Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At California School, Parents Force an Overhaul

I don't dare do another STOP THE PRESSES, but two BIG pieces of news from California: the first, about the first school ever to activate the parent trigger (which I've written about in the past: is HUGE!

By Marlene Romero's count, her son has had just one effective teacher in his five years at McKinley Elementary School here. Most of the time, she said, he has merely shuffled through classrooms, struggling in math without ever getting extra help.

So when an organizer came knocking at her door promising that if she signed a petition, her son's school could radically improve, Ms. Romero immediately pledged her support.

Now, she is one of more than 250 parents in Compton who are using a new state law to force the failing school to be taken over by a charter school operator, the first such move in the country.

Voicing enormous frustration with the existing school, the parents handed over the petition on Tuesday to district officials. "We are completely fed up," Ms. Romero said. "We've been told to wait every year and nothing changes."

When Ms. Romero attended Compton schools in the 1990s, she said, nobody seemed to notice or care when she skipped school for days at a time. She dropped out at the age of 16. "I want my children to be able to have what I didn't," she said.

For the last several months, Ms. Romero has helped gather petitions for the school takeover, which is expected to face legal challenges from the school board and teachers' union, which strongly opposed the new law.

Under the law, if 51 percent of parents at a school sign a petition, it "triggers" one of four actions, including takeover by a charter school. In this case, 61 percent of the parents signed the petition. When the State Legislature approved the measure in January, union officials referred to it as a "lynch mob provision."

The move in Compton will likely be watched by educators and political leaders all over the country, as many advocates try to exert more pressure on teachers' unions. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is supporting the effort and Rahm Emanuel has promised to introduce similar regulations in Chicago if he wins his bid for mayor there.

In many ways, the parent trigger is a nightmare situation for unions, threatening to pit teachers against parents, particularly in poor neighborhoods where schools have struggled for years. In essence, it is a union for parents.

"We've never seen anything like this before," said Marion Orr, a professor of public policy at Brown University. "It really pushed to the edges of a strong democracy and could create real challenges for public officials who believe they know best how to run school districts."


At California School, Parents Force an Overhaul

Published: December 7, 2010

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