Parents use charter threat to force reforms

California parents will pull the trigger today on a low-performing elementary school in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town east of Los Angeles. Nearly 70 percent of parents at Desert Trails Elementary have signed a petition demanding the school district negotiate changes in the school or turn over control.

The Desert Trails Parents Union wants to work with district leaders to improve the school, but couldn’t get a response until the petition drive started. If negotiations fail, the petition seeks to convert Desert Trails to a charter run by parents and local teachers.

There could be lawsuits for years,” Principal David Mobley told the LA Weekly.  But the law is on the parents’ side.

New York tops school choice index

Brookings’ interactive Education Choice and Competition Index rates the nation’s 25 largest school districts. The index will be expanded to the largest 100 districts in the future.

New York City earns the highest choice score with Chicago in second place, notes Grover (Russ) Whitehurst. Both received a B grade. The low scorer was Orange County, Florida, which received a grade of D.

New York performed particularly well in its assignment mechanism, its provision of relevant performance data, and its policies and practices for restructuring or closing unpopular schools.  Chicago, in contrast to New York, has more alternative schools, a greater proportion of school funding that is student-based, and superior web-based information and displays to support school choice. If the best characteristics of Chicago were transferred to New York and vice versa, both would receive letter grades of A.

Orange County students must attend their local school — unless they opt for the Florida Virtual School, which is open to all students in the state.

Some of the nation’s biggest choice districts, such as Milwaukee and New Orleans, aren’t included because of size, but will be in the expanded index.

The index doesn’t distinguish between vouchers, charters and magnet schools, complains RiShawn Biddle.

 Because magnets have largely been geared towards desegregation instead of offering families high-quality school options, those forms of choice have done little to improve student achievement. Given that magnet offerings often end up skewing in favor of wealthier households (who can use their political clout within districts in their favor) at the expense of poor and minority families (who cannot), magnets aren’t exactly a high-quality form of choice.

Adding a Parent Power category such as ability of families to overhaul an existing school in their community would also make sense; this could be done simply by looking at which states and cities have Parent Trigger laws already in place.

But the Brookings does reveal the “sobering” reality, Biddle writes. “Far too many families and their children have far too few choices of any kind, much less those of high quality.”