‘Trigger’ parents fire principal: Unfair? Satanic?

A majority of parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School signed a parent trigger petition asking for a new principal for their chronically low-performing school. Los Angeles Unified will replace Principal Irma Cobian.  Parents had hoped to keep Weigand’s teachers, but 21 of 22 teachers say they’ll transfer, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The story portrays Cobian as a child-hugging, teacher-mentoring paragon who had a plan to turn Weigand around.

Third-grade teacher Kate Lewis said Irma Cobian is the best principal she’s had in nine years at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts.

Joseph Shamel called Cobian a “godsend” who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.

The story implies Weigand was making progress during Cobian’s four-year tenure, which started in 2009-10. The school’s low Academic Performance Index scores have declined slightly; students are doing about the same in reading and worse in math. The school rates a 1 out of 10 compared to all elementary schools in the state, a 2 compared to schools with similar demographics.

LA Times commenters attack the parents — most are low-income Latinos — as too stupid, lazy and uncaring to help their kids learn at home or appreciate their principal’s efforts. Many blame Parent Revolution, which is organizing parent trigger campaigns.

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch assigned a “special place in hell” to Parent Revolution and its supporters. Ben Austin, who runs the group, is a “loathsome” person who . . . ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre, she writes.

I agree with Rick Hess. Replacing Cobian may not help, but it’s not unreasonable for parents to seek new leadership.

Llury Garcia, coordinator for Weigand Parents United, said in a private communication, “We love the teachers at our school and don’t want them to leave. However… many of the teachers have turned on us, calling us ‘uneducated’ and unable to make good decisions for our children. By trying to support the principal who is leaving after years of failure, the teachers are the ones now trying to divide our community.”

It’s possible the principal was “on the cusp of turning things around . . . but parents didn’t think so,” Ben Austin wrote Hess. “The parents felt they had waited long enough.”

Hess knows both Ravitch and Austin personally, which I don’t. He thinks Ravitch has gone off the deep end rhetorically: Austin is “smart, well-intentioned, passionate, humble, and nice,” according to Hess.

Austin is a liberal Democrat who thinks empowering parents is the way to force schools to improve. I’m not sure he’s right, but I’m fairly sure he’s not doomed to burn in hell for trying.

“Once-respected education historian Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously,” writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

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Comments

  1. If the teachers think the parents are too lazy and stupid to care about education and then get angry when said parents get involved,

    Maybe the teachers were part of the problem to begin with.

  2. CarolineSF says:

    There’s an interesting pattern in the many comments on the L.A. Times story about the parent trigger targeting Weigand Elementary principal Irma Cobian — at least in the comments that have an identifiable political perspective. The right-wing comments tend to blast the parents at the school as — as this post says — “stupid, lazy and uncaring,” with many comments aimed at Spanish-speakers. The liberal comments tend to criticize outside forces (Parent Revolution) exploiting and disrupting a high-poverty school. Just to clarify the picture given by this post.

    This is the first known time there’s been grassroots criticism from the right of right-wing-funded Parent Revolution, whose outreach does indeed prominently and constantly emphasize the supposed liberal credentials of its leader, Ben Austin, as we see echoed in this post. The incessant repetition of that point would indicate that it’s a strategic tactic, put it that way.

    Parent Revolution and a number of its supporters all came out at once (as tends to happen in the education “reform” world) with what they apparently viewed as the best damage control they could come up with in response to the L.A. Times story — a blast at Diane Ravitch for her sharp criticism of Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, over the parent trigger that pushed Cobian out as principal at Weigand.

    In concert, they’ve all made some effort to imply that the L.A. Times’ devastating article on Weigand was puffery, as we see in this post. But the L.A. Times has been extremely friendly to Parent Revolution in both its editorials and news columns, and the reporter who did the story has been mild and unaggressive in her past coverage, so that tactic isn’t likely to stick.

    Parent Revolution’s other mode of damage control is to demand to know how many of those 21 Weigand teachers who’ve said they’ll transfer if Cobian leaves have actually filed the paperwork to do so. However, if the teachers actually didn’t support Cobian, they wouldn’t have even said they’d transfer — they would have cheered her departure — so that tactic doesn’t seem to hold up very well.

    By the way, the San Bernardino Sun on Friday also reported that Parent Revolution has been compensating the parents who supported its previous work in Adelanto, Calif. Parent Revolution claims that’s not true and says it’s consulting its legal counsel. The discovery in any court proceeding would be extremely interesting.

    http://www.sgvtribune.com/news/ci_23317024/parent-trigger-leader-alleges-organizers-promised-parents-pay

    • “identifiable political perspective”?

      Identifiable by who? You?

      Let’s try another possibility.

      The folks who are dumping on the parents are people like you. Lefties who begin hyperventilating at any departure from an unexamined faith in the district-based public education system.

      After all, aren’t those poor parents being more then a bit ungrateful for all the likes of you has done for them? They ought to be damned glad that someone as marvelous as you’re sure you are has cast the pearls of public education before these swine. But rather then sighing in adoration as your gilded carriage rolls past their hovels the valueless scum spurn your largess in preference to their own, valueless children.

      Oh for the days preceding the French revolution, hey? When the peasantry knew its place and tugged a dirty forelock as you swept by.

      But those days are gone and the poor people you enjoy pretending to yourself you champion have grown tired of waiting for the improvements to the public education system that never – ever – arrive and now, with this bright and shiny new tool, are about the business of getting for themselves what the likes of you would never get them. A decent education for their children.

      • CarolineSF says:

        Yes, the Walton family — the new civil rights heroes — are the saviors of the poor, while all-powerful volunteer mommy education advocates rain oppression and abuse down on them.

        (Liberals generally don’t go ballistic the moment they hear someone speaking Spanish, more to the point. It seems to me pretty solid to infer that flying into a rage about Spanish speakers correlates with political conservatism.)

        And, again, all of that is a digression and attempt to divert attention from the fact that the parent trigger at Weigand Elementary has blown up in Parent Revolution’s face.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          “pretty solid to infer…conservatives”
          Nonsense. But expected from a lib. See what I did there? A stereotype.
          Thing is, mine is true because…you did it.

          • CarolineSF says:

            So how many liberals have you ever seen object to people speaking Spanish in the U.S., Richard? As compared to how many conservatives?

          • I’ve seen liberals objecting to people speaking at all, regardless of the language if those people might say something the liberals didn’t want said. Shutting down discourse is an unremarkable feature of many colleges if lefties find the speaker objectionable.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Caroline:
          Object? Maybe some. But unless you define conservative as objecting, there is no way of knowing the political leanings of someone who objects. But ballistic? Zero.
          The only definitely conservative people I’ve heard on the subject–known to be conservative–do not object to Spanish–or any other language. They object to English being displaced. I understand balkanization is a goal of some on the left and bilingualism–illiterately monolingual in a language other than English–is seen as a tool. Plus, it keeps wages in the hospitality industry down. Win-win.
          But, as I say, my stereotype is true because…you did it.

        • Liberals generally don’t go ballistic the moment they hear someone speaking Spanish, more to the point. It seems to me pretty solid to infer that flying into a rage about Spanish speakers correlates with political conservatism.

          Really? Identify the political leanings of the people who spoke the following:

          About a hispanic waiter: “Maybe if his English was better my order would have been right.”

          About the street crossing habits of hispanics: “They don’t have crosswalks in Tiajuana?”

          About the horror of being on a bus with hispanics speaking Spanish: “They’re so loud. They never shut up.”

          About the clientele of grocery stores: “I don’t shop at Safeway, only Whole Foods. Nobody goes there with food stamps.”

          If you thought these people were conservative, you’re wrong. These were all uttered by good, openly progressive people. If anything, living in the Bay Area I’ve noticed more elitist racism directed at hispanics by left-wingers than anyone.

          • Well, clearly Bay Area Hispanics are the enemy, since they don’t agree with Gay marriage!! I mean, really, they’re just a bunch of social cons…. so why WOULDN’T you complain about them coming and ruining your liberal paradise?

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    “Joseph Shamel [a teacher at Weigand] called Cobian a ‘godsend’ who has used her mastery of special education to show him how to craft effective learning plans for his students.”

    This is a puzzling statement. If Shammel was crafting “effective” lesson plans, why didn’t that show up in student performance? I assume that Principal Cobian was also helping other teachers.

    A cynic might suggest that Cobian’s expertise was not in actually helping special ed kids but in correctly following legal and bureaucratic procedure. There are, after all, lots of laws and regulations regarding special ed. Being out of compliance can put a teacher is a difficult position. Following all the rules and procedures goes a long way to immunizing the teacher.

    An even more cynical person might suggest that Cobian was good at “crafting lesson plans” that looked good and faithfully reflected ed school orthodoxy–and that therefore “should have” worked, whether they actually did or not.

    • CarolineSF says:

      Sure, it’s easy to guess and criticize from afar, but that’s also an attempt to divert attention, as is the “outrage” about Ravitch’s criticism of Austin.

      The fact is that Parent Revolution’s PR said that the Weigand teachers were intimidated by Cobian and wanted her gone, and that the parents said they support the teachers and want them to stay, and just wanted to get rid of Cobian. Then 21 of 22 teachers said they support Cobian and will leave if she does. The Parent Revolution PR, apparently based on an entire set of inaccuracies, blew up in its face.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        If Parent Revolution thought the teachers disliked the principal and wanted her fired, it sure hasn’t worked out that way.

        However, it seems to me that the most important thing here is that the students are doing terribly, and are not doing any better than they were four years ago when Cobian became principal.

        It certainly looks like she didn’t make things better. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect any principal at that school to “turn things around.” Perhaps the parents are hoping for things where as the old joke goes, “There are two chances: slim and none.” That is an issue that goes far deeper than a “parent trigger.”

        • CarolineSF says:

          Well, if the parents wanted the principal gone but wanted their teachers to stay — which is what Parent Revolution said — they didn’t get what they wanted. And since this is supposed to be about parent empowerment, are the parents empowered by being blindsided by having their teachers leaving when what they wanted was for the teachers to stay? If all that matters is that Parent Revolution and other outsiders deem the principal a failure and decide that she should go, the parents’ wishes to keep the teachers be damned, then so be it, but that can’t be disguised as parent empowerment.

          And by this standard, every principal at a low-performing school should be fired, right? Will that solve all problems? Maybe there should be a new version of the trigger where Parent Revolution gets to decide without bothering to involve the parents.

          • Oh, they got everything they wanted.

            Does the school district now take their concerns a trifle more seriously? You damn betcha. Will the school district shove whatever warm body’s convenient into that principal’s slot? Maybe but they’ll look over their shoulders if they do knowing that parents who pulled the trigger once are ever so much more likely to do it again.

            As for those teachers you set such great store by, who cares? It’s not like there’s a shortage of prospective candidates to replace every one of those that bolted. Far from it and a school in which the parents have the administration running scared might be a pretty attractive place to work for teachers who are interested in teaching. In a school like that a good teacher has a job for life.

            You know Caroline, it occurs to me that parental trigger might be just a peachy political trading chip. My guess is that from the point of view of a school superintendent or school board the prospect of losing a whole school, all at once, is a lot more alarming then the prospect of losing a kid here and a kid there as they would to vouchers or charters.

            I wonder when the political class will realize what a potent weapon exists in the parental trigger and how the mere threat of its passage into law might be just what’s needed to force acquiescence on somewhat less onerous ideas like vouchers.

            Food for thought.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            “… And since this is supposed to be about parent empowerment, are the parents empowered by being blindsided by having their teachers leaving when what they wanted was for the teachers to stay?”

            No, they are not. There is miscommunication going on here, and I suspect other things that reporters aren’t privy to.

            Allen, I’m not sure how easy it will be to get new teachers here–or at least ones that will make a difference. Sure, if there’s a dynamic new principal who hires a cadre of energetic teachers who work together as a band of brothers. But that’s expecting a lot, and even in that case, you may get burnout and have to keep hiring new teachers.

            I can see current LA teachers feeling that going to Weigand is setting themselves up for failure, so they won’t transfer there. New hires will accept assignment there but will either try to get out or will settle into, “I may not be accomplishing much but I’m doing what I can.”

          • Well there’s one thing you can be sure of Roger and that’s that without this action nothing much would have changed at Weigand. The same people with the same motivations would have been in the same positions of power as in the past when the school was lousy. It’s unreasonable to expect a new outcome given those circumstances.

            Now the circumstances have changed so it’s reasonable to expect a change in the outcome.

            If there aren’t substantive changes, changes that meet with the approval of the Weigand parents, then the parent trigger’s still there to pull and the school board knows it.

            My guess is that the politically expedient move for the school board is to give the Weigand parents fairly wide latitude to approve, or can, the next principal and hope the disease isn’t catching.

            With regard to the teachers, there’s a glut so if the Weigand parents can’t fill out their roster then it’s not due to a supply insufficiency. Rather more likely would be some impediments thrown into the path of new teachers, either by the school board or the teacher’s union. To both the likely response is “we’re taking our ball and going home” at which point the school board/teacher’s union can try to take a hard line but that hasn’t worked out too well so far, now has it?

            In fact, taking a hard line’s turned out to be the worst tactic since it results in widespread coverage of the fight and, inevitably, wider spread knowledge of the parental trigger law.

            This newly-found agreeableness on the part of the school board indicates a cognizance, in my opinion, of negative impact of stonewalling parent trigger invocation. Better to bend then to break and in breaking make it incontestably clear where your preferences lie.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            “Now the circumstances have changed so it’s reasonable to expect a change in the outcome.”

            That’s the big question, isn’t it? Some circumstances have changed and some haven’t. It’s the same kids, the same neighborhood, the same parents, the same contract, and the same Los Angeles Unified School District laws, regulations, and bureaucracy.

            I’m sure the parents want what’s best for their children. I’m also sure that most Americans want to “eat right and be in shape.” There can be an awful long distance between a desire and accomplishing that desire.

          • Indeed, but the desirable goal isn’t made more easily achieved, or achievable at all, if people indifferent to the goal have authority over the means by which that goal will be achieved.

            As is quite clear from overseeing lousy schools for decades school boards are intrinsically indifferent to educational outcomes all histrionics to the contrary not withstanding. Locally, and temporarily, that indifference may be overcome but the underlying motivation isn’t the pursuit of educational excellence.

            If that, as I believe, is the case then the only hope for an improvement in educational outcomes is to reduce the authority of the school district in preference to the only other constituency that can reasonably claim an intrinsic desire to see the best educational outcomes. That’d be parents and parent trigger explicitly empowers parents and it does so by reducing the authority of the school district, the entity indifferent to educational outcomes.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            allen,

            Saying that school boards (or teachers) are “indifferent” to educational outcomes is factually wrong. School board members (and teachers) get a lot of pleasure thinking they are doing good things for kids.

            Now, they may be wrong about that. They may have a lousy idea of what a good educational outcome is. They may confuse “what’s good for me and my friends” with “what’s good for the kids.” They may be failing in their jobs.

            But to say that educational outcomes don’t matter to them is just silly. (And it makes people less likely to listen to the other things you say.)

          • On the basis of the the God-awful schools that are common, and remain in operation for long periods of time, I’d say it’s quite clear that there’s no reason intrinsic to the structure of public education for school boards to be particularly concerned with educational efficacy.

            School board members may believe themselves concerned with education, they may become irate when confronted with evidence to the contrary, but the realities of politics means that those concerns are prioritized on the basis of the influence wielded by various interest groups and the work ethic of the school board members.

            School board elections are notorious for the tiny turnout they draw which means it can take only a few votes to elect someone who has no business managing the welfare of a gerbil let alone that of thousands of children. Similarly, it doesn’t take too many votes to elect someone whose interests lie with some powerful constituency which has no particular interest in the quality of the education the school district provides.

            Then there are the legitimate demands on the time of school board members which, while necessary to the running of a school district, don’t contribute to the ostensible goal of a high quality educational institution. Budgets and personnel policy, labor and supplier negotiations, facilities oversight, compliance with state and federal law and regulations.

            A lot of stuff to do, only so many hours in which to do it. What considerations get relegated to secondary status? What considerations get relegated to “excuse-making” status? The considerations without a vigilant, consistent, forceful and politically-savvy constituency. That consideration would the quality of the education the district demands of the professionals employed by the district.

            So saying educational outcomes don’t matter may not be factually correct, there being school board members who manage to maintain educational efficacy as their number one priority despite politics and hardly a school board member who won’t claim educational efficacy as a number one priority, but it is functionally correct.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            God-awful schools may be common but in that case, a strange thing happens when pollsters ask people what they think of the schools their kids go to. The answers are usually positive, and by a wide margin.

            Now, these are not ivory tower intellectuals or interest group flacks. These are PARENTS. These are the people who we would expect to care most about how good the schools are–because their kids are going there.

            Now, the parents may be mistaken. They may be taken in by friendly teachers, or nice-sounding jargon, or any of a million things. You may feel that they need to be educated by people who know better than they do as to just how bad their schools are.

            But the fact remains that parents are generally happy with schools that are pretty middling educationally.

            School board members get to feel good that the schools are doing a pretty good job, everything considered. Teachers get to feel good that they are doing a pretty good job, everything considered. And parents get to feel good because they also think the schools are doing a pretty good job, everything considered.

  4. CarolineSF says:

    No reply button on the post I wanted to reply to. Allen, I don’t know those teachers and I’m not the one who sets great store by them. The parents at Weigand Elementary said strongly that they supported their teachers and wanted to keep them, as announced repeatedly by Parent Revolution.

    So what you’re saying is that Parent Revolution and the Weigand parents were lying and really did want to get rid of the teachers.

    • You use the reply button of the post to which there is no reply button. The software will only allow a certain depth of nesting of comments.

      Oh, and when I need you to interpret my posts you’ll be the first to know.

      What I’m saying is that Parent Revolution got what it wanted – an empowerment of the parents – and the parents got what they wanted, a shot a better, safer school for their kids.

      Those poor parents could have grown old and died waiting for even a reasonable effort to improve their kid’s school if they’d had to wait on the school board and district administration but the parent trigger law gives them a lever to use to motivate the board and the administration. And they used it.

    • Everyone ALWAYS say they support the teachers and love the teachers. If you don’t you get crucified in the media, because these people who have higher salaries, better insurance, better retirement plans and more time off than you do are supposed to be selfless martyrs who only care about ‘the children.’

      The real truth is that they probably liked some and loathed some. And will feel the same way about the new teachers.

      • says. I shouldn’t type before I’ve had a cup of tea and some protein.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Deirdre,
          I dunno. “everyone” is generally taken as a plural, isn’t it? If one meant only one person, one wouldn’t use “everyone”, would one?

          • Nope. Read it out loud and you’ll see. Technically, if I was being a pedant, it would be “Everyone says that HE SUPPORTS teachers….” but colloquially, “everyone says that they”…works.

      • CarolineSF says:

        Not true, Deirdre. Parent Revolution’s previous parent triggers have been aggressively hostile to the teachers, blamed them for the school’s challenges, etc. Parent Revolution director Ben Austin has accused teachers of child abuse. It’s a brand-new tack, a reversal, for them to claim that they support teachers. I mean, I get everyone’s point that it doesn’t matter what the parents say they wanted — if the parent trigger disrupted the school, it was a success. I say that if the parents wanted to keep their teachers and the parent trigger caused them to leave instead, the parents were disempowered. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

        • I guess when you don’t have much of a case you have to put words in people’s mouths so you can create a case out of thin air.

          Parent Revolution isn’t “aggressively hostile” towards teachers since its raison d’etre is the empowerment of parents with regard to the education of their children. Hostility towards teachers wouldn’t support that empowerment in the least.

          Feel free, by the way, to provide some evidence of this “aggressively hostile” stance. By “evidence” I don’t mean your beliefs.

      • Your jealousy of teachers is duly noted, but you should not project your jealousy onto others – it’s far from universal. I personally happen to think teacher pay is quite low, far less than I would take for the job.

        • I’m not jealous of teachers, but I don;t think they’re selfless martyrs, either. They’re making rational economic decisions based on their skills and interests. However, I think it’s unfair to act like they’re saints compared to the evil parents in this situation. If these are low-income parents and a low-income school, how many could even dream of having the luxury, salary, and benefits that the poor, suffering teachers do?

          • CarolineSF says:

            In regards to the Weigand parent trigger, the parents say they like and support their teachers, so Deirdre, you’re take that they’re pitted against each other is inaccurate.

          • Really? I read the article through and I didn’t see any stirring, and unstinting, support for the teachers. The single reference to the parents feelings towards the teachers was in the somewhat equivocal quote from Llury Garcia, leader of the parent’s group, “We want strong leadership,” and “We support our teachers.”

            Reads rather more like an expression of hope and intent then of uncritical adulation. That Ms. Garcia plans to do her part, in the education of her child, if the teachers will do theirs. The action the parents took resulted from a failure of the education system to uphold its part of the bargain.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Deirdre.
      I know it “works”, but technically, it shouldn’t.
      If you say “everyone” and then “he” you didn’t need to say “everyone”. and you did say “they”, which is plural.
      But then, i’ve had my coffee, bacon, sausage, and eggs.
      Always struck me as odd that the Brits would say, “Her Majesty’s Government have….”. as opposed to our construction.

      • CarolineSF says:

        The Brits use plural verbs for collective nouns and Americans don’t.

        Don’t have time or wherewithal to respond to the “prove it! Prove it!” demands. Anyone reading this for information can make his or her own decision (there we go) as to what account is credible.

  5. I’m bummed by the personal attacks Diane Ravitch and her Network for Public Ed board use. Her organization comprises teachers, retired educators, and researchers or wannabe authors. None of them appear to work in the real world of education today nor do any of them appear to have kids in public schools today. Their relentless ad hominem attacks don’t serve teachers, students, schools, parents, or communities. Ravitch expends too much time surrounded by radical, angry non-working educators. Tell her to put her historian robe back on or exorcise her. Her work is unvetted. Her org looks for fights in NYC. This helps no one.

    • Mike in Texas says:

      I’m an angry working educator, and I read Ravitch, although I still haven’t forgiven her for the part she played in hoisting these “reforms” on us.

    • You might as well get used to those personal attacks, as well as lies, misrepresentations, ever-so-convenient “research” and all the rest of the grab bag of underhanded tactics employed by defenders of the public education status quo because that’s all they’ve got.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Well given that the “status quo” of high stakes testing is 10 years old now, aren’t you getting tired of ever-so-convenient “research” and all the rest of the grab bag of underhanded tactics you keep trying to use?

        • Time to grow up, Mike. The logic of childish argumentation that so appeals to you marks as someone with nothing to add to the debate other then “I want what I want and I want it now”. The ongoing success of every flavor of reform proves the ineffectiveness of that tactic.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Let’s look at it from the parents’ point of view. Four years. That covers, say, from the beginning of third grade to the end of sixth grade. Five years means the kid has flunked seventh grade due to inadequate preparation, or he’s passed and the parent knows how little he actually has learned.
    Patience may mean one thing to everybody else, and it damn’ sure means something different to the parent.

  7. The problem with the parent trigger and organizations such as Ben Austin’s is that they are not bona fide grassroots. Like the Tea Party groups, it is funded by corporate $$$ and the organizing done in these communities is spearheaded by paid workers.
    In the late 1990s one of the Wall Street banks authored a white paper that targeted public education as the next cash cow. The paper identified a value of something like 6 billion $$ per year and pointed out that accessing these monies would require the removal or the neutering of the teachers’ associations. Since that time we have seen a considerable amount of attention and corporate money flowing into “causes” that amount to promoting corporately operated charter schools that take public $$$, while they appoint their board members, overpay their CEO and deal teachers, the persons who are delivering instruction day-to-day, out of the decision making processes. This all looks very suspicious to me and I applaud any effort to draw our attention to what is going on.