Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
It could be a shot heard 'round the education world: This morning in Compton, California, more than 260 parents will pull the first ever "parent trigger" in a bid to transform a failing public school.
Under a California law passed in January, parents can trigger a change in governance at some 1,300 schools that have failed to make "adequate yearly progress" for four consecutive years. If at least 51% of the parents sign a petition, they can shut the school down, shake up its administration, or invite a charter operator to take over. Charters that open as a result of parent triggers must accept all students from the original school.
Compton's McKinley Elementary School has made adequate progress only once since 2003, and it is in the bottom 10% of schools statewide and when compared to schools with students of similar backgrounds. McKinley is part of the Compton Unified School District, which has a high school graduation rate of 46.8%; only 3.3% of those graduates were eligible for California's public universities in 2008. That year the state required Compton to hire a "district assistance intervention team." According to its own investigators, the district demonstrated over two years a "lack of a sense of urgency related to student achievement."
Thus the parental uprising. "Parents operate on a different clock than district bureaucrats," says Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, a liberal group assisting McKinley parents. "Kids get older every year. We can't freeze-dry our kids and wait for your pilot programs to pan out." More than 60% of McKinley parents have signed the petition to free the school from the Compton Unified bureaucracy and install charter school operator Celerity Educational Group to run it instead.
Celerity already runs three Los Angeles-area charters that serve students similar to those at McKinley with far greater success. In 2009, one Celerity school was in the 40th percentile statewide and in the 90th compared to schools with similar demographics. Another was in the 50th percentile statewide and in the top 10% compared to its peers.
None of this is going down well with the bureaucracy or the California Federation of Teachers, whose president has called parent trigger a "lynch mob provision." The law says that the district must comply with a petition unless it "makes a finding in writing stating the reason it cannot," but McKinley's parents expect to have to sue to get their way. Since Celerity is ready and waiting to take over McKinley, the district has no legitimate reason not to facilitate the switch.
Parent trigger has support from Democrats including Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee and even Rahm Emanuel now that he's running for mayor of Chicago. Legislators in Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, West Virginia and Maryland tell us they will introduce versions of parent trigger in the coming months.
The biggest obstacle to education reform has long been overcoming the inertial forces of unionized bureaucracy. Parent trigger is a revolutionary shortcut, and bravo to the parents in Compton for making the leap.