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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

GUEST POST: The Parent Trigger Trap

The Parent Trigger Trap

by Douglas Storm

This from a piece in the the Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY and Southern Indiana) titled “Bill would give Indiana parents ability to convert schools to charters,” about the so-called “Parent Trigger.”  As a nod to my favorite local school board member (you know who you are), I wish this were about Parent Tiggers.  That would make the world a much happier place.
Parents could vote to convert traditional schools to charters under a bill an Indiana House committee passed Wednesday.
But several lawmakers said they might not vote for House Bill 1219 when it moves to the House floor unless the bill is amended.
The bill, authored by Rep. Rhonda Rhoads, R-Corydon, would convert schools to charters — which are public schools that are freed from many state regulations — if more than half of the students’ parents vote to do so.
School boards could also create charters, as allowed by state law.
“At this point, I like the 51 percent of parents because they’re the ones who have children at the school,” Rhoads said. “People in the community may have no idea of what’s going on in the classroom, even though they’re paying for it.”
Dale Chu, assistant superintendent for policy, legal and communications at the Indiana Department of Education, said the department supports the bill as proposed because it parallels Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett’s ­­­­push to allow students to have high-quality education.
Chu also said parents expressed concern about their lack of input when the state board of education intervened in seven of Indiana’s lowest performing schools.
“This bill as it is currently written would go a long way by giving some voice back to those parents and empowering them,” Chu said. “If they’re feeling marginalized and like they don’t have a voice in their school and their school continues to struggle, they have a lever that they can use.”
First, this is a legislative maneuver authored by and instigated via the ALEC  right-wing think tank The Heartless Institute.  Here is their Policy page on the Parent Trigger aimed at Indiana.  Note that it is about creating an impression of “empowerment” and “local control.”  This is how the page begins:
Schools in Indiana are failing to make the grade, and parents are afforded virtually no recourse when their children fall victim to a failing school. A Foundation for Educational Choice poll recently found that among the six polled states, Hoosiers are most likely to see their public education system as failing.
Who writes the tests and administers them and assesses them?

Who authored the grading system that will guarantee a 1/3 failure rate opening the door for coercive corporate take-over?  Maybe this guy?  Vic Smith offers some analysis.

Who is the Foundation for Educational Choice?  You know, it’s the tribe of Uncle Milt (Friedman, not Berle).  I wonder why they left the “Friedman” off in the above?

According to the poll, “Hoosiers are most likely to see their public education as failing.”  Now that’s an interesting formulation, isn’t it.  It’s not a poll that shows that Hoosiers do indeed see their public education system as failing; rather it’s one in which the “psychology” of the average Hoosier or “political temperament” of the average Hoosier can be understood to be one pliable to the propaganda of failure.  In other words, Hoosiers are most likely to believe the lies.  Hear that, Hoosiers?  Right-wing think tanks housed in your capital think your gullible rubes.
The Indiana Parent Trigger would allow a simple majority of parents at a school to “trigger” one of three reform options: close the school and allow the students to transfer to better-performing public schools, convert the school into a charter school, or give each student’s parents a voucher usable at a private school of their choosing.  (my emphasis)
Here’s what Kenneth Saltman of DePaul University and author of Capitalizing on Disaster (here is a good review) and The Gift of Education (both to be read in conjunction with the Emery/Ohanian book) has written about the knowing machinations of these, um, people (?):
Privatization advocates were quite explicit in their desire to undermine local control over educational decision making and to create a situation in which it would be very difficult to reverse the implementation of vouchers.  For example, Karla Dial, reporting in the right-wing Heartland Institute School Reform News [money tells lies more efficiently, ed.], quotes Chris Kinnan of Freedom Works, a D.C. organization fighting for “smaller government” and more “persona freedom.”
“Having those vouchers for a couple of years would change the way parents and students and even educators think about them,” Kinnan said.  “The impact would be so powerful that if you did it right, [school] systems would be competing to attract these [kids with vouchers].  It’s all about changing the incentive.  Once you have that freedom it would be very difficult to go back to the community control system.”
For Kinnan and his ilk, “freedom” means privatizing public control over public resources so that fewer people with more wealth and power have more political control over said resources.  The genius of framing the amassing political and economic control over public resources  as individual consumer choice is that it takes on the deceptive appearance of increasing individual control, although it actually removes individuals from collective control.  Privatizers aim to treat the use of public resources as “shopping” by “consumers,” thereby naturalizing the public sector as a market–as a natural, politically neutral entity ruled by the laws of supply and demand rather than as a matter of public priority, political deliberation, and competing values and visions.  Such metaphors…fail to admit that markets themselves are hardly neutral or natural [but] are, on the contrary, hierarchical, human-made, political configurations unequally distributing power and control over material resources and cultural value.  (Capitalizing on Disaster, 31-2)
Further in the piece from the Courier-Journal there is a quote in opposition:
Libby Cierzniak, a lobbyist for Indianapolis Public Schools, said the school district opposes the bill as passed. Students do not always stay in the same school as the one in which their parents may be voting to create a charter school. Cierzniak said this is especially true of junior high schools that offer only a couple grades.
“If they vote to change, it should really affect them,” Cierzniak said. “Schools are community resources, and taxpayers and voters should have a say, as well as the parents of the children who are in the pipeline to eventually attend that school.”
First, Libby, do not use BRT-speak like “community resources” and “pipeline”–yikes–but what’s necessary to see here is that this newspaper labels her a “lobbyist for IPS”–do public schools have lobbyists?  Possibly.  But it seems to me that’s what we might have called an elected representative from the district–a lobbyist for public education (or all things public I suppose).  But does this piece indicate the verifiable detail that all of this legislation is part of a larger coercive effort by the members of the Business Roundtable and all their “think tank” flacks?  Nope.  It’s honest work after all.

Finally though, what strikes me as the most obvious goal of any of these reforms is that the only thing that will be achieved is community dissolution.  For all the ridiculous rhetoric about individualism our greatest successes are always communal.  What does pursuit of true individualism serve?  One person.  It’s hard not to think that all the world’s billionaires are battling it out for the title of the Biggest Individualist and that the US of A invades and occupies countries under that same banner.  One country under one god, right?

And in an unrelated related piece regarding the Indiana Fascist Club law against “embellishing” our sacred anthem:
Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville is broadening her proposal for a state law on how the national anthem should be performed.
The proposal would require any performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in any public place be in its entirety and without embellishment. She had earlier proposed a bill for the state education department to set standards for singing and playing of the national anthem at public schools.
Becker told a state Senate committee Wednesday that she believes such a law might not be very enforceable but would send an important signal about the respect the national anthem deserves.
The National Anthem has zero content to be proud of if you ask me.  We honor a flag and military victory over taxation.  Where has that gotten us?

Well, it does make sense that the right-wing reps would honor it–it is honestly a far more appropriate emblem of their worldview, isn’t it.  Well, maybe it should be redesigned to feature only one star and one stripe.

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