Locking the Parent Trigger

Jul 11, 2011 by

California’s teachers’ union wants a veto over parents’ power to turn around failing schools.

Ben Boychuk – California’s landmark parent-empowerment law, passed last year, is one of the state’s few bright spots in education. But the law is under assault on multiple fronts. The greatest danger comes from state bureaucrats and untrustworthy lawmakers, abetted by teachers’ union lobbyists, who would lock the law’s “parent trigger” by attaching burdensome requirements and obtuse rules. The upshot? Parents may find they’re once again left to fend for themselves against an education establishment heavily invested in preserving its prerogatives.

Under the current law, if at least half of eligible parents at a chronically failing school sign a petition, the local school district must adopt one of a handful of reforms: close the school and let the students enroll in a higher-performing campus nearby; convert the school to an independent charter; fire half the teaching staff and replace the administration; extend school hours and revise the curriculum under a federally recommended turnaround plan; or adopt an “alternative governance” model, which could include anything from establishing a school-site council to handing over the school to the local district superintendent.

While the law’s language may be brief and fairly straightforward, its execution thus far has been anything but.

Parents at just one school—McKinley Elementary, in the Southern Los Angeles County city of Compton—have tried to pull the trigger. The good news is that those parents will get the charter school they asked for: on May 25, the Los Angeles County Board of Education approved Celerity Education Group’s application to open a charter this fall at a church, just a few blocks from McKinley. The bad news is that, thus far, anyway, the parent-trigger law hasn’t worked as intended. Celerity’s victory comes not as a result of the parent-empowerment law, but rather under the terms of California’s 19-year-old charter-school law. The parents had wanted Celerity to take over the McKinley elementary campus. Opening a new charter school, while still a victory for the parents and their kids, was nevertheless a contingency.

In February, the Compton Unified School District officials had rejected Celerity’s application for a new charter school, around the same time they rejected the parents’ “trigger” petition to hand the troubled McKinley campus over to Celerity. (The two proposals were submitted simultaneously as part of a conscious strategy: if the parents had been successful, Celerity would have withdrawn its separate charter-school application.) The officials cited a range of laughable technicalities for denying the parents’ petition, including a failure properly to attach supporting documents. As for denying Celerity’s separate bid for a new charter, the district offered no explanation. Under the 1992 charter-school law, Celerity had the right to appeal Compton’s capricious decision to the county education office—and its appeal was successful.

While Celerity appealed, McKinley’s parents sued the school district and won a temporary restraining order barring officials from disqualifying their petition signatures. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr in March rebuked Compton school trustees for violating the parents’ First Amendment rights and ordered a recertification of the petitions. Incredibly, the district then announced on March 31 that it could not verify any of the signatures. “Staff cannot be assured that in all instances the signatures are legitimate and/or the persons executing the document maintained educational rights to do so,” the district concluded in a five-page finding.

via Locking the Parent Trigger by Ben Boychuk

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