"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, February 15, 2010

Can Ben Austin Speak for Parent Revolution without Speaking for Green Dot?

There are legitimate concerns these days that education outfits have sometimes hidden or unclear relationships with other groups, many of them in the nonprofit sector. This brings up questions of governance, transparency, and other issues of public policy. For instance, should people employed by a charter school have to openly and publicly disclose their financial ties when advising/advocating/consulting on behalf of a different non-profit?
From the Daily News (Los Angeles):

After five years of getting nowhere with Los Angeles Unified officials, fed-up parents in Sunland-Tujunga are using a new state law to force change at a long-troubled middle school.

Parents and community members say problems at Mount Gleason Middle School, which has been on a federal list of under-performing campuses for a dozen years, go beyond failing test scores.

"There is an unsafe atmosphere at this school that is spilling over into the community...," said Lydia Grant, a resident and parent of a former Mount Gleason student. "People are tired of it and we want to see change."

Thanks to new legislation, known as the "parent trigger" law, they're able to do something about it.

A few things should be clear: parents absolutely should be involved in education. Also, questioning turnarounds or resisting charterization doesn't mean you think everything is great and dandy. Everyone wants change, but the means and ends (undetermined, I might add) that capitalize on quick-win scenarios in hopes of getting something bigger started may have consequences that would not occur if we could make a long-term commitments, generate genuine community input, and provide adequate resources for public schools. Our culture of quick-fix solutions makes the parent trigger an appealing option, but this solution to saving public schools (which some hope will sweep the nation) is as likely so succeed as the latest diet craze. If these so-called turnarounds are anything like their corporate counterparts in the private sector, most will fail and very few will succeed. I have a hard time believe that should qualify as sound public policy.

Parent involvement is great, but simply voting to turn your school over to a private operator seems like a risky venture. There are other reasons people are raising concerns. Also from theDaily News article:

Some administrators questioned whether the motivation to have the school taken over was spurred by genuine parent concern, or outward pressure from community groups.

"One thing is for residents of Mount Gleason to initiate this trigger," said Jose Rodriguez, an LAUSD director for the school.

"But it's another thing for an outside group to come in and encourage parents to use this trigger law."

Perhaps Rodriguez was referring to the Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles group that created the idea of a parent trigger, initially to be used in LAUSD.

Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, said after the district passed a watered-down version of the trigger, he decided to take the fight to Sacramento.

"The whole purpose of this law is to give parents power," Austin said.

"Parents are in the best position to make decisions about what's good for their kids and their future... Why shouldn't they get more control?"

The Parent Revolution, which has close ties to Green Dot public schools, a large charter management organization in Los Angeles, is working with parents around Mount Gleason and believes that the school could be among the first to be reformed with the new law.

However Austin denied playing anything but an advisory role in the parents' decision to organize.

"We're not orchestrating.... It's very patronizing to think that we would be making these kinds of decisions."

Shouldn't Austin also mention that he pulled in $94,475 in 2008 as a private "consultant" for Green Dot? It all makes me wonder: is Green Dot a candidate for running the school in the near future? [Austin, at least to my knowledge, isn't breaking any laws by doing this, but it might be something that should be regulated or monitored]

It's not only Austin that deserves to be looked at with a skeptical eye: the Daily News should inform their readers that Austin also receives compensation from Green Dot. It's only fair that Austin shows all the hats he wears instead of hiding one behind his back when questioned by a reporter.


  1. Yes! It's substandard, inadequate journalism for the Daily News to omit the fact that Austin is a paid employee. If the reporter doesn't know that, it's a major ****up on the reporter's part. If the reporter does know it, a major ethical lapse. BTW, the previous education reporter for the L.A. Daily News now works for -- surprise -- the California Charter Schools Assn. With the newspaper biz dying and all jobs hanging by a thread, and the charter industry dangling lucrative jobs, it's not that surprising that many reporters "forget" to ask questions whose answers reflect poorly on the charter industry.

  2. Mt. Gleason has been on the PR hit list for over a year now. Austin and the PR are not advisers...they are the orchestrators.