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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parent Trigger, Media Coverage, and More...

In case you haven't been following CA education happenings, there has been more than a little dust-up over the newly-enacted "Parent Trigger" legislation and implementation.  Accusations of wrongdoing have been tossed around, confusion reigns, and - if anything - this should tell policymakers and the general public that the legislation ought to be looked at again sometime in the very near future.  I'd recommend Larry Ferlazzo's explanation of why he doesn't think the "parent trigger" will help schools and parents.  Parents certainly deserve a significant degree of power over schools - something like the Local School Councils in Chicago - but the current law doesn't actually give parents any say over the school once it's handed over to new operators or tinkered with in other ways.  You can read the actual text of the bill here.  This law expects a very different kind of parental involvement: parents as consumers.  The parent trigger legislation mentions that parents can pick a certain reform, but they're limited to options laid out by the reauthorized ESEA (ie NCLB), particularly paragraph 7 of section 1116(b).  Here are the relevant options (via ed.gov):
(i) Reopening the school as a public charter school.
(ii) Replacing all or most of the school staff (which may include the principal) who are relevant to the failure to make adequate yearly progress.
(iii) Entering into a contract with an entity, such as a private management company, with a demonstrated record of effectiveness, to operate the public school.
(iv) Turning the operation of the school over to the State educational agency, if permitted under State law and agreed to by the State.
(v) Any other major restructuring of the school's governance arrangement that makes fundamental reforms, such as significant changes in the school's staffing and governance, to improve student academic achievement in the school and that has substantial promise of enabling the school to make adequate yearly progress as defined in the State plan under section 1111(b)(2). In the case of a rural local educational agency with a total of less than 600 students in average daily attendance at the schools that are served by the agency and all of whose schools have a School Locale Code of 7 or 8, as determined by the Secretary, the Secretary shall, at such agency's request, provide technical assistance to such agency for the purpose of implementing this clause.
The de-facto option is handing over the operations of the school to private operators (generally charter management organizations), and that brings up some serious concerns.  Here's a snippet from EdWeek:
“The fact that the parent trigger allows parents a role in choosing new management for the school puts the onus on parents to be very wise consumers,” said Ms. Lake. “It will take some community education and support to make sure parent groups have the capacity to make informed choices.”
Lake brings up an important point, and one that needs to be considered: functioning markets require informed consumers. [I'm not in favor of market-based reforms for public education, just engaging in a little critique here.]  I'd wager that simply providing information about test scores the PR pitches by various charter management organizations fall short of any definition of high-quality information (although some might disagree).  Did anyone in the Parent Revolution sit down with parents and explain that they had more than one option here?  Not that I'd advocate for it - nor do I think it's a better option - but parents could have opted for removing all or most of the school staff.  They could have turned the operations of the school over to the State education agency (if the law allows it, and I'm not schooled in the specifics of CA education law).  They could have asked for changes to the governance of the school.  I hope they were told that these options were available.

But let's add another wrinkle to this mess, and a significant wrinkle at that.  From the LA Weekly:
The accusation of potential wrongdoing on the part of Compton school officials — not Parent Revolution, as reported in the L.A. Times — prompted the California State Board of Education and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask Attorney General Jerry Brown to investigate. The Times fed an atmosphere of misinformation with a story titled "California Board of Education seeks probe of Compton charter campaign." It implied the probe was prompted by actions of the reformers, Parent Revolution.

State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell tells the Weekly, "The Times got it backwards."
What the Weekly doesn't tell you - in ANY of their coverage of the parent trigger happenings at McKinley - is that Mitchell is the CEO of the NewSchools Venture Fund in addition to serving as the President of the CA State Board of Education.  And their most recent coverage of the issue fails to mention that Austin is on the CA State Board of Education (to their credit, earlier stories did mention it). I find this concerning considering that some of NSVF's ventures could certainly benefit from the parent trigger legislation.  Additionally, I'd sure hope that Austin excused himself from any voting/discussion of the parent trigger considering his organization is the primary driver in the arena (heck, does anyone else have a million-dollar budget to organize parents?).  One could make the case, I think, that Mitchell should excuse himself, too, considering it's entirely possible that he'd be in a position where acting as board president could come into conflict with the activities of his day job.  NSVF isn't in the business to make money (well, not anymore - they did invest in for-profit education providers, including Edison and LearnNow).  Nevertheless, the mostly ignored CRPE interim report on CMOs suggested they're not financially stable, and clearly expansion or drastic changes are necessary in order for these organizations to become self-sustaining.  In other words, I believe even a casual observer may have concerns about this situation if they were given all the facts.  Or maybe they wouldn't, but the LA Weekly ought to include a mention of Austin's and Mitchell's status as board members when discussing issues that potentially relate to the trigger and the board of education.

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