After having a front row seat to two extremely controversial and divisive parent trigger petitions the editors of the Los Angeles Times are more than skeptical than ever about the new law:
More than two years after California’s “parent trigger” law was enacted, things haven’t worked out the way school reformers had planned or opponents had feared. In those heady days, it was expected that parents would race to sign petitions to transform their low-performing schools. More than 20 states considered passing similar measures.
The California law allows parents to compel one of four major reforms at their children’s schools if half or more sign a petition. Right now it’s limited to 75 schools statewide, as a sort of pilot program.
But only three other states have passed parent trigger laws — Connecticut, Mississippi and Texas — and it’s a stretch to put Connecticut’s law in the same category, because parents there were given merely an advisory role with no authority. Last month, Florida’s legislature rejected a trigger bill, and many of the fiercest opponents were parents. Nine other states are considering such legislation, but even the Education Trust, a strongly reform-oriented nonprofit group, has expressed concerns about the trigger as it is currently constructed.
Hollywood appears ready to call it a winning idea, with plans for a film starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in which parents (and teachers) rise up to take over their school. But in the real world, we’re a long way from knowing whether the parent trigger can improve schools. For one thing, no petition has yet been approved; the trigger has not yet been pulled in California or anywhere in the country. And there are further reasons for concern. Three of the reform options the California law outlines — replacing half the school’s staff; replacing the principal plus some more minor changes; and closing the school altogether, an option that Parent Revolution, the force behind the trigger law, warns parents against — have mixed to downright bad records.
Parent Revolution, the charter school funded advocacy group that Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque brought in to woo Florida legislators is not without blame. It is they who told Adelanto parents that they could have it all. Even the author of California’s bill, Gloria Romero, was critical of Parent Revolution’s efforts:
Even as she affirmed support for Parent Revolution, Romero called the group’s two-petition tactic a “dubious strategic choice” that was bound to confuse parents. She also criticized what she called “rookie political mistakes” in making demands she found politically unrealistic, such as a freer hand to hire and fire teachers, and allowing the debate to focus again on charter schools, which also occurred in Compton
Romero also said “several of the parents’ goals, including changes in the curriculum and textbooks, could not be reached through in-district reforms. You cannot negotiate for something the district cannot do. That’s not negotiating in good faith.” Adelanto’s school board chairman, Carlos Mendoza, chronicles some of Romero’s contradictory statements in his blog. Romero’s tone is much less conciliatory in her new job as California president of Democrats for Education Reform.
The Times understands that Romero’ parent trigger was created to shift more public schools to privately run charters. They explain why this is turning out to be a non-starter:
……..With Parent Revolution started in large part by charter operators and funded by their supporters, it was assumed that the parent trigger would create a tidal wave of charter conversions. That now appears unlikely, at least in California. After Celerity Educational Group initially expressed willingness to take over a Compton school where a petition ultimately failed, charter organizations are showing no interest in trigger schools.
There are several reasons for this. Charter schools have generally thrived under a lottery enrollment system, in which motivated parents sign up their children for a random drawing that might allow them a seat in the school. But under the parent trigger, charter schools have to accept all students within the low-performing school’s attendance boundaries, just as regular public schools do. Few charter operators have been willing to work under that scenario, which tends to result in less dramatic test results for them. Furthermore, the current woeful state of school funding makes it difficult if not impossible for charter schools to provide needed resources — just as it’s difficult for traditional public schools. And turning around a deeply troubled school is harder than starting a new school with its own campus culture.
You can be sure that both Bush and Levesque are aware of the same things the editors of the Times are. But they wanted parent trigger and wanted it badly for Florida. The two shoved Parent Revolution into the faces of Florida’s legislators knowing full well that their only accomplishment to date has been to create and maintain chaos and division. Perhaps this is what they really wanted for Florida. If not, then the parent trigger episode demonstrates poor judgement and reason for Floridians to start questioning them more than they are used to.