begin a petition drive, you have to start a parent organization,” Mr. Flores says. Parents “have to be aware of how the system works and how the system is broken.”

For instance, “parents are unaware that principals don’t have power to dismiss or even hire their own staff. Districts do a really good job of keeping parents away from all of this information,” Mr. Flores notes. “Once they learn, it agitates them even more.”

But the biggest challenge is collecting signatures while being barraged by the unions. In every petition campaign, he says, “they use the same accusations and playbook.” Two standbys are false charges that the petition organizers are bribing parents to sign and that the people gathering the signatures are paid by outside groups.

The unions hit the “outsider” label hard, Mr. Flores says, alleging that petition organizers “have a political agenda—that we’re trying to privatize education.” Another union tactic: Overplay the collateral damage, telling parents that a petition could force the school to close. When all else fails, the unions try to junk the petition signatures. In the parent-trigger drive Mr. Flores helped organize at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto in 2012, the school board invalidated nearly 100 signatures. But a state judge ordered the district to accept the petition and allow the charter conversion.

Compared with fighting unions, Mr. Flores’s encounters with local gang leaders have been a relative breeze.

“In every campaign I’ve been a part of, you have situations where you have to respect the community,” Mr. Flores says. “That means if the local community leader is a minister, you meet with the minister. In Watts, it was a gang leader.” That was three years ago, he says, when Latino parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary were seeking to oust the principal. A black pastor said he had to get permission from a local gang to mobilize parents, and he set up a meeting at the gang leader’s apartment.

“There were all types of weapons throughout the house. I remember opening the door and that distinctive smell of marijuana,” Mr. Flores recalls. “I was afraid because I was aware of the turf battles—the fact that I was Latino and they were African-American.”

But the only triggers that came up in the meeting were of the parental variety. To Mr. Flores’s amazement, the gang members supported the Weigand Avenue takeover. One, he says, “happened to be a former student at the school and said, ‘You need to do this for the future generation of kids, because I am a product of this school.’ He was very self-aware.” While parents gathered signatures, Mr. Flores says, the gang “would egg us on and tell us they were sending parents our way.”

The petition at Weigand succeeded, but Mr. Flores says he grew frustrated by what he perceived as an inefficient use of resources at Parent Revolution. In 2014 he left to launch his own school-reform outfit, Excellent Educational Solutions.

Later that year, he got a call from Gloria Romero—the former Democratic state Senate majority leader, who co-authored the parent-trigger law—about organizing a campaign at Palm Lane in Anaheim.

Palm Lane had cycled through five principals in three years. Mr. Flores says the catalyst for the petition drive at the school was the removal of a principal who had “started making teachers accountable” by taking steps like requiring them to assign homework. Teachers howled, and soon the school board reassigned the principal—to work as a teacher at another school.

Parents went public with their outrage. Ms. Romero proposed that Mr. Flores help mobilize them for a petition drive. When presented with various trigger options, parents chose to go for a charter-school conversion.

Mr. Flores used the park outside the school for daily parent meetings. Some mornings, he says, “we had to be out here at 6:30” to catch parents before they went to work. With a three-member team and $60,000 budget, Mr. Flores gave parents a tutorial in public-school dysfunction.

“Parents don’t know about API”—the state’s Academic Performance Index—“but they know when their kids don’t have homework, it is an issue,” he says.

Once again, the union pulled out its playbook. Signature gatherers were accused of bribing parents with iPads. The Anaheim City School District superintendent wrote a letter warning parents: “It has been reported to us that there are people in our community who have been paid by an organization to gather parent signatures for a petition that could completely change the way some of our schools are run.”

The parents were unmoved. More than 60% signed the petition—but the district threw out 133 of the 488 signatures. The matter moved to the courts, and in July a state superior court judge reprimanded the district’s conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair” and ordered the school board to accept the petition.

The school board has appealed and doubled the contract for its legal firm, to $678,000. The fight has garnered plenty of headlines in California, but state leaders like Gov. Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have been notably silent.

Mr. Flores notes that the Democrat-dominated legislature in Sacramento has made a point of spending big on schools with a high concentration of disadvantaged students, with little to show for it. “You could throw millions of dollars into these schools,” he says, “and if there is no accountability, you have the same situation.”

When it comes to education reform, Mr. Flores says, “parents shouldn’t be leading this, it should be the state.” But given the stakes, he adds, sounding a militant note, sometimes “you have to force change.”

Ms. Finley is an editorial writer for the Journal.

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!

How Public Unions Organize on the Taxpayer’s Nickel

October 3, 2012

Public Unions Exploit the Ruse of ‘Official Time’

Government employees get paid to spend time on the job working on union projects that they don’t disclose to managers or the public.

Imagine thousands of government employees reporting to work each morning at their government offices and then doing no government work. They use government workspace, government telephones and government computers, all while working on projects unknown and unidentified to their government employers. They receive hefty taxpayer-funded salaries, promotions, bonuses and benefits, plus generous government pensions when they retire—all without doing any work on behalf of the taxpayer. Instead, they work as paid political operatives for powerful government unions.
Welcome to the common practice of “official time.” Sometimes called “release time,” it’s a mechanism by which the government pays union officials to work on union matters during their government workdays. This mechanism—enshrined in law and contracts—is an enormous subsidy to public-employee unions, who defend it fiercely.
The Office of Personnel Management reports that federal employees spent over three million hours on official time in 2010, costing the taxpayers about $137 million in salary and benefits costs.
At the federal level, about 77% of official time (as reported to the OPM) is spent on “general labor-management,” a broad catchall for union activity other than contract negotiations or dispute resolution, which are the activities most directly related to employee representation. But when more than three-quarters of all official time is used for unspecified activities, red flags should be raised.
Some union officials split their time between union work and government work. Others, amazingly enough, work exclusively on union business while getting paid for their government “jobs,” and may not even show up at their government jobs for months at a time. The Department of Homeland Security alone had 62 employees on full-time official time as of July 2011, according to the department’s disclosure. It’s not clear how many other federal employees are on official time all the time, since the OPM doesn’t require federal departments and agencies to report that figure. The less that is reported, the harder it is to discover abuse.
The only thorough report on official time at the federal level was released in 1998, when the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee required the OPM to do so. At that time, 946 federal employees were on full-time official time, with another 912 spending at least 75% of their days on official time. Today the overall number is a mystery, because no law requires the federal government to disclose it.
States and municipalities don’t generally track official time for their employees, much less disclose it, so data on the subject are hard to come by. But based on the total number of unionized workers at all levels of government and the reported levels of official time in the federal government from 2010, we can estimate that American taxpayers are paying for some 23 million total hours of official time every year, at a cost of more than $1 billion. And that doesn’t include free government office space, equipment and services used by union officials.
All this persists even though 47 states have “gift clauses” in their constitutions that prohibit government subsidies to private entities. In June, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute successfully challenged official time for Phoenix police union officials. Arizona’s Superior Court enjoined the practice, concluding that official time violated Arizona’s gift clause because the union, not the city, “determines how the money is spent, by whom, and when.”
Such challenges to official time are in their infancy—another is pending in Albuquerque, N.M.—but with time they should become more widespread. (In a sign of enduring union power, though, Phoenix signed a new contract with the police union in July that included official time; the Goldwater Institute has filed for a second injunction.)
Why should official time exist at all? Government-employee unions argue that because they represent many workers who don’t become members, they should be subsidized by our government. But if workers don’t value union representation enough to join the union, why should taxpayers pay for it?
Official time is a ruse for getting taxpayers to support union activities in the government workplace, including the lobbying of legislators for ever-more benefits. This effectively subsidizes unions so they can spend more dues income on political organizing. And it’s all done without taxpayers’ knowledge. It’s a shadowy practice that must be stopped.
Mr. Factor, a professor of international politics and American government at The Citadel, is author of “Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind,” recently published by Center Street

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

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.