Kirst: Expedite parent trigger regs

No need to get Legislature involved

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said Wednesday that the State Board does not plan to ask the Legislature to fix the parent empowerment law known as the parent trigger – to the great relief of the embattled law’s advocates. Instead, the State Board extended emergency regulations implementing the parent trigger and speeded up the timetable for adopting final rules to clarify disputed issues.

Kirst’s statement allayed worries of the 100 Los Angeles area parents, affiliated with the nonprofit organizers Parent Revolution, who had driven all night to Sacramento for the second straight month. Among them were parents from McKinley Elementary in Compton whose landmark parent trigger petition calling for a charter school was denied on a technicality by Compton Unified’s board last month. One after another, often with emotion, the primarily Hispanic parents pressed for strong regulations shoring up their right to demand structural reforms at their schools.

Parent Revolution had speculated that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Julia Brownley, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, both of whom opposed the parent empowerment legislation last year, would sabotage the parent trigger law by amending it – a charge that both denied. Brownley has introduced a AB 203, which she said could serve as a cleanup bill to fix issues that cannot be clarified through regulations.

However, Kirst and the State Board defused the issue by directing a committee with a diverse representation that Torlakson assembled – from Parent Revolution to the California Teachers Association –  to make recommendations by next month on permanent regulations. Kirst has dedicated the April 21 State Board meeting to the parent trigger issue. Meanwhile, the emergency regulations, under which a majority of parents at a school can file a parent-trigger petition, will remain in effect. By a 9-1 vote, with CTA legislative advocate Patricia Rucker opposed, the State Board also extended the regulations, which were due to expire next week.

“President Kirst’s statement …  signaled  an intent to craft regulations that serve parents and children, not bureaucrats and special interests,” said Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution, as well as a former State Board member whom Gov. Jerry Brown replaced in January.

Passage of final regulations in April would remove a high-profile source of contention for Brown. He wants activist parents and the CTA focused on a June ballot extending state taxes, not fighting one another on parental choice. But reaching consensus on the permanent regulations will not be easy. The vagueness of the emergency regulations contributed to the conflicts in Compton. The district and Parent Revolution have accused one another of using tactics of intimidation and misinformation. Compton administrators demanded an onerous signature verification process that a District Court judge rejected out of hand.

Under the parent trigger, a majority of parents at a school who sign a petition can demand one of four strategies: closing down the school; restarting as a charter school; replacing most of the teachers and the principal; or adopting another transformation strategy that could involve a longer day and a different curriculum. Issues that must be resolved include:

  • Signature verification: what forms of ID will be needed;
  • Transparency of information and objectivity of the approval process: how to ensure that parents receive accurate information about all options open to them and that the petition is handled fairly and expeditiously by the district or a third party;
  • Charter process: who decides which charter operator will take over the school;
  • Appeals process: an uncovered piece of the law;
  • Parent protections: how to prevent retribution against parents who sign a petition.

Compton Unified and McKinley parents will be fighting in court for months, if not longer. On Tuesday, the Compton board escalated the conflict by rejecting the application by Celerity Educational Group to open a charter elementary school near McKinley Elementary.

Celerity is the charter operator that McKinley parents had designated in their petition to operate their school. Because of the possibility of protracted litigation, parents had urged Celerity to file a separate application to open a charter school this fall in a nearby church. The  superintendent and staff of Compton Unified had recommended that the board approve the charter – a move that could have reduced tensions. But the board voted no, 6-1.


  1. That Compton school board is certainly presumptuous. Who do they think they are, elected representatives of the community?

    I think what we have here, most likely, is a set of regulations empowering “full employment for attorneys.”

    The SBE should have allowed the legislature to fill in the significant holes in due process and systemic ambiguityin the Parent Empowerment legislation prior to moving forward with this.

    If, indeed, parent empowerment is the order of the day then it should be parents, not private sector managment firms trying to harvest public resources, who are actually empowered.

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  2. The fact that the Compton board rejected a separate Celerity charter application by such a wide margin shows their true disposition in this case.  It was all about protecting the failing status quo.  Pretty disgraceful.

    Bravo to Kirst for withstanding the considerable pressure from educrats to gut the Parent Trigger.  Even those who have long fed and defended the status quo are now recognizing the moral and pragmatic justification of greater School Choice.  Anyone who has had to endure one of these districts as a parent gets the picture pretty quickly.  You can only defend the indefensible for so long.

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  3. It seems unfair to suggest that Compton School Board members fail to have the interest of children and young adults at heart on the basis of a charter vote rejection.  I would be more comfortable with the coverage if I knew who is behind Celerity Schools and if there have been incentives (cash or in kind) to promote the idea of the charter school.  Poor test scores can stem from a variety of reasons.  Lack of support in the home, insecure neighborhoods, poor home environment due to economic condition and other similar problems.  It would also be interested if the 100 who went to Sacramento were actually from the district and if those who went to Sacramento had incentives.  It would also be of interest to know if those who circulated petitions were compensated  in any way.  It is easy to destroy confidence, but once lost it is hard to rebuild. 

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  4. John Lowrey, the petition circulators were paid professionals.
    The petition drive was run by the organization Parent Revolution, which is not a parent group but was founded by the charter operator Green Dot and is funded by the same wealthy foundations that fund many “education reform” projects. Parent Revolution (which wrote the Parent Empowerment Act) looked around the state for a school to target, pre-selected the charter operator to take over McKinley Elementary, and then sent paid operatives out into the community to collect the signatures.
    The entire process was done in stealth, so the parents who signed were not able to discuss the options or hear their rights.

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  5. Unfair?  Here’s what’s unfair: denying choice to families who are faced with a dysfunctional school district monopoly.  It is selfish, and certainly not in the interest of the students, to deny an application from a charter organization that is WASC-accredited and whose four existing schools are performing as well as, if not better than, the schools currently available in Compton.  Why does it matter “who is behind it” (even if they are the much-maligned “billionaires”)?   Who cares?  Why does it matter how it is promoted?  Why have the Parent Trigger opponents devoted so much energy to smearing the charter and its supporters?  Parents are not stupid pawns.  They want choices for their children.  If the Celerity public charter ends up providing a poorer choice for these families, then it will disappear, unlike the entrenched Compton School District.

    Kudos to anyone who helps deliver more choice to these families!  Despite what Compton administrators may think, these children don’t “belong” to them — we stopped classifying anyone as chattel over 145 years ago in this country — and the per pupil funding doesn’t “belong” to them either.  It is unconscionable that districts even have a voice in the charter approval process. 

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  6. Well, I’ve called for giving newspaper editorial boards control over the charter school approval and oversight process, as they’ve consistently been so vocal in blasting school boards over their judgment. It does seem like editorial writers should be willing to step up and show they can run a school district, after so many years of posturing about it (and of course the L.A. Times is showing us the way in the teacher-quality evaluation area).
    If not that option, what entity would you have overseeing charter schools, Jim Mills, if any?
    I have nothing negative to say about Celerity, the chosen charter operator.
    But in Compton, the Parent Trigger process wasn’t initiated by the parents, and the parents had no say over which “turnaround” option the petition called for. If one’s view is that the end justifies the means, then there’s nothing wrong with a sham parent empowerment process. A purist might view it otherwise.
    I think that comparing elected school district officials to slaveowners is a little over the top, though it’s probably the logical extension of the rhetoric from the corporate education reformers.
    None of my comments constitute smears. They are reality checks.

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  7. Caroline, surely you must know that different states employ a variety of ways to approve charters, without giving a first-stop veto power to the district, which of course, is always the most threatened by the prospect of losing “their” students and “their” money.  Some districts in CA have been open-minded about school choice, but others, like my own, have reflexively rejected every single application to come before them in the last 15 years, with one modest exception.  Some states allow universities and community colleges to approve charters.  Others states allow charter applicants to go directly to a state agency, rather than going first to the district, then to the county, and then to the state — which is the jump-through-the-hoops process we have here in CA.  I would be happy to allow teacher unions to approve new charters.  And I would be happy to give approval authority to the editorial board of my local paper.  They couldn’t do a worse job than the indifferent stonewallers at my local district.  The real test is whether all of the professional “education reformers” want to give parents a real choice and real progress after years of miserable results,  or whether they want to continue to fight their losing, rear-guard defense of a centrally controlled, dysfunctional, no-choice system.  It’s a futlie effort in the long term, but it can delay real reforms for years – which, of course, may be their goal.

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  8. Charters have no overall record of being a “real reform” in any case, Jim. They are an outstanding success in one area — PR.
    My own district, SFUSD, had two really bad experiences with charters and their supporters early on — Edison Charter Academy and Urban Pioneer Charter High School — and has the good sense to learn from experience. So it’s not the most charter-welcoming district around, though the left/green/progressives on our Board of Ed have tended to be big charter backers — left meets right in approving the “Whoopee! No rules! No grownups in charge!” aspect of charter schools.

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  9. If a rich person, say George Soros, gave some money to help circulate  a petition among Wisconsin teachers, I doubt that anyone, even the most avid conservative, would be so patronizing as to immediately assume that Wisconsin teachers were being fooled into signing something that they were too stupid to understand.

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  10. Parent Revolution did not “(give) some money to help” circulate the petition at McKinley Elementary. Parent Revolution (an Astroturf organization created by charter school operator Green Dot and funded by the same sources that fund the nation’s major corporate education reform efforts) created the Parent Empowerment Act, searched the state for a school to target, created a professional operation in Compton, pre-selected the charter operator that would take over the school, and sent its paid signature -gatherers out to knock on doors in Compton. This was done in stealth so that there could be no transparency or public discussion of the options.
    Here’s what the Los Angeles Times editorial board — which has a history of being enthusiastically pro-charter and supportive of Green Dot — said:
    The first parent trigger petition, at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, offered an example of how the process shouldn’t work. The signature drive was held in secret, to avoid a backlash from the school, but with the decision pre-made for parents that the school would be taken over by charter operator Celerity Educational Group. There was no public discussion of parents’ options or rights.

    The Los Angeles Weekly’s coverage gives a clearer idea. The Weekly, a fiery, right/libertarian “advocacy journalism” practitioner, has taken a fervent stance in support of Parent Revolution and its Parent Trigger campaign against McKinley Elementary, and Weekly reporters were “embedded” with the entire process.

    For that reason, the Weekly’s description of Parent Revolution’s backers and strategy is illustrative:

    Parent Revolution, with 10 full-time staff members and a $1 million annual operating budget, is funded by blue-chip philanthropic endeavors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. …

    Parent Revolution decided to focus on McKinley Elementary School and approach parents there after researching the worst school districts in California. … (Parent Revolution’s paid) field organizers have canvassed a large chunk of the 10-square-mile city of Compton, knocking on hundreds of doors, walking its sidewalks and driving its streets, asking people if their children attend McKinley. … [Organizing director Pat DeTemple] set up a computer program to track trends in the progress of his staff’s work. Once a parent signature was obtained, DeTemple input that parent’s address in the program, and a green dot appeared on a digital map of Compton. If a particular block in McKinley Elementary’s feeder area showed no green dots, he’d ask one of the five salaried organizers to make a follow-up visit to the block.”

    The McKinley parents were and are being manipulated and exploited by this very well-funded professional operation, whose goal is to turn public property over to private operators; to funnel public money into private pockets. And the press and many political leaders are currently in thrall to Parent Revolution’s equally professional PR campaign (outsourced to an L.A.-area PR firm). It’s not patronizing to point out that regular parents are no match for a polished professional operation and its carefully orchestrated strategy.


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  11. If it weren’t a terrible school and if they couldn’t get parent signatures, the plan would have gone nowhere. Alas for your argument, the plan obviously found a lot of traction with parents.
    So out with it: Are the parents too stupid and illiterate to have an opinion on such issues, or not?

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  12. Don’t forget to ask when I stopped beating my wife, Stuart Buck.

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  13. “regular parents are no match for a polished professional operation and its carefully orchestrated strategy.”
    Well, obviously most “regular” parents who were at all happy with their local school wouldn’t be fooled into signing such a petition, no matter how “polished” or “professional” the petition drive was. There are only two possible reasons that parents signed: 1) they’re complete idiots, or 2) they were actually deeply unhappy with their school. You don’t seem to credit #2. So that leaves #1.

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  14. OK, I’ll try to treat that as a serious comment.
    The Parent Trigger is supposedly designed to be initiated by parents, and those parents are supposed to be aware that they have a number of choices for restructuring their school. The parents are supposed to choose among those options.
    None of those were the case in this situation. That doesn’t mean that the parents were happy with the school — or at least that they weren’t eager for a way to improve it — but this was done to the parents, not by the parents. That doesn’t make them “stupid” or “idiots,” but in my opinion it does make them exploited and manipulated.
    It’s also interesting that the Los Angeles Weekly — the advocacy-journalism practitioner that is fervently pro-Parent Trigger and was embedded with the entire process — live-blogged a Compton school board meeting at which 200-300 angry parents protested against the Parent Trigger, after the petitioning was completed. No other media coverage that I’ve seen has ever mentioned this.
    Excerpts from the Weekly’s account of the Dec. 14 meeting, which it describes as “packed” with 200 to 300 people: 

    We’re reporting live from the CUSD board meeting, packed with press and hundreds of angry parents — many of whom say they were tricked into signing the Parent Trigger petition without understanding its gravity.
    Above all, the air is buzzing with confusion. …

    More and more, the crowd reveals itself as anti-Parent Trigger. The only speakers who get a positive reaction are the ones defending CUSD. …

    Another man rouses parents: “How dare they come here and say not the whole truth? If we look at charter schools, we know what they are about. They are about the dollar.”

    … the crowd chants, “COMPTON! COMPTON! COMPTON!” Someone waves an “I [Heart] Compton” shirt above his head.

    It seems the concept of a charter school has now become the antithesis of hometown pride. … One mother, who rushes out the side door before we can ask her name, says she was approached at her job twice and forced to sign the petition, y “yo no quise fimar” (I didn’t want to sign). Parent Kirk Douglas Brown says he signed the petition, but now wants to publicly revoke his signature.

    A strong localized defense begins to arise, based on the sentiment that “outside interests” like Parent Revolution, Celerity Educational Group and even L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are coming in and “telling us what to do with our city.”
    … There’s a new civil war …”


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  15. Yes, that article starts by saying twice that a “handful” of parents say they were “duped,” while a “handful” of parents told of  “lies and intimidation” by teachers at McKinley. Later in the article, some parents or citizens oppose the trigger, but it isn’t clear that who of them are actually parents at McKinley.
    Is there any actual substantiation of the deception charge other than random anecdotes from mostly unidentified people? See, e.g.,

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  16. The article says that 200-300 angry parents, solidly opposed to the Parent Trigger/Celerity takeover , attended the meeting, and that “many … say they were tricked into signing the petition.” It’s significant that that account was by someone who fervently supports the Parent Trigger, and it’s mystifying that this has gone utterly unmentioned by any other media. (The Weekly’s reporter/blogger mentions that other press were present.)
    I don’t know of any substantiation of the deception charges. I haven’t seen any effort to look into them, and it’s unclear what official investigation process might exist. It seems likely that there is no such process, and those parents are just SOL. In a sane world, the press would look into it further, but it isn’t working that way.
    I have some questions, and as a volunteer I don’t have the wherewithal to do this legwork myself, so I’ll just post them here and see if anyone else has any information. The questions below are about the opposite charges — accusations that teachers made comments that allegedly constituted harassment.
    Press coverage over the past few months has announced that Parent Revolution filed complaints with the California Attorney General’s Office and with the U.S. Department of Education accusing teachers at McKinley Elementary of harassment over comments that those teachers allegedly made to students and/or parents.
    Here are my questions.
    – What investigation and prosecutorial resources and powers does the USDOE have? How does the state AG’s office investigation and prosecutorial process work?
    – Are these charges against individual named teachers, against McKinley itself, or against another entity?
    – Will there be a trial of some kind?
    – Do the teachers need legal representation?
    – Who pays for the teachers’ legal representation?
    – What are the potential penalties against the teachers?
    – What are the potential penalties against the school or the district?


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