Parents ‘pull trigger’ on failing school

In a low-income, low-performing, all-minority school district in southern California, Compton Unified parents are going to “pull the trigger” today on McKinley Elementary School, reports Parent Revolution. More than 60 percent of parents have signed a petition to use the new parent trigger law to force change. Under the law, parents can demand a new principal or a new staff or new management by a neighboring charter school with higher performance; they also can demand that the school be closed.

The petitioning parents have chosen a non-profit charter group called Celerity to take over McKinley, starting this summer.  Celerity runs three schools in the Los Angeles area that outscore nearby schools; a fourth school opened this fall. Compared to schools with similar demographics — mostly low-income, Hispanic and black students — Celerity schools do very well.

Less than half of Compton Unified students graduate from high school, Parent Revolution points out. Only three percent of graduates are eligible for California’s state universities.

A recent two-year performance audit highlighted numerous reasons why the district has such poor results, stating, amongst other things, “…the focus in the district at this time is primarily on the adult issues and not on student needs.” And within Compton, McKinley is one of the worst schools – it is ranked in the bottom 10% of elementary schools statewide, even when compared only to schools serving similar student populations.

This will be the first use of the parental trigger law in California. It will be interesting to see if Celerity, which has started its own schools from scratch, can improve an existing school with a history of low performance.

The LA Weekly has a story on the decision by McKinley parents to force change at the school.

Here’s the New York Times story.

On National Journal, the Education Experts are debating school turnarounds.

About Joanne


  1. Joanne,

    I wonder, what is your opinion of this story? What do you think of the trigger law?


  2. Under these circumstances, must the new Celerity charter school continue to serve the entire population that attended the regular public school prior to transformation? Or, will they institute a “lottery” for the 60% who signed the petition? What about the 40% who did not sign the petition? Since the parents presumably requested the transformation, can the charter company be openly selective about who will attend?

    Seems to me they should be compelled to serve the original student body regardless of whose parents signed (or didn’t sign) the petition.

  3. CarolineSF says:

    Today’s “unclear on the concept”: Billionaire-backed operation hires 10 professional organizers to get parents to sign a request to turn their school over to a charter operator, and it’s hailed as a revolutionary victory for the little people.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    But Caroline, community organizers are good.

  5. All students in the McKinley attendance area have a right to attend the school, whether it’s run by the district or by Celerity. The school has room for these students, so a lottery won’t be needed. I predict the 40 percent who didn’t sign — perhaps because they weren’t asked — will give the new school a try.

    But we’ll see how it works out, starting with whether the district will be able to block the takeover. Celerity has succeeded in starting schools from scratch. Taking over an existing school is a different and much greater challenge.

  6. I will be very interested to see how this turns out.

  7. CarolineSF says:

    What would happen to the 40 percent who didn’t sign if they didn’t want to give the new school a try — just out in the cold and having to scramble for a school?

    By the way, Celerity made the news for firing two teachers in an interesting squabble over censorship in 2007:

    L.A. Times
    Not the lesson they intended
    Two L.A. charter school teachers lose their jobs over a planned Black
    History Month presentation.
    By Carla Rivera
    Times Staff Writer

    March 19, 2007

    Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school forbade students from reciting a poem about civil rights icon Emmett Till during a Black History Month program recently, saying his story was unsuitable for an assembly of young children.

    Teachers and students said the administration suggested that the Till case in which the teenager was beaten to death in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman ˜ was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory, and that Till’s actions could be viewed as sexual harassment.

    The decision by Celerity Nascent Charter School leaders roiled the southwest Los Angeles campus and led to the firing of seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss, who had signed one of several letters of protest written by the students.
    (This link is to a blog that reposted the Times story)
    The author of the poem at the heart of the brouhaha called the firing “unconscionable.”

  8. So is the whole issue of public school vs private charter revisited again next year, when there’s a somewhat different set of parents? Or is this another example where the privatization street goes only one way?

    It will be interesting to see whether this law gets challenged. I can think of no other examples when parents get a say in how a school is run but non-parents in the district are given no voice. Nor can I think of why that should be the case. The parents of school basketball players don’t get to decide amongst themselves who the coach should be, do they? So why in the world should they and they alone decide the fate of a public school system? What if they’re fools, or led by fools, or misled by claims made off the record by charter companies that stand to profit from a change? The law sounds idiotic, frankly.

  9. Well, as for the refusal to have the poem read, I’m right on with that decision. Some material, no matter its overall worth, is not developmentally appropriate for young elementary students. As reported by the LA Times- “Many parents agreed with the school’s decision to omit the Till presentation.”

    Now on to the letter and firing. The teachers committed insubordination. There are plenty of other non-confrontational ways to express your disagreement with administration – meet with them one-on-one, ask to discuss the issue at a faculty meeting or during whatever various committee meetings there may be. Signing a letter created by students is an open act of protest. Schools have enough trouble with earning and maintaining the respect of their students. One necessary component of that is to keep an image of cooperation between faculty and administration.

    Perhaps the firing was too extreme, but the school did have the right to fire them and the teachers did act stupid. If you’re going to do something like this due to principles, don’t be surprised when the worst happens and don’t whine and say that it should have simply been “a learning tool.” Lets see, the school has 7 grades with 40-50 students per grade. I’ll guess that there are 2 core teachers per grade with a handful of special area teachers, maybe 17 teachers total. Note then that 15 other teachers, who were also likely presented the opportunity to sign protest letters, did not.

  10. Parent Revolution is a joke.

    Back before the reputation of Green Dot Public School, Inc. began to crumble and before parents and students began to see the corporate writing on the walls of their schools and to feel the pepper spray on their skin, Steve Barr was CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, Inc. There he developed his skills in exploiting poor immigrant parents by shuttling them into noisy astroturf groups for Green Dot, with bankrolling supplied by his patrons, Eli Broad ($10.5 million) and Bill Gates ($7.8 million).

    Now Barr is Chairman of the Board for another astroturf group and oligarch-funded outfit called Parent Revolution, and as you see by the website.

    I guess “Corporate Takeover” was already taken?