Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No One Could Have Seen This Coming

(Update: from the LA Times: the California State Board of Education is asking the Attorney General to investigate parent complaints of misconduct over the petition drive at McKinley Elementary in Compton. Boy, this is one to sort out and really hurts Parent Revolution. Thank you to Phyllis Fletcher at KUOW for this heads up.)

Okay, so we have the Parent Revolution. This is a group grown out passage of a law called the Parent Trigger in California that allows 51% of parents at a school (that is under certain criteria) to force a district to transform a school under a turnaround strategy that the parents choose. This sounds good, right? (What's interesting is that a school that is ID'ed as a "persistently lowest achieving school" is NOT eligible but only ones eligible for certain corrective actions.)

The parents have five interesting choices: charter conversion, turnaround, closure, transformation and bargaining power. There is nuance to each but basically:
  • Charter - school reopens under a charter operation BUT unlike other charters, has to take all the kids who are eligible to attend the school. That means if there are ELL and Special services, that charter operation HAS to have them as well.
  • turnaround - entire new staff and local community has more control over the staffing and the budget
  • closure - Parent Revoluntion doesn't recommend this one but if parents take it, they get to send their kids to better performing schools nearby
  • bargaining power - this one is more of a threat - if the district won't listen, get 51% of parents' signatures and use it as a bargaining chip. Could get ugly, though.
  • transformation - some of the staff changes and parents get more control

Plus any parent at the school OR who lives in the school's eligibility region can sign a petition.

So against this backdrop, the first test case. Parents at one of the worst schools in Compton signed a petition to takeover the school. Or did they? A story in the LA Times says that some parents who signed the petition say they were misled or threatened if they didn't sign. (Some say they were told they could be deported if they didn't sign.) Both sides are crying foul with the parents who did sign willingly saying it's intimidation against THEM.

Parent Revolution apparently had targeted this school because of its low performance AND they had decided it would be a charter conversion. (Interesting they didn't wait to ask the parents first.) A state audit said this summer said the schools appeared to run to support adults, not kids and that the district seemed to be doing little to change that. The school and its parent supporters point to a 77 point rise over two years in their state test scores, making them one of the fastest improving schools in the state.

In an opinion piece in the LA Times, they point out that the parent trigger can be used on schools NOT in the greatest need (not to mention that turnaround or charter conversion is absolutely no guarantee of success). They worry over how quickly the legislation got passed without anyone asking some "what if" questions.

They talk about how the district and the school had no idea the petition was going around. And you can see how you would want to keep it quiet, otherwise the teachers and staff would be working against it and the situation could quickly get out of hand.

The Times makes a good point over how wrong it is for groups to be working in secret and partial or misinformationbeing given out by either side. They warn of charter groups trying to "buy" parent signatures by making promises they may not keep.

The California State Board of Education is meeting this week to possibly tighten up the rules.

Let's have California figure this all out before it moves to the rest of the country.

33 comments:

cascade said...

From the LA Times opinion - "Distaste for the messiness of democracy is an unacceptable excuse for secret proceedings. "

Gee, that sounds a lot like how the district went and tried to get TFA in behind our backs, what with no public outreach, just handing it off to TFA to talk to their favorite not-for-profits and ed reformers.

You all can post your own examples of which there have been many in the past couple years.

mirmac1 said...

Now is the time. Push your legislators to repeal ESSB 6696 that applies draconian, costly measures that provide no guarantees schools will improve.

Send that email NOW.

Seattle-Ed2010 said...

For more on the dubious Ben Austin, the hired gun behind the so-called "parent trigger," see Weekend Roundup: Big-Girl Pants, Parent Trigger, & the Charterfest Comes to Town (Oh my!

Journalist and ed activist Caroline Grannan in California is a good source of info on Austin and his "trigger":

Caroline Grannan, one of the founders of Parents Across America, has analyzed Green Dot’s results. Based on the API, the California Department of Education’s accountability system, the Green Dot schools have mediocre results, and all but one had worse results than the supposedly “failing” L.A. public schools that Green Dot ran campaigns to take over, through the “parent trigger” measure, led by their fake grassroots organization, Parent Revolution. (The Parent Revolution is run by Ben Austin, an attorney who works for the city of L.A, has no school age children, is paid $100,000 as a part-time consultant to Green Dot, and yet regularly claims to be a typical, aggrieved L.A. public school parent.)

--sue p.

Eric M said...

I get it. It's a lot like deciding on the next American Idol, or Dancing With The Stars. The winner gets the most call-ins, and you can organize a campaign for your favorite.

I've learned a LOT about Ed-Deform over the last year, thanks to the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, but this is a brand-new low.

ARB said...

I understand the "reform" issues related to this, but FIRST move to SE Seattle and THEN tell me if it really seems like an entirely bad idea....

seattle citizen said...

ARB, what do you mean? There are struggling students everywhere, not just in SE Seattle.

So there are struggling students (true): Are you suggesting that because there are struggling students (everywhere) that then it's a good idea for parents to be conned by faux-grass-roots consultants from charter companies to "take over" schools and, willy-nilly, select from a menu of "options" for those schools?

What happens to the students who are successful in the schools? What happens to democratically decided policy and procedure?

I'm not sure I follow your reasoning. Is it okay to undermine democracy because some students are struggling? Wouldn't it be better to identify those students and help them as individuals?

seattle said...

"they point out that the parent trigger can be used on schools NOT in the greatest need (not to mention that turnaround or charter conversion is absolutely no guarantee of success)."

Nothing is a guarantee. But if this is what 51% of the families at a school want then it's probably worth a try. Buy in means a lot.

And really, isn't this what we've all been asking for? For the district to hear and respond to the community?

seattle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wseadawg said...

Thank you for posting on this topic MW. I and other parents have been sounding the warnings about the sleaziness of certain factions within the overall Education Reform movement for years, and this is a prime example of "manufacturing consent" that we see in politics everyday.

Again, this is why I bristled and worried about that Community Values Statement, not that it was done, per se, but how I guessed it would be used as fodder & propaganda to further privatization agendas, invitations to TFA, etc., etc. Of course, 17%-gate is the epitome of exploitation of supposed facts or data, but see how that figure, combined with something like a CVS makes the perfect blend for reform? I.e., Crisis plus "Demand" = Momentum for "Reforms."

The Democrats for Education Reform are as right wing and profit motivated as any bible-thumping creationist on the right when it comes to Education. They are behind many of these efforts, are convinced they are right (data and results be damned) and will malign and subvert any and all "democratic" processes to get what they want. Case in point: Pravda-like propaganda such as "Waiting for Superman." I'm sure it will win an Oscar, btw. America loves fantasy films.

Of course, not one of the DFER-folks have a child in public schools. Thus, our schools become their sandboxes while their kids continue to receive top-notch private educations.

Behind all of these reforms are good old strong-arming political operatives, lobbyists, empty-headed, puppet politicians, and of course, OF COURSE, Big Money. Keep following it. Thanks.

seattle said...

"What happens to democratically decided policy and procedure?"

51%

Um, SC, that's democratically decided policy.

If 51% of parents want a charter, then so be it. If 51% of parents feel that the school is so bad it should be closed so be it. If 51% of parents feel that all staff should be fired and they get a say in the hiring of the new staff so be it.

I know as a teacher, SC, these options must be hard to think about. But what's harder to think about is being a parent with a kid stuck in a rotten school and no options or way out. Think about the other side for just a minute.

We should all have to spend a day in a south LA or Compton school before we pass judgement. Walk a day in the shoes of those families and kids and then come back and post thoughts here.

seattle citizen said...

Seattle, public schools have democratically decided policies and procedures that reflect the entire constituency, not just that of the parent/guardians in the neighborhood. Schools belong to the public, ALL of the public. Why should a small group of parents be allowed to close a school that belongs to the district, the state, etc? This is what we have a board for, to represent all stakeholders. Does one have to have children to be a stakeholder in Seattle schools?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Seattle, you are really missing the point.

When Charlie first wrote about the parent trigger, he thought it a good idea. I didn't say it was a bad idea.

I am pointing out the downfall of rushing to change. If you have secrecy and behind the back machinations, it's not a good thing for any school or any child. That Parent Revolution themselves decided what would be best for the school in question, not the parents themselves, should give you pause.

Change for change's sake almost never works.

I think the most interesting facet is the ability for parents to have leverage over a school or district to force change (the "bargaining power" chip). We talk here about leveraging our ability to refuse for our children to take MAP as getting the district's attention. Imagine if we had real power.

All this thread was meant to do is point out the danger in not thinking thru change.

KSG said...

seattle citizen, the schools in Seattle don't belong to the public. Seattle made this clear with their "neighborhood schools". Given that my children are basically forced into attending a specific school, now you want to tell me that I have no ability to change that school unless I get every school in the district to sign on.

And then people wonder why Seattle is heaven for private schools.

zb said...

"But if this is what 51% of the families at a school want then it's probably worth a try."

Well, the first answer to this is that it's hard to really assess that 51% of families want something, in this self-organized petition drive that seems to be the means of assessing parent opinion. We've developed all kinds of rules around elections for precisely the worries that are raised here (that votes will be bought or coerced).

"If 51% of parents want a charter, then so be it. If 51% of parents feel that the school is so bad it should be closed so be it. . . . "

So, no. Public schools with public funding are not owned by the parents who currently attend that school. They are a community resource. The parent who might send their child there some day, the businessperson who might hire a child who went there some day, . . . Those people have an interest in that school, and 51% of the current parents should not get to decide what happens to the school.

I've noticed this tendency for people to feel they "own" the school their children attend, and that's not even true of a private school.

Oh, and I'll add the fallacy of 51% being able to control outcomes when voters in WA apparently decided that a super majority of our elected representatives were required to raise taxes. 51% isn't a magical number, and should not allow that group to impose their will on the other 49%, even in a democracy. It depends on what that will was (The color you paint the walls on the school? OK. Whether the school uses Chinese or Spanish or English as its main language of instruction? no).

zb said...

"Given that my children are basically forced into attending a specific school, now you want to tell me that I have no ability to change that school . . . ."

I'll go out on a limb, and say, yup, pretty much. You do have a right to have to improve your school (and I recognize that you have a stronger interest than many others). But, you don't have a right to remake your school to be the ideal for your family, without the consent of other stakeholders in public education in Seattle.

(and, yes, that is what private schools are for).

wseadawg said...

To SE parents, I would say this: I was extremely impressed by your three RB PTSA members who recently spoke before the School Board.

Like every other neighborhood in Seattle, you have strong parent advocates who know what's going on, and going wrong, in your schools, but they are ignored and marginalized by an arrogant know-it-all district.

Charters disenfranchise parents even worse. Be careful what you ask for.

And don't be fooled. Charters are about money first. Non-profits? My arse! Check out the salaries of non-profit Charter board members & administrators. Many are higher than MGJ's and many charter buildings will eventually be foreclosed upon by private interests when escalating rents paid by taxpayers become un-affordable.

It's a scam, scam, SCAM folks. Wake up!

Sarah said...

Rule of Thumb:

Check out any organization with an educational reform agenda!

Chances are- These organizations funded by Bill Gates, Charter supporters etc.

seattle said...

wseadawg, why only focus on charters? Charters are only 1 of the 5 choices parents are given with the Parent Trigger.

wseadawg said...

Two important articles:

First, Jonathon Kozol's The Big Enchilada (Harper's 2007)

Second, Juan Gonzales, NY Daily News, 5/7/2010 Big Banks Making a Killing off Charters"

Bird said...

wseadawg, why only focus on charters? Charters are only 1 of the 5 choices parents are given with the Parent Trigger.

I'll be interested to see if any of the other choices ever get exercised in California.

My money is on "not", given that the Parent Revolution is funded by Green Dot charter schools, but we'll see.

wseadawg said...

Because it's the most dangerous, and worst case scenario. Closures are unlikely, as is renewed bargaining. Turnaround/Transformation, fine, but wholesale change won't even be measurable for a couple years.

I've got a better idea: Ask parents what they want and need at their local schools, then provide it, instead of cramming more useless toxins like Discovery Math down people's throats.

One more idea: How about SPS gets off the anti-teacher crusade and acknowledges the role poverty plays in low test scores?

I'd prefer to start with what SE families are asking for, like longer school days, less principals (3 at RBHS? Seriously?) and more tutors, counselors, and people available to help kids who need it. Everett, Renton and Tukwila are kicking Seattle's behind in these areas, because they aren't "Waiting for Superman," drinking the Kool-Aid, and confusing PowerPoint presentations with actual accomplishments. They are counseling kids instead.

I understand the feelings of hopelessness and despair among parents, particularly in the SE. But I also think if the hidden agenda pushers and profiteers would stop intercepting and misdirecting funds and resources away from classrooms and into coaches, professional developers, consultants and curricula providers pockets, we'd see better results in the SE. Instead, they're trying to run the schools on the cheap while lining their buddies pockets, and Gee Whiz! It isn't working!

Bird said...

Charter, turnaround, closure, bargaining power,transformation


All these choices focus on the individual school and it's staff.

I'm not convinced that the individual schools and their staff are the problem. I don't think you could swap the staff from high performing schools to low performing schools and see any appreciable change in the achievement gap.

The problems are much more systemic. If we want to increase achievement, I think the best bets are to spend money directly more instruction for kids who need it. Spend it on providing longer days, more school days, and extra staffing support directly working with kid who are behind. Picking a better curriculum or giving some reasonable flexibility in curiculum might help as well.

I don't see any of these "Parent Revolution" choices that would alllow for focusing funding on the neediest kids.

Closing the achievement gap will take a change in focus and priorities at the district level and state level.

Bird said...

I understand the "reform" issues related to this, but FIRST move to SE Seattle and THEN tell me if it really seems like an entirely bad idea....

So what's your vision for how this would work to fix the SE schools?

Do you think a charter school would help?

Would you be excited to have a charter open?

If you took the worst schools in the SE and handed them over to charters, would you be signing your children attend them?

Maureen said...

How about SPS gets off the anti-teacher crusade and acknowledges the role poverty plays in low test scores?

I have heard some indication lately that they are looking into 'community schools,' which could deal with some of these issues if it's done right. I do get concerned though when I hear them described as "Harlem style" schools (by which I guess was meant the Harlem Children's Zone.) There is no reason that community schools have to be charters, but some people seem to think they are associated. I have hopes, but I just can't believe the money will appear. The Harlem Children's Zone programs are really expensive.

wseadawg said...

Maureen: The money might appear to establish a community school, but for how long? How long until the community is faced with the challenge of "pay up or lose the school" (Billionaire's can't float these boats forever, you know!)

That's the massive, over-arching objection I have to the widespread reforms. Corporate America is duty-bound to make money for its shareholders. Foundations give tax deductible funds to build enterprises that will pay them, or their buddies back in one form or another. Read the links I provided above to see how Wall Street makes massive returns using tax credits to build Charters, which then see taxpayer paid rents skyrocket. What happens when the schools close or fail financially? Banks get the property. Privatization triumphs again! Be wary folks. Be very wary.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Bird said: "Would you be excited to have a charter open? If you took the worst schools in the SE and handed them over to charters, would you be signing your children attend them?"

The answer from me (and I believe many, if not most parents of kids who are performing at or above standard) is a resounding NO.So once again we find ourselves in the dilemma of how to bridge the achievement gap AND populate the SE schools from the VERY diverse neighborhoods that make up the south end. Once again, SE Seattle is not Chicago. This is not going to be a simple one-size fix.

seattle said...

This blog has trained everyone to equate Charters solely with the big names, KIPP and Green Dot. But, there are alot more charter schools out there, and many of them are doing great things.

In fact many charter high schools make the nations top 100 schools list (like Garfield did).

Check some of these charter high schools out for yourself (all in the top 100 nationally)

BASIC Tucson
Pacific Collegiate
Lennox STEM
Preuss, La Jolla
Benjamin Franklin High, New Orleans
IDEA Academy and college prep
Cour d"Alene charter Academy
Ft Worth academy of Fine Arts

Solvay are you sure families in the SE would prefer RBHS (which they, like you, flee from) to these top 100 schools in the nation - just because they are charters?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Seattle, that's what I mean about waiting it out.

By Washington State NOT having charters for years, we let other states learn the lessons and make the mistakes. My hope is that when or if it comes to Washington that we (1) learn from others' mistakes, (2) severely limit the numbers and go slow and (3) have high accountability that cannot be bypassed. Because when we let in charters, we are not only turning around poor performing schools but sucking money out of our district as a whole.

If we want a parent trigger, let's make sure it's well thought-out. I understand some of the frustration in the southeast and boy, I don't get what this district has been doing. The district can't say "oh, we've just tried and tried and nothing works" because that's just not true.

That they are leaving RBHS to twist in the wind is very suspicious. 3 principals at a small high school with low-performance? C'mon, the fix is in, one way or another.

Jan said...

Seattle:

Thank you for the reminder that not all schools are big, corporate-style national charters. I DO think it matters. But, I am troubled by a couple of things.

First -- the Green Dots and KIPPs are hungry, politically well connected, and aggressive. I am not convinced (especially seeing recent examples of Ed legislation) that Washington legislators could be trusted to draft charter legislation that ONLY permitted local, non-profit, high quality charters. If opening the door for fresh air means I get a room full of wolves, I am not inclined to open the door at all.

Second, I didn't have time to research all of your charters, but I took a look at BASIS Tucson and the Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy. Neither school has any faculty members who teach any special ed classes. There don't appear to be any resource rooms or learning assistance folks (even Seattle Academy has those!) The Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy's "nondiscrimination" statement (note the very last two lines) says:

*The Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy does not discriminate on
the basis of disability in our admission policy, or in providing
access to programs or activities to students who, with or without
special education or related aids and services, are able to meet the
essential standards of the Academy.

So, basically -- WE don't do any special ed here, but if you manage to somehow put something together on your own that allows you to keep up, great!

In their question/answer section is the following:

What is the expectation of students who have been struggling academically elsewhere and are interested in attending the Academy?
The Academy expects a high work ethic from a student who is motivated to learn and to do the work required. If a student currently has academic challenges, parents need to consider whether their child’s motivation has changed. Generally, parents shouldn’t expect a child’s motivation to change based solely on a change of scenery.

So, ok -- it isn't part of their job description to motivate. They only want kids who arrive already motivated and ready for a rigorous college prep curriculum. And they don't take "special needs" kids unless, "with or without accommodation," they can keep up with the gazelles they are out to attract. (They have other, equally dialogue-ending answers regarding kids with "discipline problems.")

And notice how all "academic challenges" seem to morph into "motivation problems?" Nope, no learning disabilities going on there!

Ok. I get it. They are doing essentially a public version of Lakeside. And parents in SE Seattle deserve a high school option that works for high scoring, smart, motivated SE Seattle students (of whom I am sure there are many) and I gather most of them don't think RBHS fits the bill. But seriously, how many kids are excluded from a place like this -- and where (if RBHS were turned into this kind of charter school) would you expect them to go?

Just bus up all those "bad boys" and "mean girls" up to say, Franklin or Garfield, where they have to deal with riff raff of that sort? How is that a comprehensive SE solution any more than Cleveland/STEM is? The best, yes -- BEST thing about GHS is it manages to do well (not as well as Coeur 'Alene, I am sure, but still well) while all kinds of kids go there -- including some who (gasp) are or have had "discipline" problems, or who don't bring their motivation with them and may need a school that can inspire them, or who have IEPs and need special ed help.

I could dream of a vibrant, successful RBHS, one with a waiting list and 20 AP classes --but I have to say -- in my dream, it looks a lot more like Garfield, and a lot less like either BASIS or Coeur d'Alene.

wseadawg said...

Seattle: You're 100% right that not all charters are run by big charter chains and that there are many good charter High Schools out there. d

But they are the exception to the rule. Charters originated as a grass roots idea, but the idea has morphed into a sure-fire way for many large companies to get ahold of our schools and get their hands on our tax dollars. It is those type of charters I'm worried about.

We just had the President of Green Dot and KIPP speaking in Seattle to parents at a MOHAI event sponsored by the League of Education Voters.

If Charters got the green light in Seattle, which model do you suspect Gates & MGJ would want? I think we both know the answer.

Charters are not inherently evil, and neither are corporations. But in the wrong hands, both they make a nice Sheep Suit for the Wolves to wear as they ravage and exploit people for profit.

The groups dominating the Charter movement today are not the grass roots types on your list, unfortunately. I'm just telling people to be very careful of what you ask for, as you may get just the opposite.

wseadawg said...

And one other thing, petition signature gatherers can be very snake-like. Remember: That's what ACORN got busted for.

I've gone jaw to jaw with slimy paid signature gatherers outside grocery stores for telling blatant lies as they hustle people for signatures. It's a horrible perversion of democracy the way a lot of those folks operate, and most are not from the areas they canvass for signatures, so they have little motivation to care, act responsibly, and not tell huge lies. They get paid by the signature, typically, so go figure.

That's what happened in California and why California's AG is Investigation the Parent Revolution outfit for corruption.

As a Seattleite, I resent such manufactured consent tactics when what we really need to be doing is pressing our School Board members to stop swallowing district bunk about the SE and start responding to the parents needs and wants.

KSG said...

@zb, "(and, yes, that is what private schools are for)."

Unfortunately, I think your sentiment is what most people in Seattle believe (it is a White upper-moddle class city). And while I appreciate what Melissa is doing, and I support public schools in theory -- I do think they need to be destroyed (at least in Seattle) or hit rock bottom. I certainly can't support my money or my children as part of Seattle public schools.

Maureen said...

KSG, wow, I'm really sorry you feel that way. I honestly believe there is a lot that is good about Seattle Schools. Individual schools in particular, but there is also some good work going on downtown. Are there any urban Districts you would hold up as a model? Or do you think public education as a whole is a lost cause?

I wonder how many people out there are more happy than not at their Seattle Public school? I am--and that is at two different schools.