DOES SIGNING A PETITION GIVE PARENTS A VOICE?
By David Bacon
Rethinking Schools, Fall 2011
Parent trigger laws, according to their proponents, give parents power. Gregory McGinity, managing director of policy for the Broad Education Foundation, calls them "a way for parents' voices to be heard." Sounds good. But is the parent trigger concept a way to put parents in charge of their kids' education, or is it part of a political agenda that will rob parents of even more control? While hardly anyone argues that parents don't want, and don't deserve, a voice in their children's schools, many educators, and even parents themselves, doubt that parent trigger laws increase their involvement. Many teachers believe parent trigger laws are a way for charter schools to gain a bigger share of the education system. For McGinity, that's not a bad idea. The Broad Foundation promotes the proliferation of charter schools, which he says simply offer parents "a different way for a school to operate." Teachers, however, are alarmed. They see the expansion of a privatized education system, and view parent trigger laws as a means for rushing the process forward. Their concerns illustrate the big stakes behind passing and implementing these laws. Several very conservative players in national education reform have made parent trigger proposals a key part of their agenda. As they're introduced in state after state, California's experience is being watched closely. California's parent trigger law, SBX5 4, called the Parent Empowerment Act, was introduced by former State Senator Gloria Romero, and passed in an extraordinary session of the legislature. California was rushing to qualify its application for Federal Race to the Top funds, and proponents said the law would help its chances. In the end, the state did not qualify, but the law stayed on the books. The California version of parent trigger says that if the parents of 51% of a public school's students sign a petition (the "trigger"), they can decide to fire the principal, or bring in an entirely new staff, or close the school, or have it taken over by a charter school operator. While the California law specifies four options, the parent trigger process is closely related to the establishment of charter schools, which do not guarantee parent control. Using the trigger, "you get one shot and that's it, because once that charter is formed, that charter dictates how it will operate," John Rogers, associate professor of urban schooling at UCLA, told NBC's Education Nation. "[Parents] have fewer rights in the context of a charter than they would at a public school." Prominent Democrats, among them Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (a former field rep for United Teachers Los Angeles), spoke for the bill, although the votes to pass it came mostly from Republicans. Teachers unions lobbied against it, while a chorus of mainstream media hailed it. Patrick Range McDonald of the LA Weekly claimed it was the product of "minority parents and fierce reformers, who seemed to materialize from thin air." Not quite. While some grassroots parents undoubtedly did support the bill, it was the product of powerful political figures, backed by the wealthy foundations that shape much of the country's debate over education reform. SBX5 4 was written by the Los Angeles Parents Union, started in 2006 by the Green Dot charter school company. The LAPU was headed by political operative Ben Austin, who then started another organization, Parent Revolution, to promote and implement the parent trigger law. At its birth, Parent Revolution had a $1 million budget supplied by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Eli Broad Foundation, the Hewlett-Packard Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Austin, recently replaced by Governor Jerry Brown on the state Board of Education, is Parent Revolution's executive director. He was an aide in the Clinton White House, and deputy to Los Angeles' former Republican Mayor Richard Riorden. PR's organizing director is Pat DeTemple, a lawyer who worked for Service Employees Local 1199 on the east coast, for the United Farm Workers before that, and was an organizer for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.
By David Bacon
Rethinking Schools, Fall 2011
Taking Aim: Compton, California
Pulling for a Trigger in Buffalo
Read the entire piece at Rethinking Schools. http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/26_01/26_01_bacon.shtml