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Parent Trigger Law Faces Challenges

September 24, 2011

Interesting two page story in yesterday’s New York Times about the parent trigger law that began a contentious lawsuit emanating out of Compton, CA.

You can certainly link to the article most of which I will post below.  When I read the NYTimes piece I remembered the parent-takeover of a school in Compton story so I did a little looking back on the issue.  I remember at the time that the people in charge of the parent-trigger were a little less than honest, they were not “out” or “forthright” in their neighborhood signature drives.  Many parents reported not knowing what they were signing, only that if they signed their school would be improved, well, hell – who wouldn’t sign that?

From Mother Jones we have this:

“The first parent trigger petition, at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, offered an example of how the process shouldn’t work. The signature drive was held in secret, to avoid a backlash from the school, but with the decision pre-made for parents that the school would be taken over by charter operator Celerity Educational Group. There was no public discussion of parents’ options or rights. McKinley is not a school that has resisted change; though low-performing, it has dramatically raised test scores in recent years. Some parents complained afterwards that they didn’t understand the petition they were signing

I don’t think the New York Times did a great job of covering that angle of the story at all:

The promise sounded alluring and simple: if enough parents signed a petition, their children’s struggling school would be shut down and replaced with a charter school.

So, using a new state law known as the parent trigger, organizers at an underperforming school here in Compton collected hundreds of signatures from parents who said they were fed up. Parents were eager, they said, to turn it into a charter school, where students would spend more time in class with a staff of new teachers.

After months of legal battles, the status of that petition remains tied up in court. But in the meantime, a new charter school has opened just blocks from the struggling school, and parents at more than a dozen other schools in California are hoping to take advantage of the trigger law, demanding that their schools radically improve.

In essence, the law creates a parents’ union, which advocates say will provide powerful and needed counterweight to teachers’ unions and district bureaucracies. If 51 percent of parents in a persistently failing school sign a petition, they can force the school to change into a charter, close it entirely or replace the principal and teachers.

Similar legislation has passed in Texas, Ohio and Connecticut and is being considered in nearly a dozen more states — but California, the earliest adopter, is furthest along. And with opponents and skeptics arguing that parents lack the expertise to make important policy decisions better left to career educators, the Compton case is a prime example of how challenging it can be to create change. 

“We’ve been waiting for this for a very long time,” said Gregoria Gonzalez, a mother of two girls in Lynwood, Calif., who has been involved in her local school for years. “We are very tired of being told if we want to help we simply should stand outside watching recess or making something for a bake sale.”

As Ms. Gonzalez spoke at a protest rally last week, another mother held up a sign proclaiming, “My child still cannot read.” One little girl gripped her own poster that said, “The power is with the parents.”

But Compton’s ordeal illustrated how difficult claiming that power can be and how bitter the battles can become. When parents began signing the petition last fall to replace McKinley Elementary School, several Latino parents said teachers had warned them that they could be deported if they did. Other parents said that teachers insisted the children were simply not trying hard enough to learn. Teachers, for their part, complained that parents had been coerced into signing the petition and that many did not know what they were signing.

Compton Unified School District officials challenged the petition in court, which ruled that because the signatures were not dated, the petition was not valid. While organizers appealed that decision in court, the administrators of the charter school, Celerity Sirius, looked for other ways to open a new campus and secured approval for one at a former church and at a campus closed because of low enrollment.

The entire signature gathering process needs to be out in the open with all intentions of what is being proposed for the school and the students known before this process even starts.  To NOT do so is suggestive of nefariousness in my opinion.

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