Parents gain power — 'lynch' power?

In passing Race To The Top legislation this week, California gave parents the power to put chronically low-performing schools under new management.

The laws allow parents to pull their children out of the state’s 1,000 lowest-scoring schools and move them to schools in other districts. They also allow parents to overhaul up to 75 chronically underperforming schools each year by collecting signatures from a majority of parents.

Empowered parents will form “lynch mobs,” writes the California Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittelman.

Under the parent trigger (or lynch mob provision) if 50% of the parents at a school or feeder schools of a low performing school sign a petition, the school board must hold a hearing to accept that petition or provide an alternative governance change, which could include closing the school, turning it into a charter school, or reconstituting the school.

Lynch mobs?

Via EIA Intercepts.

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Comments

  1. That’s a pretty troubling allusion — and not just on the surface, either.

    In any case, these provisions are worthless. You have to get other schools to accept the kids first. The money that comes with the kids doesn’t really pay for them since they need so much very expensive remediation and ultimately they sink you for AYP — there’s really no more wiggle room left in the passing rates (some unintended consequences of the law working for you there). We get calls all the time from parents in districts where the kids have the right to transfer. We say no. We’re bursting at the seams from our own kids.

  2. The provisions include “closing the school, turning it into a charter school, or reconstituting the school”. Sounds fairly open-ended so not worthless.

  3. Margo/Mom says:

    The rhetoric is indeed inflammatory. Would it not behoove teachers in beleagured schools to build stronger relationships with parents–whether or not they are “empowered” by some fairly illusory ability to present a petition to the school board?

  4. john thompson says:

    The rhetoric is inflammatory and thus regretable.

    What would we call it if parents sought equal power in micromanaging their childrens’ doctors? If x% of parents rejected vacinations, for instance, would we encourage contracts with faith healers?

    For SOCIETY to turn over any such essential services to such a mentality would be tantamount to child abuse.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    It’s been my experience, with a very good school system, that public schools are by design absolutely and adamantly proof against parental influence, unless they see it as making their job easier. Not making the results better.
    One very good principal said, when I complained about a drunk math teacher, “He has to retire sometime.”
    If I don’t like my kids’ doctor, we’ll go elsewhere.
    I’d like the same privilege with my kids’ education. At this point, either I pony up a substantial additional tax for private or parochial school, or I try to influence the district in which I live, which no doubt engenders much hilarity among the educrats.
    Not all school systems are bursting at the seams. In many states with declining birth rates or outmigration of the young and ambitious, they’re rattling around in half-empty buildings.
    However, failing schools are often associated with problematic demographics and other systems don’t want to be importing trouble. That’s the view of the one in which I live.
    Even the kids whose parents want them out of a failing school into a good school haven’t gotten the message. Maybe they don’t sell drugs, but they steal lunch money or assault girls. Not all of them, of course, but sufficient of them so that the board decided not to accept kids from out of the district despite the money they would bring with them.
    I can see, as a educrat tactic, not allowing anybody to exit a failing school. That way lies anarchy.
    For the students…not such a good deal

  6. Wow, what a paternalistic attitude John Thompson displays. I don’t automatically accept my pediatrician’s word as gospel even though she’s a Yale M.D. I do my own research and sometimes that leads me to go against her recommendations (such as using individual vaccines spread apart rather than the combo shots). Ultimately it’s MY child, not the doctor’s, and I’m the one who’s going to have to live with the consequences of the decisions I make (such as the potential risk of vaccine-related autism).

    I wish that the CA measure had gone further and empowered parents zoned for ALL underperforming schools, not just the very worst ones.

  7. John thompson, I know, it would be terrible if parents could simply decide whether to take their doctor’s counsel or not.

    Certainly society would disintegrate with the doctor’s superior knowledge subordinated to the concerns of parents.

  8. George Larson says:

    I recall in my reading of history that society still functioned when doctors had no modern medical knowledge and people not only picked their “doctor” but told the “doctor” how the patient should be treated: diet, pills, prayer, enemas, bleeding or ointments.

    Not that long ago education was handled the same way. Families selected and paid for the tutors, schools or apprenticeships for their children.

    I do not think this was the best of all possible worlds, but I do not agree it was child abuse.

  9. Ultimately it’s MY child, not the doctor’s, and I’m the one who’s going to have to live with the consequences of the decisions I make (such as the potential risk of vaccine-related autism).

    Actually, it’s your child who is going to have to live with the consequences of your decisions. You do know that there is no science supporting a link between autism and vaccines, right?

    My biggest problem with this idea is that in a lot of the “worst” schools you have the kids whose parents don’t have the ability to play the system and get them into other options. You also have the kids who have been kicked out of other programs and are sent back to their neighborhood school. As many have noted, other schools do not want them — they have their own problems and certainly don’t want to jeopardize their test scores by helping these kids.

  10. Margo/Mom says:

    The proper health analogy to public schools is public health–something frequently overlooked in this country. Suppose that there were an epidemic of, say, polio, in a particular geographic region or neighborhood. We could assume that either parents there are too poorly equipped, too poorly educated and just plain don’t care enough to see that their children are vaccinated, or we could look into some key questions. Are there sufficient doctors serving the area and are there barriers to access (transportation, hours, cost)? Does the population understand the immunization process, its values, possible pitfalls? What policy responses are needed in order to combat the problem?

    I have in fact advocated for public health initiatives at the neighborhood level. While politics is politics and nothing is ever easy when it comes to policy and budgets, the one barrier that is omnipresent in education and far less likely to be found in education is the notion that some populations are congenitally incapable of responsible involvement and their outcomes must of necessity always be at a lower level.

    I worked for a time in health centers receiving federal funds, where an absolute requirement of receiving funding was the inclusion of a percentage of health center patients on the governing board. Not just a list on a piece of paper–but actual people who could expect to be interviewed by inspectors at regular intervals. Education is far more lenient. There is verbiage regarding parent involvement, no accountability, no specific role. If anyone ever checks on the relationship between parents and decision-making, a list will suffice–they don’t have to actually have met with anyone or done anything.

    Remember John–only the 75 worst performing schools even qualify for the parent petition (which gets the parents a hearing by the school board–nothing more). Do you really think they could make things worse?

  11. Bill Leonard says:

    This seems a flawed solution, but an understandable one. And the teacher’s union/education bureaucracy crowd have no one to blame but themselves.

    Their response is exactly the same to every voiced concern or suggestion for change: Give us more money, then shut up and go away. None of them seem to realize that such a steady litany will, sooner or later, lead to villagers at the gates with pitchforks, torches and ropes.

  12. Miller Smith says:

    Sure. Why not? Let’s see what it is the parents actually want in each district rather than telling them what they must have.

    Then the next step will be to do this with colleges and universities…oh, wait, that’s exactly what they do with colleges and universities now! How’s that working out?

  13. john thompson says:

    Ok, pick your profession/job. If you want the bottom x% of sports teams to remain at the bottom, then this would be your plan. Let the crowd micromanage the coach. Automechanics often have (half-joking) signs to about the charges for fixing the problem and the higher charges for fixing the previous fixes. Whether it surgery or working on an engine, its a bad idea to have someone looking over the worker’s shoulder.

    And its far worse when the person is emotionally involved. Docters don’t operate on their own kids. And as they say, anyone who represents themselves in court has a fool for a client. And the hungrier and more impatient you are, and the more you open the oven, it doesn’t make the cookie cook faster.

    Some parents reject vacinations, but we AS A SOCIETY don’t ENCOURAGE that sort of behavior.

    But let’s be honest. That law is a part of juicing up anti-teacher sentiment. And its a part of an RttT effort to encourage unscientific policies(though perhaps policies that show “truthieness). And the effort is not only anti-teacher but its a part of the same anti-social science, anti-ed school mentality. And as society ridicules teachers, it then complains that ed schools attract such low levels of talent.

    Let’s focus on the problems that can be fixed within the reasonable limits of our capacity. We need respectful learning cultures, but education (not unlike other disrespected jobs) suffers from a culture of compliance. Again, medicine provides a clue. Some would challenge the professional autonomy of doctors just like they attack the late, lamented professional autonomy of teachers. Both should be respected and both should be the foundation of cultures of peer review and listening and challenging each others’ evidence.

    Educators are told to raise standards but prohibited from enforcing attendance or behavioral standards, but the kicker is that schools are not allowed to complain that those policies are mutually contradictory. In my experience, which I don’t claim to be universal, the parent is always right. When a parent wants a grade changed or absences dropped, the educators back down instantly.

    Now we could trade horror stories about abusive parents and domineering teachers, but that wouldn’t accomplish anything. My question is why have teachers been singled out for choreographed abuse. The answer, fundamentally, is political. You couldn’t make as much political hay by attacking firefighters, for instance. There’s no market for policy of taking over and privatizing the local fire station regardless of the talents of the workers. Social workers had their day in the gunsights, but recently we haven’t seen efforts to whip up abuse towards them. But their time will return … I can’t wait until someone decides to blame librarians for the lack of reading or reference librarians get held accountabile for giving the answer that confirms the facts that patrons wish were true.

    Here’s the point, and its not an argumentative one. There must be a balance in anything. We need a Free Market, balanced by a social safety net and regulations. We need accountability balanced by due process and tenure. It is appropriate that parents lobby for their kids, but educators must also stand for some timeless principles.

    Frankly, I don’t see why my analogy got such a response There will always be popular support and popular resentment against all types of people. The issue is why do people want government’s help in stirring up animostity. There is no way that students will benefit. How is such a teacher-bashing plan supposed to attract more talent into low performing schools?

    But let’s have a reality check here. Not being able to exercise choice isn’t the cause of failing schools. The worst schools are a predictable result of extreme choice. Virtually anyone who recognizes their power, and who is not caught up by circumstances, has already exercised their choices so almost all of the easier to educate kids have been creamed out of the toughest schools. Yeah, those schools are awful and awful educators should be fired. But many of us have chosen the toughest jobs. Part of the job of teaching is the recgnition that we chose a career where anyone can rub our noses in it. I’m not crybabying about the disrespect. I’m protesting the calculated decisions to demonize teachers.

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    One reason we don’t single out firefighters is that, as a rule, their performance is satisfactory.
    I know that’s a wee, small, tiny difference, but it does exist.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Another reason for parental concern escapes many educrats.
    My kids–don’t know about yours–got a year older every year. Just as regular.
    An improvement which would take five years–for everybody to forget–is not good enough for MY KID who would never have the advantage of that improvement, should the ‘crats in charge actually have meant to make the improvement in the first place.
    Our school system is generally considered in the top ten percent in our area of the state.
    When my kids graduated, they were slightly better in math than I had been. One, aiming at teaching foreign language, was better in foreign language than I had been, the other not as good. They were less well-educated in chemistry and physics, far, far behind in composition and expository writing. They were embarrassingly, woefully awful in history. Thing is, I was on the high side of average in my mid-working class HS and they were both in the NHS.
    The educrats just can’t believe we remember.

  16. tim-10-ber says:

    John said: “But let’s be honest. That law is a part of juicing up anti-teacher sentiment. And its a part of an RttT effort to encourage unscientific policies(though perhaps policies that show “truthieness). And the effort is not only anti-teacher but its a part of the same anti-social science, anti-ed school mentality. And as society ridicules teachers, it then complains that ed schools attract such low levels of talent.”

    John — if, if RTTT in fact does this then just maybe we will get real reform in education.

    What we have now does not work. Who is willing to talk about the cultural challenges facing the black community that have caused many of the problems in the school system? Very few if any.

    ELL — this is a huge challenge. However, in my district which has seen its hispanic population grow from 0 to 15% in 9 years it is the hispanic groups that is gaining faster than the black population. These families value education…

    Educators have chased the money into public education. This money has not improved the system. In fact, IMHO it has made it worse. Educators think they can be doctor, parent, nurse, social worker, mental health worker, etc and teach? Hah! Teachers administer much more than they teach in schools with high percentages of FARM kids.

    Until educators become pro-active rather than re-active when they feel cornered nothing will change in government schools.

    Parents should be able to vote with their feet — go to another school (public or private) or another district. The money should follow the child.

    I don’t think California is going far enough…it may or may not work but it parents get up in arms about the lack of quality of education for their kids…it will be the first time (without exiting for private schools) I would have seen parents take back their rights.

    Someone said public schools are not about making the parents feel welcome. That is so very true. In fact government schools want the family out of the picture and does not care about its massive decay since the 1950s If it did…we would have world class schools not the horrible quality we have in most schools today.

  17. tim: are you saying that it is the public schools causing the breakdown of the traditional family? That if we teachers somehow cared about the “massive decay [of family] since the 1950s” all would be fine?

    Trying to follow your argument and I’m having a hard time.

    FWIW, yes, I do play nurse, counselor, parent, etc. in school. No, I didn’t ask for these roles. I’d rather be just teaching. It’d be totally cool with me if all my kids came from functional families.

  18. john thompson says:

    tim-10-ber

    You write: “Who is willing to talk about the cultural challenges facing the black community that have caused many of the problems in the school system?” and then you want parents to “take back their rights.” In addition to the illogic, consider the difficulty in discussing sensitive issues in social forums, and then also consider that teachers are no more or no less imperfect than anyone.

    We need more conversations but not more of the blame game, especially one where it is too easy to make blanket statements. At the risk of contradicting myself, Richard, I’ve officiated sports (where much of my teaching philosophy was born) dug ditches, unloaded trucks, worked in packing houses, slung iron in the oil fields, drove trucks, taught college classes, worked as an urban planner, wrote book(s,) was a lobbyist, and began teaching at the age of forty. I don’t see teachers as being any better or worse at our jobs. I don’t see our emotional intelligence as being greater or smaller. People are people. Mostly we want to do good.

    I could get off on a “reform” based on blaming principals; I used to feel the same about editors at academic presses. But that’s ridiculous. The feces rolls downhill.

    And when I’ve read about these idealized teachers, i just realized, we already have those sorts of educators. They are called principals. They work 90 plus hours a week and shorten their lives by enduring extreme stress. When I think of the heart attacks and the other hospitalizations faced by my principals, I’m reminded that their jobs are as dangerous as my old job in the oil patch or my kids’ neighborhood. The danger doesn’t come from the kids. The danger is the health-destroying stress of having so many masters.

    It also reminds me of the role of stress in policy-making. Virtually every devastatingly bad decision I’ve seen personally in education was made by people who had pushed thmselves past exhaustion.

    And that gets back to all of us being the same. The fatal heart attack rate for truck drivers went through the roof after companies inserted mechansims for micromanaging the rpms at which they shifted gears. Ironically, many parents who would be micromanging the 75 lowest performing schools would also be people at the bottom of the economic food chain who were frequently micromanaged and disrespected on their jobs.

    And Richard, we need to learn from Coach Wooten who said, “be quick, but don’t hurry.” And again, we need checks and balances for the same reason why you don’t want doctors operating on their own kids.

  19. Ponderosa says:

    It’s easy to destroy a system –which these “reforms” seem likely to do –but it’s hard to build one. I forsee American schools entering a period of true chaos and steep decline. The severe disruption and distortions of curriculum that these changes herald will rip teachers’ attention away from the meat-and-potatoes of teaching: conveying non-trivial knowledge. We need WISE educators like E.D. Hirsch to lead reform –not well-meaning-but-inexpert parents and businesspeople. John Thompson is right –the veteran teachers should be in charge of this process. Sadly, our profession HAS in fact declined and is to some extent responsible for the public’s lack of faith in us.

  20. Mark Roulo says:

    My question is why have teachers been singled out for choreographed abuse. The answer, fundamentally, is political. You couldn’t make as much political hay by attacking firefighters, for instance. There’s no market for policy of taking over and privatizing the local fire station regardless of the talents of the workers.

    I’d suggest that it isn’t just teachers who have been singled out, but public education as a whole … the teachers, principals, district superintendents, etc.

    And I, too, think that it is political, but probably not in the way you mean.

    I believe that a lot of the unhappiness towards public education is generated by people who (a) don’t like some (or many) aspects of their local school, and (b) believe that they have no way to disengage from the local school and go elsewhere.

    With automobiles, for example, many people absolutely do not like certain auto brands. The nice thing about the way cars are purchased, though, is that these people can solve their problem by simply not buying those brands. If people who *hated* Audis, for example, were forced to purchase and drive them, I expect that you would hear a lot from unhappy Audi drivers.

    For many people who can’t afford private schooling (or think that they can’t), and can’t afford to move houses to a different district (or think that they can’t), the option to “buy something you like” isn’t seen as a choice when it comes to schooling.

    This problem doesn’t show up for firefighters because, for the most part, the vast, vast, vast majority of any given community is happy with how their firefighters operate. In this case, people don’t have much ability to change/fix it, but they are happy and don’t want to do so.

    As long as a non-trivial number of parents feel that they are trapped by/with/in their local school district and also don’t like it, you are going to see anger and resentment directed against public education.

    Note that it doesn’t even need to be anywhere close to a majority of the parents who are unhappy to make quite a bit of noise. 10% unhappy and 90% happy can still make for a very miserable situation for all concerned.

    For what it is worth, I don’t see this changing any time soon.

    -Mark Roulo

  21. I recall in my reading of history that society still functioned when doctors had no modern medical knowledge and people not only picked their “doctor” but told the “doctor” how the patient should be treated: diet, pills, prayer, enemas, bleeding or ointments.

    And didn’t people in that society also “enjoy” a lifespan of about 45 years? Sometimes it’s good to let the professionals do their jobs…

  22. “Sometimes it’s good to let the professionals do their jobs…”

    Yes, when they actually are professionals and not union and tenure protected pseudo professionals.

  23. Kevin Smith says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with those saying that the kids that transfer from low performing schools are bad for the school thay transfer to, at least here in NC. Since it takes a motivated effort on the part of parents to arrange the move to another school and they have to provide transport to the district line every morning, we actually get the children of motivated and involved parents from the awful school in the next county over (it is a true educational disaster and has been for years). I will agree that this has pushed the scores at that school down, but since the schools response to this has been only to try to fight the transfers (and not try and address the fundamental insitutional problems that have lead them to where they are), I don’t have much sympathy. And before anyone goes thinking I don’t know what it’s “really like” at that school, I should point out that my first teaching job was AT THAT SCHOOL.

  24. Kevin,

    I’m curious to know if you have any suggestions for that school. What do you think they could do to improve?

  25. Actually, I grew up in a town that used volunteers rather than unionized professional firefighters and it worked just fine. The chief was a paid full-time position but everybody else on the force were civilians.

    Maybe it’s time to start experimenting with that model for schools. Have a paid full-time administrator and then allow parents to operate a co-op where they volunteer one morning or afternoon a week. I’d be very interested in enrolling my kids in a truly parent-run school. There are plenty of co-op preschools in my area, but no elementary co-ops. The big obstacle is all the state and Federal red tape…

  26. Miller Smith says:

    Come on folks! We’re missing the solution to the entire problem of unsatified parents-lack of choice.

    We can makethe k-12 education system into a GI bill type of system letting parents pick what they want for their child and allowing parents to move their child when it suit them. Any school could be the type of school it wants to be and collect the customers it can attract AND no group of parents could dictate to any school what it must do. Schools would live or die on customer satisfaction alone.

  27. Margo/Mom says:

    “But let’s be honest. That law is a part of juicing up anti-teacher sentiment. And its a part of an RttT effort to encourage unscientific policies(though perhaps policies that show “truthieness). And the effort is not only anti-teacher but its a part of the same anti-social science, anti-ed school mentality. And as society ridicules teachers, it then complains that ed schools attract such low levels of talent.”

    Actually John, there is some recent research (citations available on request) to indicate that school reforms are more likely to “take hold” and continue when they come at the behest of organized and involved parents. The role of parents as decision-makers and community liasions are the two given shortest shrift in most schools in my experience (and research shows this is not atypical).

    I am not big on this particular legislation, simply because a petition of an overwhelming number of parents in a small percentage of the worst schools, that only guarantees a hearing by the local school board is little more than window-dressing when it comes to real reform–parent initiated or otherwise. But the question remains–why is it that educators as a group, rather than taking the lead to embrace an inclusive role for parents–come off again and again with such knee-jerk anti-parent reactions?

  28. John Thompson: “The rhetoric is inflammatory and thus regretable. What would we call it if parents sought equal power in micromanaging their childrens’ doctors? If x% of parents rejected vacinations, for instance, would we encourage contracts with faith healers?”

    The analogous situation would be if, instead of Medicaid and SCHIP acting as health insurance, we simply forced poor families to use government-run clinics for all of their subsidized health care. And in addition, we made these clinics available free of charge to anyone else who wanted to use them. Not only would the free clinics be over-utilized and under-funded, they would compete unfairly with private medical practices, thus driving most of them out of business.

    I suppose the justification for these government clinics would be that if we allowed people to shop around they would all flock to witch doctors and faith healers.

  29. Mark Roulo said: “For many people who can’t afford private schooling (or think that they can’t), and can’t afford to move houses to a different district (or think that they can’t), the option to “buy something you like” isn’t seen as a choice when it comes to schooling.”

    And a large part of why it isn’t seen as a choice is that you still have to pay for your ineffective public school even if you do not make use of it’s services.

    My grandchildren are all in a parochial school (although not of the faith involved) due to the wretched quality of the local public schools (the breaking point was a teacher with a major substance abuse problem left in the classroom after several years of unsuccessful treatment, because (according to the union) ‘it’s a disability so you can’t replace her.”

    I’m not opposed to helping such an individual get treatment, but I’m also absolutely opposed to letting such an individual remain on the public payroll and screw with the education of children year after year.

    And yet, after a year of zero increase in the COLA, all the teachers in this school district will get a handsome increase in pay…the bad equally with the good. The administration justifies the newly negotiated union agreement with “we still have a reserve left.” Conveniently forgetting that they are at the same time passing the hat among community service groups to raise money ‘because we have no money for books.”

    The current public school system is broken; it is not clear to me that it can be fixed.

  30. Bill said, “The current public school system is broken; it is not clear to me that it can be fixed.”

    Bingo. And now we just wait for the great unwinding.

  31. I just wanted to clarify, there seems to be some confusion about the legislation that was just signed into law this week: it does not trigger a “hearing” as some suggested, it triggers either a full reconstitution — basically firing most of the staff and leadership and bringing on a new team with new plan, or charter conversion. That’s a lot of historic power for parents to finally have.

  32. Bill Leonard says:

    Margo/Mom wrote, “But the question remains–why is it that educators as a group, rather than taking the lead to embrace an inclusive role for parents–come off again and again with such knee-jerk anti-parent reactions?”

    Precisely.

    And I wish that all the educators who have responded would have recognized that point — essentially mine about the usual response of the union/education establishment to every single suggestion.

    Look, the sentiment that leads to legislation such as we’re talking about didn’t just spring up because of one or two malcontents out there among the great unwashed. This sort of thing happens when a public — in this case, concerned parents — feel stymied and frustrated at every turn by an establishment that is, frankly, dedicated to maintaining status quo, no matter how dysfunctional that status quo may be.

  33. John Thompson: Whether it surgery or working on an engine, its a bad idea to have someone looking over the worker’s shoulder.

    Which of course is why democracies perform so much worse than dictatorships. All that freedom of press, elections, freedom of speech? And what do we get? Us poor sods living in a democracy have to suffer higher GDPs per capita, longer lives, better environmental quality than those in a dictatorship where the powers-that-be are left to get on with things without having that terrible distraction of anyone looking over their shoulder.

    I would rather have a surgeon who had an experienced nurse, or a trainee doctor, looking over their shoulder, and having to explain and justify what they are doing, than one who was a surgeon-god.

    And its far worse when the person is emotionally involved.

    The history of abuse in orphanages would imply the opposite, when it comes to raising children.

    Some would challenge the professional autonomy of doctors just like they attack the late, lamented professional autonomy of teachers.

    Not only some would, but some have done. Which is to the good when it comes to things like enforcing hand washing.

    . My question is why have teachers been singled out for choreographed abuse.

    My question is why do you read a post about schools, and assume that it singles out teachers? What is it about so many teachers that they apparently believe that that a school only consists of teachers, so that any criticism of a school system is automatically read as singling out teachers?
    Admittedly there are a lot of critics of education who apparently think that the only ones who matter are teachers and parents, so either we hold teachers responsible or we hold parents responsible. Heaven knows what those people think about paying principals, school secretarys, education district leaders, textbook publishers, etc, they never mention the logical corrollary of their argument that if only teachers and parents matter then we should fire everyone else in the school system.

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