Compton parents pull parent trigger

Parents demand to bring in charter operator
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Today, parents at a Compton Unified elementary school will become the first in the state to use  a new “parent trigger” law. They will  demand that an outside  charter school operator be brought in to take over their low-performing school. Organizers predict that parent groups in other districts, fed up with poor achievement and unsuccessful district reforms, will follow the lead of McKinley Elementary parents.

Confident that they have more than the majority of families’ signatures needed to exercise their right, the parents plan to drop off  their petitions  at the Compton Unified’s central office. The petition asks the board specifically to bring in Celerity Educational Group, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that runs four charter schools, starting next fall.

The Legislature passed the “parent trigger” law in January as part of legislation to strengthen the state’s unsuccessful Race to the Top application. The provision was pushed  by Los Angeles Sen. Gloria Romero and opposed strongly by the California Teachers Assn. A half-dozen other states are considering adopting California’s law.

Under parent trigger, a majority of parents within a school can request one of four reform options similar to models that the Obama administration is requiring for failing schools: closing it down, transforming it through a longer day and other changes, restarting it with mostly new teachers and a new principal, and converting to a charter school. Most parents are expected to pursue the latter option, and the burden will be on district trustees to justify why they shouldn’t agree to that choice.

Schools that have failed to make targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law four consecutive years qualify for the parent trigger – about 1,300 of  the state’s 10,000 schools. The law capped the number of parent trigger schools at 75. Getting enough signatures, amid expected opposition of teachers and districts, could prove daunting in many cases.

Last month, the Little Hoover Commission endorsed the parent trigger in a  report on charter schools, saying: “This latest development expanding opportunities for parents to petition to convert existing schools into charter schools is another step in the right direction, …  The Commission believes that parents should have the opportunity to petition to convert poor-performing schools into charter schools.”

Parents at the 500-student McKinley Elementary have been organizing since the summer, according to Ben Austin, a member of the State Board of Education and a leader of Parent Revolution, a non-profit organization  that that lobbied for the law and has sought out parents to take advantage of it. Austin said he’s confident McKinley leaders have gathered signatures of 62 percent of parents. Under temporary regulations adopted by the State Board of Education, parents are entitled to one signature per student.

“It’s been an uphill fight,” Austin said. “The district holds all the cards. Only it knows the enrollment numbers and controls contact information for parents.” Organizers had to counter lies by opponents, Austin said, that a charter school would charge tuition and exclude special education students.

McKinley Elementary, with low-income minority children, scored in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, with an API score of 684, an increase of 26 points from 2009.  African-American children’s scores dropped seven points to 635.

The district itself has struggled for years. Only 47 percent of students graduate, and only 3 percent of  seniors – one tenth of the statewide average – have passed enough courses with high enough grades to qualify for a four-year public university.

In a scathing evaluation of the district this fall,  a state District Assistance and Intervention Team concluded, “We remain deeply concerned about the commitment to student achievement across the district, and have grave reservations at this time, about the capacity of the District to make significant gains for students.” The report cited a focus on “adult issues as a priority before student needs;” a lack of civility and respect for people in meetings and during school visits; and a failure to hold adults accountable for their work and for unethical behavior.

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29 Comments

  1. Good for the parents of McKinley. Compton is so entrenched in adult concerns that they have no capacity to help kids. The best principals and teachers eventually get beaten down and have to leave for their own sanity and make a difference somewhere else. This might be the only thing that can save Compton as even a state takeover 10+ years ago has done little for the students of Compton.

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  2. Even the avidly pro-charter L.A. Times is citing some questions about this crusade, which appears to be pushed by a particular charter operator:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-compton-parents-20101207,0,1116485.story
    But the mobilization at McKinley has raised concerns. Two school board members and a district spokesman said they were not aware of the petition drive before being contacted Monday by the media, and the state teachers union criticized the effort’s low profile.
    “How transparent was this process?” asked Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teachers Assn. “Did they hold forums for parents to discuss what’s going on with the school staff?” He also said the chosen charter, Celerity Educational Group, should have competed publicly against other possible choices.

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  3. First fruits of the Parent Trigger law bears out what could have been predicted.  It can now be seen as “harvest season” for the charter schools just waiting to capitalize on demand for the  choice which  appears to have had some less than objective influence with parents in the district.  It is hardly spontaneous activity on part of parents who needed to be “sought out” to mobilize by an organization , Parent Revolution, whose whole purpose for existing is Saul Alinsky type community organizing.  What an alliance!   Saul Alinsky’s ghost  hovering over the accomplishing of charter school agenda, the darling of many so called conservatives.   Will the cognizant dissonance never end?

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  4. John,
    The last graph of your piece is a startling indictment of Compton Unified by an entity (a DAIT) that does not have an agenda either for or against districts.  Parent Revolution’s desire to keep this low-key was necessary given the lengths parent-trigger opponents will go to deny parents this right under California law.

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  5. Caroline: Do you really believe that parents could gather signatures of 62 percent of families at a school demanding an overthrow of the system without the school administration, teachers, the union and the district knowing about this? If it’s true — and I doubt it — it is proof positive of a district that’s out of touch with parents.

     

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  6. Mr. Austin demonstrates the pure motives of the committed. All of his actions are done only in the “interests of the children.”  His actions, via his connections with Green Dot, Parent Revolution, and the Broad Foundation, come with no personal gain.

    Or do they?

    The actions of Parent Revolution, completed under the public radar, without public input, were nevertheless totally democratic. The fact that the actions were done with the specific gain of a particular company should be disregarded even if it looks like commercial exploitation of an at risk community. No one should look behind the for-profi/”non-profit” curtain because..well…because they shouldn’t, that’s why.

    It is a matter of conventional wisdom that a charter school will have twice as good a chance of getting high achievement than a regular public school. Oh! You say the research suggests the opposite is true? Well, forget I mentioned it.

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  7. Those weren’t my words, John — that was a snip from the Los Angeles Times, despite its long history of fawning over Green Dot, Parent Revolution, charter schools and reforminess in general.
     

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  8. According to the LA Times the low profile approach does not seem to be in dispute.  “Austin said concerns about potential retaliation against parents had prompted his organizers to work quietly. The group had settled on McKinley because of parent interest, he said.”  Austin, being Ben Austin who is Parent Revolution’s executive director and a state board of education member.

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  9. The potential for anger, hostility, divisiveness, conflict, intimidation is obvious. That’s one of the cautions I’ve been raising about the Parent Trigger. You can see that the side that has 10 paid people working for it, and backing from billionaires, holds all the power.
     
     
     
     
     
     

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  10. Let’s not lose site that this is an argument about kids and not adults. The adults have botched McKinley for generations and have denied kids access to a high quality education. Something has to change and the Parent Trigger may be that thing.

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  11. Reposting a previous comment that’s still “awaiting moderation,” this time without links:
     
    By the way, the Compton school district has a history of being a mess and was taken over by the state at some point — I have no idea what the current status of that is. So it would hardly be a surprise if the district is out of touch with parents.

    I note that Parent Revolution used to have a prominent feature on its website showing the schools where it was trying to organize takeovers, with thermometer graphics showing how many of the needed signatures had been obtained. Now I can’t find anything like that. For one thing, it must have been embarrassing, as there’s strong resistance and limited success in some cases — most notably at Emerson Middle School in West L.A., where parents are outraged that their school is being treated as failing, and the most outspoken view Parent Revolution as predatory. So the little thermometer stayed stuck at around 10% of the vote forever, and needless to say Parent Revolution took down an online discussion feature on their site in which parents were voicing their outrage.

    If it’s true that the drive at McKinley was covert, obviously that’s a new tack in this process. In any case, it wasn’t being publicized the way the previous drives were.

    According to a long, positive feature in the conservative and anti-public school L.A. Weekly, Parent Revolution had TEN paid (note: PAID) organizers working on this!

    The notion that a move funded by the nation’s wealthiest forces is some kind of revolution of the people is rather unclear on the concept.

    Also of interest: The charter operator behind the massive campaign to woo these parents, Celerity, hit the news in 2007 over an interesting censorship issue, over which two teachers were fired.
    L.A. Times
    Not the lesson they intended
    Two L.A. charter school teachers lose their jobs over a planned Black
    History Month presentation.
    By Carla Rivera
    Times Staff Writer
    March 19, 2007
    Administrators at a Los Angeles charter school forbade students from reciting a poem about civil rights icon Emmett Till during a Black History Month program recently, saying his story was unsuitable for an assembly of young children.
    Teachers and students said the administration suggested that the Till case in which the teenager was beaten to death in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a white woman ˜ was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory, and that Till’s actions could be viewed as sexual harassment.
    The decision by Celerity Nascent Charter School leaders roiled the southwest Los Angeles campus and led to the firing of seventh-grade teacher Marisol Alba and math teacher Sean Strauss, who had signed one of several letters of protest written by the students.
    The author of the poem at the heart of the brouhaha called the firing “unconscionable.”
    Also, I’m curious about the question of who can vote. Previous discussions of the Parent Trigger law have said that POTENTIAL parents in a school’s catchment area can also vote, and in the case of another high-profile Parent Trigger campaign (Mount Gleason MS, Sunland-Tujunga), the leader of the campaign is a former parent at the school. It all seems rather hazy.

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  12. I sense deception and manipulation of people who truly want the best for their children, as anyone would, so they buy into a marketing message that sounds good but has no guarantee of success except for lining the pockets of the financial beneficiaries – the charter school, their investors, and consultants…

    http://mathequality.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/is-superman-headed-to-compton/

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  13. If there’s confusion over who can sign the petition, how can there be certainty about the percentage of signature obtained? 62% of parents, or 62% of families, or 62% of families plus potential families, or recent and current and potential families?  Is each parent a potential “vote” or signature on the petition?  Can you sign twice if you have two kids at the school?  I’ve been reading up on the story in several places but haven’t found clear answers.

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  14. I suspect that the press just took Parent Revolution’s word without question. Also, by the way, this is being widely reported as the first use of the parent trigger, but it’s not, unless there’s some hairsplit that I’m missing. But the previous use (Mount Gleason Middle School in Sunland-Tujunga)  is kind of embarrassing to Parent Revolution for a couple of reasons, so perhaps they’re pretending it never happened.

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  15. Uh-oh! A fly in the billionaires’ ointment.
    Effort to convert Compton school to charter draws fire
    Some are withdrawing signatures given under the ‘parent-trigger’ law to make school a charter, saying they were intimidated or misled.
    Tempers flared Friday over the fate of a low-performing Compton elementary school that has become the first target of a new law allowing parents to mandate school shutdowns or charter-school conversions through a petition drive.

    Some parents are rescinding their signatures to convert McKinley Elementary into a charter school that would operate outside the direct control of the Compton Unified School District. Under the state’s new “parent-trigger” law, which is being scrutinized nationwide, the signatures of at least half the parents at a campus are required in order to launch the changes.

    But that 50% threshold could be at risk at McKinley. Opponents say that 50 to 60 parents already have withdrawn their support, which could push the total close to the minimum level required.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-1211-compton-school-20101211,0,4177045.story

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  16. LA Weekly reports this Friday:
     
    ‘Parent Trigger’ Supporters Face Intimidation Tactics in School Reform Battle in Compton, Antonio Villaraigosa Jumps into Fray

    <…>

    But now that the TV camera crews are gone, things are starting to get hairy.

    Even though Parent Trigger supporters have done everything within state law, opponents are trying to intimidate parents with threats of deportation and an overall misinformation campaign, according to Parent Revolution organizers, who are helping to guide reform-minded parents through the Parent Trigger process.

    The goal of these under-handed tactics is to get enough parents to withdraw their signatures from the Parent Trigger petition so the take over cannot be carried out.


    <..>

    In response to commenter F. Perez, Parent Revolution organizers have said that McKinley School officials have undertaken a misinformation campaign, telling one parent, for example, that she will have to pay a tuition, which is not true. Other parents have routinely told Parent Trigger supporters who are Latino that they could be deported. Parent Revolution organizers and parents say they have also dealt with teachers who have tried to intimidate them through threats. We quickly mentioned some of these things above in the original post.
    ——————

    Somehow I find this more troubling than the solicitous comments above about “potential for anger, hostility, divisiveness, conflict, intimidation.” If at all, it is not the parents doing the intimidation.

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  17. OK, let’s take a look. The side that is supposedly being “intimidated” is run by a well-funded group of charter operators backed by the whole array of  the big billionaire names in edu-philanthropy. Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are speaking out for them strongly, and the mainstream media has covered their project favorably. (Kudos to the L.A. Times for promptly covering the backlash and for a reasonably thoughtful editorial that at least partly grasps the flaws and complexities of this “parent trigger” fad.)
     
    So how is it that the voices of dissent are “intimidating” the side that is backed by the billionaires, the most powerful elected officials and most of the media? That’s as bassackward as the notion that the move by those forces against a challenged, high-poverty school community on behalf of a charter operator is some kind of “revolution” of the “little people.”
     
    Basically what you’re saying is that voicing a dissenting view equals intimidation. Anyone who supports democracy and free speech has to disagree.
     
    Professionals engaging in desperate damage control will toss out anything they can come up with — the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks tactic — it’s their job. Sometimes the stuff they throw out is eye-rolling. (The damage-control guy for the SF Zoo made some pretty outrageous statements over the tiger-escape-attack incident, for example, including one indicating that zoo-goers carrying snack foods should expect a tiger to leap out and attack.) The “intimidation” claim coming from the Parent Revolution damage-control operation is in that category. Anyone repeating it seriously makes a fool of himself.
     
    The fact that McKinley parents are now coming out and saying they were misled –  and that Parent Revolution can’t even pretend that the parents instigated the “trigger” process themselves, having openly acknowledged that Parent Revolution’s predatory staff of paid organizers sought out a vulnerable school community to target — puts Parent Revolution into a situation where it has to do desperate damage control.
     
    I predict that this temporary victory for the charter operators will fall apart rapidly, and I further predict that the Parent Trigger will fizzle and that the charter/privatization forces will just hope everyone forgets that they ever touted it. It’s so obviously unworkable in real life that only those who spend no time at all in actual schools could possibly have any faith in it — just another of those fads, like the past great faith in for-profit education management organizations. When will people learn?
     

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  18. OK, let’s parse your sentence:
     
    “The side that is supposedly being “intimidated” is run by a well-funded group of charter operators backed by the whole array of  the big billionaire names in edu-philanthropy.”
     
    1. The side that is supposedly being
    Why are the parents complaining about intimidation only “supposedly”, while for the McKinley parents it is a “fact” that they “are now coming out and saying they were misled”?
     
    2. being “intimidated”

    Why is “intimidated” is quotes, while in your report of the McKinley “saying that they were misled” is not in quotes?
     
    3. is run by a well-funded group of charter operators
    Why do you not mention that the school is run by well-funded — much better, in fact, than the charters, to the tune of about extra $3,000 per kid — operators of public-schools in Los Angeles that has been feeding at the tit of the state for decades?
     
    4. backed by the whole array of  the big billionaire names in edu-philanthropy.
    Why do you not mention that the supporters of keeping that eternally failing school without change include California Teachers Association, UTLA, or National Extortion Education Association? You have no whit of evidence of anyone’s involvement beyond Parents Revolution yet you bring in the whole bugaboo specter of “billionaires” to scare everyone? Should I bring in George Soros or MoveOn.Org to argue that they “support” Compton Unified?
     
    Caroline — you claimed that you have been (are?) a journalist. This kind of populist scare-mongering demagoguery doesn’t bring you much credit, to put it mildly.

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  19. Answering Ze’ev’s questions:

    Q. “Why are the parents complaining about intimidation only “supposedly”, while for the McKinley parents it is a “fact” that they “are now coming out and saying they were misled”?”

    A. Because I don’t believe that any parents are complaining about intimidation. That’s coming from the Parent Revolution damage control team. By contrast, the Los Angeles Times quoted parents by name who said they were misled.

    Q. “Why do you not mention that the school is run by well-funded — much better, in fact, than the charters, to the tune of about extra $3,000 per kid — operators of public-schools in Los Angeles that has been feeding at the tit of the state for decades?”

    A. Apples and oranges. It costs a huge amount to run schools, especially schools serving high-poverty students. Public funding does not meet that need adequately. By contrast, the charter operators have  immense private wealth at their disposal, in the form of generous philanthropy from the Gates, Broad and Walton Family foundations and more. Parent Revolution, a group of charter operators, is funded with money over and above that needed to operate schools. 

    Q. You have no whit of evidence of anyone’s involvement beyond Parents Revolution yet you bring in the whole bugaboo specter of “billionaires” to scare everyone
    ?

    A. The coverage of the move against the McKinley school community — especially the coverage of the L.A. Weekly — lists the supporters of Parent Revolution, who include the array of billionaires as mentioned (and more).

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  20. Because you “don’t believe.” Exactly. Because they are “[a]pples and oranges” in your mind and what you are willing to strictly apply to charters, you give a pass to public schools. Exactly. Because this “array of billionaires” supports Parent Revolution and hence in your mind they directly intimidate a parent fighting for his/her kid,, but the much larger list of power figures, from President Obama down to all the billionaires and foundations supporting public education, doesn’t count in your mind. Exactly.
     
    It’s called slanted writing. Exactly.

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  21. It’s called expressing an opinion, Ze’ev Wurman, just as you’re doing, and everyone else posting on this site, including John Fensterwald. When you can’t come up with a substantive argument, suddenly you decide that the very act of expressing an opinion is wrong. That’s a little unclear on the concept.
     
    As an aside, I’m very sorry to say that President Obama is another major, and wrongheaded, booster of the destructive and anti-public education set of “school reform” fads that are championed by boosters of the “parent trigger.”

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  22. It is an opinion. No questions about that. I just wanted to make it very clear how slanted and biased yours is. Thanks for acknowledging it.

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  23. All opinions are slanted and biased, by definition.

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