‘Parent trigger’ schools open

The first “parent trigger” schools have opened in California. Desert Trails, a low-performing elementary school in Adelanto, is now a charter “preparatory academy.” The school year started in early August.

In Los Angeles, 24th Street Elementary opened last week:  The district will run the K-4 grades while a charter operator will run grades 5 to 8; a preschool provider will offer early childhood education.

Parent Revolution, which is backing trigger campaigns, claims two other victories: Parents got what they wanted without taking over the school

At Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, the parent union paused — and then stopped — their Parent Trigger campaign.  This was because their pressure caused the district, teachers and administrators to put together a thoughtful plan to transform the school.  And in the Watts neighborhood of LA, the parents decided on replacing the principal and making in-district changes to turn-around the chronically failing Weigand Avenue Elementary.

We The Parents, a documentary about Compton parents’  “trigger” campaign to seize their children’s chronically low-performing school, has opened in Los Angeles. The LA Times calls it “inspirational but not too informative.” The Compton parents failed on a technicality, but drew a charter school to a nearby church to provide an alternative.

‘No confidence’ petition included teachers

A Los Angeles parent trigger campaign forced out the principal of a low-performing school, but most teachers say they’ll leave too, disappointing the parents. Here’s a new wrinkle: In June 2011, months before Weigand Parents United was formed to launch the parent trigger campaign, parents and six teachers signed a petition expressing “no confidence” in the principal, Irma Cobian. Several parents complained she was rude to parents and hostile to special needs students.

The principal stayed at Weigand and all six teachers who signed the petition left, according to Parent Revolution, which helped organize the parent trigger campaign. Teacher turnover has been high at the school: Of 22 teachers at Weigand in Principal Cobian’s first year, 2009-10, 14 have left the school.

During Cobian’s tenure, the school’s Academic Performance Index fell from 717 (23 points above average for Los Angeles Unified schools) to 689 (56 points below the average).

‘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.

Parent trigger used to oust principal

Using the parent trigger law, Los Angeles parents have ousted the principal of their low-performing elementary school. The school board voted 5-2 to accept the parents petition after 61 percent of parents signed on.

Weigand Elementary parents didn’t ask for a charter school. They want to fire the principal.

“We support our teachers,” said mother Llury Garcia.

“I think that the teachers are very intimidated right now” by Principal Irma Cobian, whom Garcia said is rarely on campus and has been unresponsive to parent complaints in the past.

The district will name a new principal for the school, which serves low-income Hispanic students.

Parent Revolution, which helped Weigand parents organize, is touting the campaign as evidence trigger laws are about empowering parents, not promoting charter schools.

“We keep hearing about how “parent trigger” is anti-teacher and about privatizing schools,” writes Eduwonk. The Weigand trigger could change the debate.

Pulling the parent trigger

More than a half-dozen states now have parent trigger laws that let a majority of parents seize control of a low-performing school, notes Education Next.

Empowered Families Can Transform the System, argues Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, which has led the parent trigger drives.

Parents enduring a parent trigger campaign are transformed. Some, like the parents at Desert Trails, are forced to endure lengthy legal battles, a process most of them have never experienced. Others, including the parents of 24th Street Elementary School and also Haddon Avenue Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), find a responsive school district that wants to collaborate with them in changing their school.

. . . Many of these parents, for the first time in their lives, feel real power, not only over their child’s destiny but over their own as well. These parents, and parents like them, are the key to the future of public education in America.

“Parents don’t care if a public school is a traditional district school or a charter school,” writes Austin. “They just want it to be a good school.”

There’s a Better Way to Unlock Parent Power, responds Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation. While “it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger,” it’s not likely to turn around many schools or force significant reform.

First, the parent trigger mechanism itself will continue to get bogged down in lawsuits and other blocking tactics, as has been the case to date. Second, if and when the trigger gets pulled, the resulting school turnarounds won’t generally amount to much. And third, empowering parents via the parent trigger (creating a “bargaining chip”) won’t be enough to force larger changes in dysfunctional districts—because nothing will force such change.

Petrilli favors expanding school choice with more charter schools, vouchers and digital learning. Even if choice doesn’t force districts to improve, it will give parents more options for their children, he argues.

Try the trigger, writes Checker Finn, also of Fordham. Since “most bad districts are going to stay bad,” serious reformers need to “give kids every possible exit” into something better. “Helping an entire school to extricate itself from the dysfunctional system is surely one such strategy. Instead of pooh-poohing it, how about we put it on the list of possibilities, wish it well, and do our damnedest to help it succeed as often as possible?”

No ‘parent trigger’ fight in Los Angeles

California’s first two parent trigger campaigns were bitter fights, but Los Angeles parents seeking to transform 24th Street Elementary have found a “willing partner” in the school district, reports EdSource Today.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy met them and promised “to work side by side with you so every student – todos los niños – gets an outstanding education.” United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher showed up unexpectedly at their press conference and vowed to collaborate with them, too.

The school’s parents union say 68 percent of parents signed the trigger petition, far more than the 50 percent needed.

Los Angeles Unified already has identified 24th Street Elementary as one of the worst performing in the district.

. . . before the parents handed in their petition, Deasy returned the school’s transformation plan, written by the principal and a team of teachers in consultation with a half-dozen parents and Parent Revolution organizers, as insufficient.

It was, however, candid in explaining the need for change: “We have continued to operate in the same manner for years and have consequently yielded the same ineffective results,” it said. “Rather than learn from our operational miscues and poor communication and look to our past for guidance, we have allowed the accretion of our failures to weigh us down.”

The 24th Street Elementary School Parents Union has set deadlines for converting the school to a charter by next fall, but parents could agree to an in-district school transformation plan, says Ben Austin of Parent Revolution.

‘Trigger’ parents charge fraud

Fraud scuttled the “parent trigger” drive to take over a low-performing elementary school, charges the Desert Trails Parent Union in Adelanto, California. Seventy percent of parents of the school’s 666 students signed parent trigger petitions, but the board rejected some signatures as invalid and counted 97 revocations, pushing the percentage to 48 percent.

There is disturbing evidence that the revocations submitted here were secured through a campaign of fraud, harassment, intimidation and, in some cases, outright forgery,” stated attorney Mark Holscher in the letter to the district sent late Monday.

Two revocation documents were forged, said Patrick Detemple, of Parent Revolution, which is backing the trigger campaign. At least 27 should not have been counted because they lacked a signature or were signed by someone who hadn’t signed the original petition, he said.

If those revocations are invalidated, the petition would surpass the required 50 percent threshold.

One mother said she signed a petition to “save our school,” not realizing she was revoking her previous signature on the parent trigger petition.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times story, for those who prefer it.

NOT your mother’s PTA

New “insurgent” groups are “organizing, educating and mobilizing parents” to fight for K-12 reforms,writes Bruno Manno in NOT Your Mother’s PTA on Education Next. He takes a closer look at Parent Revolution, Education Reform Now, and Stand for Children.

 

State board may weaken ‘parent trigger’

California’s parent trigger law, which lets parents petition for changes at their children’s low-performing school, may be weakened, reports the LA Times. The 2009 Parent Empowerment law left the details of implementation to the state board of education, which held a meeting this week to discuss regulations on issues such as who counts as a parent and whether petition drives must be publicized. Instead of adopting the proposals drafted last year, the new board will “start from scratch with more input from interest groups,” reports the Sacramento Bee. The board set up a working group of “stakeholders” that includes opponents of the parent trigger to make recommendations in March.

In the first use of the parent trigger, Compton parents have petitioned to turn a chronically low-performing elementary school into a charter run by a local network with a record of success. More than 60 Compton parents drove to Sacramento to testify at the board hearing.

State education officials announced they are working on “cleanup” legislation with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), who last year voted against the bill including the parent trigger.

“This is clearly nothing more than an attempt to repeal the law,” said Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, which organized the first parent-trigger petition drive.  Ben Austin, executive director of the group, lost his seat on the state education board when Gov. Jerry Brown took office. Brown, who was backed by the teachers’ union,  replaced five charter-friendly board members with a less reform-oriented group. One of the new board members is a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association.

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.