Parent trigger: Hollywood vs. reality

Adelanto parents attempt to take control of their failing school was rejected by the Desert Trails school board last night. Seventy percent of parents in the Southern California town had signed the “parent trigger” petition, but that dropped below 50 percent after a two-week campaign to persuade signers to rescind. Parent Revolution, which is backing the trigger drive, charges the California Teachers Association and local teachers unions intimidated and misled parents.

Last night, as Desert Trails Parent Union parents defended their organizing efforts and their right to stand for their children’s education, teacher’s union representatives and other school staff attacked parents, one by one. The loudest cheering from the school staff came when the opposition boldly blamed the parents for all of the school’s woes, causing the defenders of the status quo to erupt in wild applause. . . . For over a week and a half parents have been harassed by those pushing a rescission campaign with tactics that included photographing parents that refused to rescind their signature, and telling parents that the school would close on Wednesday if they didn’t sign a rescission petition before Tuesday’s meeting.

Update: Here’s the Los Angeles Times story.

In an upcoming Hollywood movie, Won’t Back Down, however, parents and teachers unite to take over a failing school.

Viola Davis, an Oscar nominee as best actress for The Help, plays a teacher who risks career and friendships to join the revolt. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the single mother who sells cars, tends bar and rouses parents to take charge of their grade school.

Holly Hunter, the union rep, loves her teachers and so she fights the takeover with a ploy you might expect from a corporate villain.

“When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?” Ms. Hunter mutters.

The movie is set in Pittsburgh, though Pennsylvania doesn’t have a parent trigger law.

A take-over in Adelanto would have been the first in the nation.

The Desert Trails parents threatened a locally run charter school as a last resort to pressure the board into negotiating changes in the elementary school. Negotiations were going well. I wonder if that progress will end now that the threat of a takeover is diminished.

Of course, a lawsuit is possible — very possible. Parents Union members are trying to talk to parents who rescinded their signatures. If only a few parents re-rescind and claimed they were tricked or bullied into backing down, the petition will be back over the 50 percent mark.

About Joanne


  1. Well…nothing speaks like the sound of your feet…walking out the door along with the money the state allocates for your child’s education.

  2. Why the distortion on this story, Joanne? Every article I’ve read has stated that it was parents who led the drive to have their names rescinded from the petition due to the feeling that they were being misled. A big part of the failure of this petition is due to the fact that there TWO petitions. Many parents wanted change, but not at the expense of the teachers.

    If one wants to argue that parents were “bullied” by the “nefarious” (ever an easy target in this one sided debate) teachers union, then can’t the same argument be made that parents were “bullied” by Parent Revolution? Why are we trying to cast our parents as victims who are not savvy enough to make level-headed decisions once all information becomes available?

    Further, if those who support this law think that parents can be so easily swayed when it comes such an important decision that has long-term ramifications for the community, how can they then support giving parents this power?

    mom of 3 kids

  3. Oh, “ms_teacher”, this is a fight that’ll have to re-fought over and over again.

    Unless you nefarious union types can get the law repealed the rotten schools parents have to accept will be an on-going goad to the law’s use.

    The problem is that the scent of blood is in the water. Parents seem to be coming to an awareness that the rotten schools they were forced to attend not that long ago aren’t necessarily the schools their kids will be forced to attend. There’s a gradually dawning awareness that parents ought to have more of a say then the current system allows or can accommodate.

    Those parents, with their unhappy experience as context, won’t be nearly as willing to accept the limits inherent to the school district nor wait interminably for the school district to improve their schools. They’ll want some action for their kids and they’ll want it pretty dammed quick.

    Oh, and in answer to your last paragraph, however stupid and easily-led parents might be, and I reject your nasty, self-serving characterization, who else is there? You nefarious union types?

  4. ms_teacher says:

    The point that you so obviously missed in your response, Mr. Allen, is this. Parent Revolution is not this benevolent force of goodness that is being portrayed. They hae their own interest in this & thus will provide information that is not biased to that point of view. Likewise, CTA and the teachers they represent also have their own interest & will also portray a biased point of view. Neither side can claim to be innocent.

    Parents are not so easily manipulated & used. Only until we have truly neutral information provided to parents about what it means to turn around a school with both long & short term ramifications, will parents trust this process. Any organization with a personal interest in how the process turns out should rightfully be questioned – including CTA/NEA.

    This district needs to commit to working with this community for long-term solutions and not just try to appease them in the hopes they will go away.

    Unlike you, I don’t believe that there is just one villain in this story. Parents did not trust what was going on & that’s why they asked to have their signatures rescinded.

    • Sorry ms_teacher but Parent Revolution is a benevolent force and the folks who ran a school so rotten that it motivated parents to try to do something about the problem, aren’t. Neither are the folks who sided with the school district in a desperate, and sadly, successful effort to thwart those parents.

      • Parent Revolution is a benevolent force the way the invasion of Iraq destroyed the weapons of mass destruction.

        I didn’t need to look at their website to see who their funders were; Bill and Melinda Gates, the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation, the Holy Trinity of right wing nut job organizations.

        • Mike, it should be noted that in your metaphor the public education system shows up as Saddam Hussein. That seems about right.

          • You’ve said some dumb things over the years, but this is the dumbest.

          • So either you keep careful track of everything I’ve posted, assigning a “dumbness” score to each post, with this one establishing a new high or your insults are as uninspired, not to mention juvenile, as your defense of the public education status quo.

            And as long as you’ve chosen to make the subject comparative dumbness, how would you score your post which is edging up on breaking Godwin’s Law?

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    ms_teacher is right. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a point of view. But to call the Gates Foundation a “right wing nut job organization”–that’s just silly.

    • it’s Mike. You really can’t expect much more from him.

    • Roger,

      The Gates Foundation gives to right wing causes and buys influence among Rethuglicans. That’s right wing in my book.

      In addition, the Gates Foundation is arrogant enough to believe it knows better than the experts in the fields they stick their noses into. and lack the basic Socratic belief.

      • Har!

        The Gates foundation seems to have the ability to learn from its mistakes which is a facility that, on the basis of history, is lacking among supporters of the public education status quo. One has to wonder upon what basis lies the claim to expertise among those “experts”?

      • Roger Sweeny says:


        All foundations pick their experts. All foundations underestimate their ignorance.

        Gates actually hasn’t been awful (yeah, that’s not much praise, but it’s better than a lot of foundations) when it comes to admitting ignorance and mistake. For a while, they really pushed small schools. After giving out a lot of money, they found out small schools weren’t any better than large ones, and dropped the idea.

        I commend them for seeking out people who won’t just repeat the conventional wisdom. Too may experts lack the basic Socratic belief.

      • A bit of advice:
        In my many years on the web, I have found that the words ‘Rethuglican’ and ‘Repugnican’ are infallible signs that the writer who uses them is a kneejerk left-wing bigot, not worth reading and not worth arguing with, because he or she cannot be persuaded and is not interested in persuading the other side. The same goes for ‘Democrap’ and ‘Demoncrat’ and similar locutions on the other side. If you want people to take you seriously, you should avoid using such words.

  6. Just sharing a few points:

    The LA Times — which has long been an eager, unquestioning cheerleader for all things relating to charter schools in general — changed its tone and reported that the Parent Trigger at Desert Trails had created divisive controversy, setting parents against each other. This wasn’t propaganda from the evil evil evil teachers’ unions, but, again, came from mainstream media with a history of vigorous support for charters.

    The divisive effect of a Parent Trigger campaign is, of course, what any sincere person of goodwill who had actual contact with schools would predict from the beginning.

    The Parent Trigger sounds really great in theory to people who have no contact with or experience in schools — which includes everyone involved in Parent Revolution.

    The Desert Trails parents had a long list of demands, many of which are directly OPPOSED by the corporate-education-reform forces that created and funded Parent Revolution. So the parents allied themselves with their own enemies in many ways. Those included:
    — Smaller classes: Bill Gates has been calling for larger classes, and a big segment of the corporate-reform world works hard to discredit the notion that small classes are beneficial — though of course all those people choose schools with small classes for their OWN kids, needless to say.
    — More enrichments such as art, music, science etc.: The corporate-reform push for ever more testing inherently leads directly to eliminating enrichments in favor of relentless test prep. (Of course, the corporate reform folks all send their own kids to schools with maximum enrichment and minimum test prep.)
    — More resources such as nurses, counselors, playground supervision and so forth. The corporate reform movement is closely allied with the forces who claim that public schools don’t need more resources and are already bloated. (Of course, the corporate reform folks all send their own kids to bounteously funded schools with ample resources.)

    The school and district administration’s response to those demands is that they could only meet them by taking resources from the other district schools. Does anyone have a better response?

    It’s also been interesting to see that Parent Revolution’s message about whether this effort aims to turn the school into a charter has shifted day by day. Today it’s a charter. Tomorrow it’s a community school run by the parents, with the ch-word conspicuously omitted. The next day charterization is only a last-ditch threat for leverage. And one news report said the parents are calling for shutting the school down. This seems to indicate that the whole thing — if not Parent Revolution itself — is deteriorating into utter chaos.

    • Mmm, very compelling. I’m sure there’s not a lick of misrepresentation or spin in that post as there was when you tried to pass off the notion that charters have entrance exams.

      You know, you could link to the LA Times story but then I’d go read the article and it won’t be anywhere near what you claim it to be and then you’ll try to reconcile your misrepresentation of the story using various clumsy circumlocutions that no one with any pride would use and I’ll point that out and, well, perhaps you ought to try defending the educational status quo without inevitable recourse to that sort of dishonesty….oh, never mind. I wouldn’t want you to injure yourself attempting the impossible.

      By the way, missed your helpful input in this – – post. I was looking forward to a spirited defense of the prison preparatory academies that are run by many urban school districts.

      Maybe all those “motivated” parents with which charters are preternaturally blessed are motivated by a desire to keep their sons out of jail. That would certainly explain the dearth of motivated parents at the district schools across the street. Pretty tough to get motivated to send your son to a school that puts him on the greased slide to the slam.

      • Are we a little bit touchy when the lies start falling apart, Allen?

        I said that KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy has an entrance exam. I have not said that all charters have entrance exams.

        Here’s the LA Times story.

        Parent trigger’ campaign divides families at troubled Adelanto elementary school
        Some angry parents want to remove their names from petitions seeking charter status before the school board votes.

        February 19, 2012|By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times
        Julie Rodriguez wanted improvement — but not a wholesale change of staff — at her children’s school in the High Desert community of Adelanto. So late last year she signed what she thought was a petition, circulated by parents she considered friends, for more programs and better teachers.
        But she learned that what she actually signed was a petition to convert Desert Trails Elementary School into a charter campus, a change she says she had specifically told organizers she didn’t want. Furious, Rodriguez has rescinded her signature and is working to help other parents do the same before the Adelanto school board votes Tuesday on whether to accept the petition.

        “They lied to me,” Rodriguez said of supporters, “and now it’s a big old mess.”
        In the second effort to use the “parent trigger,” a landmark state law giving parents unprecedented power to force sweeping changes at low-performing schools, proponents turned in signatures last month representing 70% of Desert Trail’s 665 students to convert to a charter. Those campuses are mostly nonunion, publicly financed but independently run.
        Parent leader Doreen Diaz said at the time that the school, where two-thirds of sixth graders failed state proficiency tests last year in English and math, needed a major overhaul.
        But some parents say the Desert Trails campaign has divided the campus, destroyed friendships and given rise to charges on both sides of harassment and deceit. Some say that parent organizers, trained by the Los Angeles nonprofit Parent Revolution, confused them by presenting two petitions — one for district reforms and one for a charter — and they signed them thinking they were backing such improvements as better security.
        Cynthia Ramirez, a leader with the pro-petition Desert Trails Parent Union, said her group has not misled or harassed anyone. She said its members have carefully explained their strategy to all parents. That strategy, she said, has been to circulate two petitions but to submit only the charter petition as leverage to press the school district into certain reforms.
        A letter explaining the group’s strategy was left with all parents contacted, she said. Parents had canvassed school families on their desired changes, held meetings to vote on objectives, then gathered petition signatures, she said.
        Now, she said, the effort is being sabotaged by a few parents and the California Teachers Assn., which she accused of sending staff to Adelanto in recent days to organize a signature-rescission effort.
        Teachers association spokesman Frank Wells said the union was not engineering any efforts to sink the petition. He said union staffers have only provided information to parents about the parent trigger law and other related questions. The local Adelanto District Teachers’ Assn. also helped secure a meeting room for information sessions because parents did not have insurance, he said.
        “The effort up there is parent-led,” Wells said. “As far as us going around and telling people to do something one way or another, the answer is no.”
        School principal David Mobley said the conflict has spilled onto campus. He said he has had to intervene to calm parents and ask them to step off school grounds as they try to distribute dueling information and corral support. The tension has also filtered to the students, who have begun fighting as well, he said.

        “It’s sad because these kids used to be really good friends,” Mobley said. “Now these kids have become pawns in a political mess, and it just breaks my heart.”
        The first test of the parent trigger law in Compton late in 2010 also sparked controversy. Parents at McKinley Elementary School submitted petitions to convert their campus to a charter school, but the school board rejected it; the issue is still tied up in court.
        In Adelanto, Ramirez said former school board member Lisa Marie Garcia approached her and others about a parent trigger campaign. Larry Lewis, then principal at Desert Trails, also got involved and is a board member of Desert Trails Kids First Inc., a new nonprofit that aims to convert the school into a charter.
        The Adelanto organizers contacted Parent Revolution for training. Pat DeTemple, organizing director of that group, said that although the Compton campaign divided the community, the vast majority of parents at Desert Trails continue to back the petition and that any controversy has been fanned by a few dissident parents.
        Lori Yuan, an anti-petition parent who has two children at Desert Trails, said she wants to give Mobley a chance to turn around the school without the upheaval of a charter conversion. Mobley, she said, has a track record of improving low-performing schools and has helped heal the division left in the wake of the previous principal.
        Adelanto school board president Carlos Mendoza said that officials intend to follow state law and that, if the petition is found to be valid, they will move toward a charter conversion.
        [email protected]

        • (Regarding the criminal story, Joanne and the sources she reposts are afflicted with a crippling deficiency in the ability to discern correlation from causation. There’s a point where you have to just roll your eyes and click the little red circle.)

        • Roger Sweeny says:


          Thanks for posting this. Joanne has posted a link (as a mid-post Update) to the same reporter’s follow-up story, saying the petition has been rejected.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Whatever PR does or says, to find that many parents aware that the school is rotten is a truly astonishing feat for public education. I mean, how many parents pay any attention at all?
    Anybody who’s tried, or even asked about, some kind of a problem in a public school knows that nothing’s going to happen.
    Of many examples in a really good school system–we were lucky–was the alcoholicc jr. hi. math teacher about whom the prin said, “He’s got to retire some time.” Fortunately, my daughter had a couple of friends who had other math teachers and they studied together a few times until she caught up.
    One thing that even optimistic parents and activists know is that any improvement, presuming it will happen, takes years. In that time, your kid is attending an unimproved school. IOW, you can’t make a change in time for your own kids to benefit, unless you start when they’re in early el ed, at the latest.
    What does pay off is using the time and resources to find another way to get the kids educated.