The purpose of this blog is to know and understand the teacher's perspective concerning current issues on education reform and the teaching profession. Inputs from the ones who probably knows what is best for students academically -- the teachers -- are rarely considered in decision making of policies. Yet, these so-called education experts and lawmakers dictate how we do our jobs and what we should teach. That's not right!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Be Careful What You Ask For...

A few weeks ago, I heard about a new law passed in California earlier this year that empowered parents to transform failing schools. Under the new "parent trigger" law, if 51% of the parents of any public school sign a petition, they can "trigger" (i.e., force school districts to use) measures to transform the school via converting into a charter school, firing of principal and/or staff, or closing the school. Spearheaded by Parent Revolution, an advocacy group seeking to pursue "kids-only" interests in improving public education, this legislation will serve a precedent in empowering parents as similar laws may be passed in six states -- Connecticut, New Jersey, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, and Georgia. See video below for an introduction to this group:

Yesterday, a group of parents at McKingley Elementary School in Compton, CA used their parent trigger authority to demand a change. Seeking to convert this failing school into a charter school, the parents' action will mark the first time implementing the law. See video below for more on their perspectives:

So far, their actions have received praises from the state governor and several ed deformers, like Secretary Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who made a recent unannounced visit to these parents giving them a "pep talk", according to the LA Times. Plus, this may inspire other states and similar groups nationwide to do the same thing.

While I feel it is always great to see parents involved in education reform debate, I have mixed views about this. Based on my professional experiences with parents as a teacher, I believe that parental empowerment can be a dangerous thing. While some parents, like those in Parent Revolution, believe that teachers and their unions are more concerned with "adult interests", I believe these parents, to a certain degree, will entertain subjective viewpoints in addressing needs of their own children, not all children. Plus, these parents have fallen or will fall for the hype that charter schools is the only way to go.

It is already alleged by some critics that Parent Revolution have some connections with corporations and people who embrace the corporate takeover of public schools formation of charter schools. There is Steve Barr, the chair of Parent Revolution's Board of Directors, who is also the founder of a charter school network organization, Green Dot America (check out the interesting list of people on its Board of Directors). According to an article by LA Weekly on the McKingley case,

...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.

In addition, California Federation of Teachers, one of the state's teachers unions, unapologetically called the parent trigger law "a lynch mob provision". In addressing the McKingley situation, according to LA Times, this is what the other state teachers union said:

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.

Good questions. Based on what I have read thus far, there is no documented evidences proving that measures were taken beforehand to inform the local board or announced public hearings for parents to bring their concerns. If these things did happen and the local board did nothing, then they should be made public nationally to bring some objectivity to the McKingley parents' case. Otherwise, this appears to be an effort to bulldozer reform in a highly subjective manner.

In conducting any type of scientific research, once the problem has been identified, the next step is to research the problem by finding out as much information possible about the problem. Then one proposed possible solutions to the problem and test them. Based on the data collected, one will either validate the proposed solutions or make some changes and start the process over. While the problems with our schools are obvious, well-documented, and agreed upon by everyone, the proposed solutions vary and can be categorized into two subjective groups: sensible and insensible. The McKinley parents believe that conversion into a charter school is the ONLY way to improve their failing public school. Yet, there are research studies that questioned the effectiveness of charter schools. I wonder were they aware of these studies? Also, I wonder if they were aware of many instances in other states where parents' inputs are being shut out in charter schools' affairs? Thankfully as there are a growing number of parents who support charter schools, there are just as many parents who support public schools. Nevertheless, this is about the children of McKinley; I pray their parents went into this with their eyes wide open, for the children's sake.

Be careful what you ask for...

UPDATE: As previously mentioned, Georgia is one of the states considering to passing a similar parent trigger law. Already, some citizens in the metro Atlanta area are seriously embracing the idea...*sigh*

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