‘Trigger’ parents choose charter

Mojave Desert parents chose a nonprofit charter operator partnered with a university to take over their children’s failing elementary school, in the first use of California’s parent trigger law, reports the Fresno Bee.

Desert Trails Elementary School parents voted for LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy, which is partnered with the University of La Verne.

Only parents who signed the petition in favor of the charter voted. Vote tallies were not immediately released, but 53 out of 180 eligible voters cast ballots.

Parent organizer Kathy Duncan complained that the local teachers union sponsored a free, off-campus skate party for kids, who had to be accompanied by their parents, on the same afternoon as the vote.

“Parents selected LaVerne due to their incredibly strong track record” with black and Hispanic students and “their commitment to ongoing parent power,” said Doreen Diaz, a Desert Trails’ parent and lead coordinator for the Desert Trails Parent Union (DTPU).

Why ‘Won’t Back Down’ matters

Won’t Back Down is a predictable movie that resemble an after-school special, writes Andrew Rotherham in Time. It’s no Citizen Kane. But a Hollywood movie on the parent trigger matters a great deal. The education debate will not be the same.

Despite its sugary Hallmark quality, Won’t Back Down is a serious film about a grim reality — parents and teachers stuck in a system that puts kids last. (Maggie) Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Fitzpatrick, a mom struggling to help her daughter while juggling all the other balls a single mom must keep in the air — work, life, flickering hope of romance. Her daughter’s dysfunctional school is a roadblock to a better future for her, and Fitzpatrick is determined to fix that. She enlists the help of a frustrated teacher (Viola Davis) to try to force the school board to improve the school under a district rule giving parents the ability to force action.

The film also has some nuance, unlike the blunt force trauma that tends to dominate education debates. A Teach For America teacher is portrayed not as a caricature of a noble savior or unwitting dupe but rather as a serious young person struggling to make sense of the conflicting values he encounters in a screwed-up urban school system. Played by Oscar Isaac, this teacher tries to reconcile his belief in unions as a tool of social justice with the jobs-and-adults-first reality he finds in his school district.

In the face of union opposition, the movie’s stars aren’t backing down, Rotherham writes.

On Monday’s Today Show, Oscar nominee Viola Davis made clear that she understands firsthand how important education is in breaking the cycle of poverty. She grew up poor and seems to have little patience for those resisting efforts to improve public school. “It’s a system that’s broken and needs to be fixed,” she said on the show.

The movie’s opponents — “teachers unions carping that the movie is unfair and activists claiming that giving parents more power is akin to privatization” — have turned Won’t Back Down “into a national conversation piece,” Rotherham writes. Even those who don’t believe parents can run schools are talking about what can be done when children are trapped in low-performing schools.

Do parents need a trigger — or choices?

Won’t Back Down — Hollywood’s parent (and teacher) trigger movie, premieres today. A documentary it’s not, but its emotional appeal is likely to move the debate. Think of Erin Brockovich for school reform.

Can parents do a better job of running their children’s schools? Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, is sympathetic but concerned, he writes on Title I-derland.

Specifically, I worry that Parent Trigger laws will be better at destroying bad schools than creating excellent schools. The crux of it is this: Parent Trigger laws combine two actions – (1) parent empowerment and (2) parent influence over management – when only the first action is necessary for real change. Moreover, involving parents in management may end up decreasing student achievement.

. . . The power to change doctors is an important power – the power to influence hospital management is less useful. I don’t know how to run a hospital, and I don’t wish to have the responsibility of guiding hospital management strategy bestowed upon me.

(In November, I’ll vote on the management of the local hospital district. I’ll have to figure out which way to go by then.)

New Orleans has lots of choices for parents, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation, but it’s not typical:  Most parents have few or no affordable alternatives to the neighborhood school.

Biddle thinks parents will do a better job than school districts. I think parents who win a trigger vote (and the subsequent lawsuits) will hire a management team — probably from a charter network — and fire them if they don’t perform well.

Democrats split on trigger, teachers

Who speaks for Democrats on education? asks Gadfly. Won’t Back Down, Hollywood’s positive take on the parent trigger movement, was shown at a theater near the convention site with the blessing of the White House, despite opposition by teachers’ union leaders.

DNC delegates who attended passed parents and teachers who picketed outside on their way to listening to uber-reformer Michelle Rhee discuss the movie inside.

. . . As Rhee pointed out, “There is no longer sort of this assumed alliance between the Democratic Party and the teachers unions.”

Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief-of-staff, faces a Chicago Teachers Union strike next week.

The alliance between the teachers’ unions and the Democratic Party is “fraying,” opines the LA Times.

Goosing the gander

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is granting No Child Left Behind waivers to states that adopt Duncan’s favored reforms, notes Rick Hess. If Romney wins, what sort of waivers would sauce the gander?

First, Romney ought to announce that waivers from NCLB will require real options for parents in all persistently low-performing schools. Since Democrats are right to point out that there aren’t enough seats for all the affected kids to escape to, Romney ought to insist that states adopt the “parent trigger” in order to give parents the option to radically remake their children’s school. Given that the parent trigger has been championed by Democratic school reform activists, but angers traditional Democratic allies in school districts, it’d be a neat piece of political jujitsu.

If states can’t provide alternatives for kids in failing schools, Romney could require a voucher option, Hess suggests.

In addition, waiver-seeking states could be required “to emulate Wisconsin and Indiana and restrict the scope of collective bargaining to wages and wage-related benefits, so that it no longer encompasses policies that can impede school improvement.”

Romney could require waiver states “to undergo an independent audit of their health care and retirement obligations and to adopt a plan that establishes a sustainable financial model.”

Finally, he ought to insist that states demonstrate that they’re spending federal funds wisely. This requires meaningful cost accounting, including calculating ROI (return on investment) at the school and district levels.

Yes, it would be federal overreach, Hess writes. But if the Democrats can do it, the Republicans can too.

PDK poll: Pull the trigger, balance the budget

Seventy percent of Americans think parents should be able to take over low-performing schools, reports the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. I was surprised to see “parent trigger” support running so high.

Also surprising:  Balancing the budget is more important than improving education quality said 60 percent,  even though most said schools need more funding.

In 1996, 25 percent chose balancing the budget and 64 percent chose improving education writes Rick Hess. “This year, independents chose balancing the budget by a 2-to-1 margin. This suggests just how tough the road ahead may be for those clamoring for new federal edu-dollars.”

President Obama’s education support is slipping, Hess adds.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents gave him an A or a B on education, while 34% gave him a D or an F. This is down dramatically from ’09, when the comparable figures were 45% and 21%. Independents were more negative than positive, while Republicans were hugely critical–with just 7% giving him an A or a B, and 61% a D or an F. (So much for the notion that the President’s education efforts enjoy bipartisan support.) In the horse race on education, Obama leads Romney by a modest margin, 49-44; this is dramatically smaller than the 17-point advantage Obama enjoyed on John McCain in ’08.

As in past polls, Americans gave higher grades to their local schools — almost half gave an A or B — than to the nation’s schools, which earned a C from nearly  half.

Teachers’ unions go on the defensive

Teachers’ unions are on the defensive, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Hollywood’s upcoming Won’t Back Down – heroic mother teams with idealistic teacher to take over a low-performing school – shows how negatively teachers unions are viewed, he writes.

“When did Norma Rae get to be the bad guy?” asks a union leader (Holly Hunter) in the movie. I don’t know, but that’s indeed the state of play when it comes to teachers’ unions, and it’s a dangerous one.

The parents Bruni knows are draining their bank accounts to pay private school tuition, but most families can’t afford it. Ninety percent of children attend public schools.

The teachers’ unions are unhappy with President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, writes Bruni. They don’t like the policies promoted by Race to the Top. At the local level, top Democrats are bucking the unions.

In Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities, Democratic mayors have feuded bitterly with teachers’ unions and at times come to see them as enemies. And at a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, Democratic mayors joined Republican ones in a unanimous endorsement of so-called parent trigger legislation, about which unions have serious reservations. These laws, recently passed in only a few states but being considered in more, abet parent takeovers of underperforming schools, which may then be replaced with charter schools run by private entities.

Teachers’ unions have hurt their reputations by defending teachers’ tenure and seniority rights without regard to the welfare of their students, writes Bruni. “We were focused — as unions are — on fairness and not as much on quality,” American Federation of Teachers chief  Randi Weingarten conceded in a phone interview.

 The unions have also run afoul of the grim economic times. “In the private sector, nobody’s got any security about anything,” said Charles Taylor Kerchner, a professor of education at Claremont Graduate University. So the unions’ fights over pay raises and pensions, he said, made previously routine negotiations “look like pigs at the trough.”

When Hollywood steps in, it means the intellectual debate is over, writes Jay Greene.

. . .  the teacher unions are finally being treated as the special interest group they are rather than as credible players in the discussion over the merits of various education policies. When Campbell Brown takes on the unions the game is over.

The unions are still quite powerful and policy battles will continue to rage, Greene writes. But a big political and cultural shift has occurred.

Norma Rae is the bad guy.

‘Parent trigger’ goes Hollywood

Won’t Back Down — white mom teams up with black teacher/mom to take over a failing school — opens in theaters Sept. 28.

Earlier this week, a judge ordered Adelanto school officials to accept a “parent trigger” petition and prepare to cede control of a low-performing elementary school. The Desert Trails Parents Union is looking for a “partner” to help run the school, starting next fall:  “Under the regulations, this process will be open to anyone – including districts and labor organizations interested in submitting Partnership School proposals, as well as existing non-profit charter operators submitting traditional independent charter proposals.”

 

Judge rules for ‘parent trigger’ in Adelanto

The parent trigger movement has won a victory in the California desert. The Desert Trails Parents Union can move forward with plans to “transform” a low-performing elementary school, ruled Superior Court Judge Steven Malone. the Adelanto school board  ”lacked authority to reject 97 signatures” on the parents petition, the judge ruled. Here’s the judge’s opinion.

Parents say they want to work with the district to create a “partnership school,”  rather than bringing in a charter school, though the board’s intransigence may make that impossible. With the new school year starting so soon, the “full transformation” will be delayed until 2013, said Gabe Rose, deputy direction of Parent Revolution.

Louisiana OKs parent trigger

Louisiana’s state board of education has approved a parent trigger option. However the state — not the parents — would decide who runs the school, reports the Advocate. If a school earns a D or F grade for three years in a row, a majority of parents will be able to trigger a state takeover. Currently, the state gives D and F schools four years to improve. Nearly one out of five public schools in Louisiana meets the takeover criteria, according to the state education department.

Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed the parent trigger idea with big-city Democratic mayors leading the charge.