By Frank Wells
Regina Tyler-Powell teaches at McKinley Elementary School in Compton and wants to work with parents.
Update: On February 22, the Compton Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously to reject Parent Revolution’s petition to turn McKinley Elementary over to management under Celerity Charter Schools. The rejection document cited several reasons, including a lack of evidence that petitions actually had attached copies of the specific proposed charter, the inability of the district to verify many signatures as valid, and failure to follow the petition structure and language required by law.
In early December, staff and many parents at McKinley Elementary School in Compton were stunned to learn that Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based education group, was claiming to have collected enough signatures to invoke the “parent trigger” law and turn the school over to an outside charter school operator. In a heavily self-promoted move, Parent Revolution made national headlines by choosing McKinley as the first school to test the new law.
The parent trigger law was enacted last year under a bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), and was initially proposed as part of a slew of measures intended to help in California’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to win federal Race to the Top funding. The law provides that if a majority of parents at a school ranking in the state’s bottom 10 percent sign a petition, they can force the school to enter one of four reform models that follow options under Race to the Top: reconfigure the site as a charter school, bring in new staff, replace the principal, or close the school entirely.
On Feb. 9, the State Board of Education moved to delay finalizing regulations governing the parent trigger law until at least March. The delay was in large part due to concerns over what has been taking place in Compton under poorly drafted emergency regulations adopted last summer by the previous board.
CTA has continued to provide support to the Compton Education Association (CEA) and work with various state officials and agencies to make sure both the intent and the letter of the law are followed. It’s clear the law was never meant to apply to schools already embracing reforms and making gains.
Parent Revolution’s Executive Director Ben Austin is a charter school advocate with ties to heavily financed charter and education reform interests. Austin, who was recently removed by Gov. Brown from the State Board of Education, has freely admitted to the stealth nature of Parent Revolution’s signature-gathering tactics, saying they were necessary to prevent opposition.
“I don’t know who Parent Revolution thinks the ‘opposition’ is,” says CEA President Marie Truby. “Informed parents? Teachers? The problem with their secretive campaign is parents were never given the full picture or the opportunity to all be together in the same room to discuss the options available to the school. They also weren’t informed of the great progress already being made.”
And McKinley has been making significant progress. The school is already participating in
CTA’s Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) and is one of the many schools in that program showing major gains on state tests and outpacing schools with similar student demographics. Now, with the parent trigger targeting McKinley, a proven reform is in danger of being scuttled by one with no track record.
Marie E. Truby
President of Compton Education Association
“We want and need parents to play a major part in the education of all students,” says Regina Tyler-Powell, a teacher at McKinley. “Some of our staff is hurt, and others don’t understand the attacks, especially since we are helping our students move in the right direction.”
CTA opposed the parent trigger law, in part because of the many flaws that are becoming apparent though the McKinley example. “Parent empowerment and involvement are key to a child’s success,” says Tyrone Cabell, a CTA Board member who represents Compton and the surrounding area. “But this law isn’t empowering parents. Instead, it’s become a tool for outsiders to come in and take over on behalf of a charter company.” Cabell notes the issue has become a politically charged platform for outsiders, with then-Gov. Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and former Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee all descending on Compton to weigh in.
Confusion and misinformation have riddled the process from the beginning. When Parent Revolution announced it had secured the necessary signatures, angry parents packed Compton school board and community meetings, saying they had been lied to or harassed by Parent Revolution organizers. Many demanded to rescind their signatures. As news accounts of its own abuses grew, Parent Revolution began loudly publicizing countercharges against McKinley and district staff. In January, Parent Revolution announced support for complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights over alleged “intimidation” (the alleged offenses include putting erroneous information about charter school requirements online and in a YouTube video, as well as making an inaccurate statements to a student).
“It’s disheartening to see Parent Revolution using well-meaning parents to attack quality teachers in order to score public relations and political points,” says Truby. “But we’re pushing back and defending both our members and the school. The parent trigger law is clearly being abused by outsiders who don’t know the first thing about the good things going on at McKinley.” By choosing McKinley, Parent Revolution aimed at the wrong target to pull the parent trigger.
Related Tags: Charter schools, Law, Parents, QEIA, Race to the Top, Sanctions, Volume 15 Issue 5, Educator, Inside Educator, Take A Stand,