When 51% Isn’t Needed to Pull a Trigger
My public middle school in South Los Angeles was labeled as a “failing school” almost 12 months ago making what is already a tough job even more difficult due to the Los Angeles Unified School District corporate inspired reform program called Public School Choice. In short, if you are deemed a failing school, any organized group can submit a plan to take over your school and as a result, many public schools have been converted to charters in the last two years. Brand new multi-million dollar buildings were handed over to corporations such as Green Dot and ICEF, and my school is on this dread list.
In this blog I have outlined the pressures we have faced as a “failing school” which include even more adherence to district curriculum initiatives, more planning meetings, time away from the classroom for plan writers, and a lowering of morale resulting in a mass exodus of personnel to other more “successful” schools.
We were in the middle of celebrating a marked increase in test scores (48 point increase on the A.P.I.) that doubled the average growth rate for the district when this op-ed in the Los Angeles Times about the actions of the Parent Revolution (proponents of the Parent Trigger law recently passed in CA) was brought to our attention:
At Los Angeles Academy Middle School, where the bus arrived Wednesday, student progress has been painfully slow. Only 1 in 5 students were found proficient in math last year; 1 in 4 were proficient in English-language arts.* Parents at the overwhelmingly minority campus — 99% of its students are black or Latino — are tired of waiting for successes that may come long only after their children have moved on. Last week, they shared stories of their frustration with the district and school administration, their sense of desperation for their children and their commitment to change.
The Parent Revolution was locked and loaded, aiming for our beloved school.
Let me backtrack. Parent satisfaction is a component of a successful school. We have been proud of the amount of parents who have made us the school of choice in the neighborhood as demonstrated by the high number seeking attendance permits. We issued so many permits that we exceeded our room capacity and were forced to make teachers travel from room to room, occupying those available during another teacher’s conference period.
Our parent center abounds with involved parents who maintain close contact with teachers and administrators. There is a parent presence at every single parent meeting, potluck, Meet and Greet, and numerous other events and there is a fiercely dedicated group of parents who are helping fundraise $100,000 to get their children to our nation’s capital in the spring.
Can our school improve? Of course it can, as can all schools.
It was extremely disappointing then, but not unexpected, to read about L.A. Academy parents who were contacted by the Parent Revolution in their nine city tour of “failing California schools” as they canvassed neighborhoods to see which schools were ripe for trigger pulling. Teresa Watanabe of the L.A. Times explains their M.O.:
Parent activist Esmeralda Medina cruised her Pacoima neighborhood this week, spied a mom sitting outside with kids and advanced. What is one thing you’d like to change about your school? she asked.
Maybe, Veronica Perez replied, more tutoring programs for her third-grader, who needs help with writing.
Medina closed in. She invited Perez to a parent meeting to push for better schools. Perez said she might attend. “Whatever helps, I’m all for it,” she said.
I don’t know of one school that has 100% of their parents unable to name “one thing you’d like to change about your school.” There are a many things we would like to change about our school but are unable to because of factors beyond our control. But what was revealing here was that 51% of dissatisfied parents was not needed to obtain a glowing editorial (faulty data and all) in a major newspaper. All it took was one, or two, or three parents and L.A. Academy was painted with the broad brush used by education reformers nationwide. Damage done.
I see this education reform movement, becoming dominated more and more by the corporations who believe privatization is the solution to eliminating the “education crisis.” It is an iniquitous, coercive movement that purports to help schools by imposing threats and competition. It is something educators are not used to dealing with, as academia operates under well-established rules of logic, reason, and civility. Besmirching public schools is a necessary step when you employ extreme measures such as closing schools, removing entire faculties, or converting to charters in order to “fix schools.” It makes bloody conversions easier to stomach. And yet journalists are willingly blind to the fact that in the aggregate, charters do not outperform public schools, and in fact most perform the same or worse in spite of advantageous conditions such as serving lower numbers of challenging students.
There are two charter operators bidding for my school: Green Dot and College Ready Alliance. It is well-known that the paid organizers of the faux grassroots group called the Parent Revolution receive their money from the Broad foundation under the intent purpose of acquiring schools for their portfolio via the Public School Choice process. It is also well known that this group originated from Green Dot. Mother Jones describes the connections this way:
It’s a small world after all: Parent Revolution started as a project of the Los Angeles Parents Union, which was closely connected to the Green Dot charter schools run by Steve Barr. Parent Revolution’s 14 staff members are a diverse mix of progressive community organizers and politicos. Ben Austin once worked as an aide to President Bill Clinton and served as Los Angeles deputy mayor under Richard Riordan. Parent Revolution’s organizing director, Pat DeTemple, started his career as a labor organizer. Lead organizer Shirley Ford sent two of her sons to Green Dot charters. Mary Najera, another lead organizer, also sent her son to a Green Dot school. Opponents of the “parent trigger” cite these close connections between Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles Parents Union, and Green Dot as one reason to worry about legal safeguards.
You would think Jim Newton would have mentioned these connections which can have a significant impact on how the school board may vote, but it was nowhere to be found in the op-ed.
Upon reading the op-ed, I immediately contacted my Principal and asked if indeed there was a group of dissatisfied parents who had contacted the school and whose concerns were ignored. The answer was a resounding “no.” If anything, every time I see the Principal she is surrounded by parents who want to thank her for providing their children with a quality education and who thank her for issuing their child a permit for the Advanced Studies program. At the school, no administrator or teacher reported any type of parent group who had expressed any type of frustration other than the normal kind one sees in middle school.
I guess anyone can make an allegation against a school and obtain favorable coverage in corporate newspapers if it benefits charter schools. Actual parent satisfaction be damned.
Green Dot or College Ready Alliance may be successful in overthrowing our own established faculty and gaining control over our 12 year old facility because the last two years of school board votes have shown that schools are awarded without regards to the quality of the submitted school plans (the Clay Middle School and Camino Nuevo decisions made this clear). And the teachers and administrators will find work elsewhere.
But the children will lose experienced, credentialed educators with years, not weeks of training.
The children will lose a system where parents have a democratic voice and an actual vote in the way the school is run.
The children will lose South Los Angeles’ most successful Gifted and Talented Education program that serves 650 students and whose alumni have gone on to successful high school and college careers.
And they will lose teachers who chose to teach in South L.A. for all the right reasons.
Just whom is this trigger being pulled against?
*This figure is incorrect, and was brought to the attention of the op-ed writer who neglected to make the correction on the L.A. Times website. The correct figure is 32% proficient/advanced in ELA making it 1 in 3 students, not 1 in 4.