Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SFGate: On Giving Parents a Voice in their Children's Education

This from SFGate:

California has a rare opportunity to pioneer an important and meaningful education reform for our most vulnerable students.

The state Board of Education had better not mess this up.

At issue is California's brand-new "parent trigger" law, which squeaked through the State Legislature in 2010.

The law gives parents of students in chronically failing schools the ability to organize and demand major changes, including charter conversion. It's a small law - only 75 of California's absolutely worst schools are eligible, out of a total of 9,000 - and it's already being used as a model for similar bills in Georgia and Missouri.

No sooner was the ink dry on the law than a majority of parents at McKinley Elementary School in Compton scrambled to use it. Now those parents are in court - thanks to a breathtakingly hostile school district - and the state Board of Education, along with new state Superintendent Tom Torlakson, is trying to stop other parents from using the law.

Read the full story


  1. Oakland parent Sharon Higgins and I have submitted a rebuttal to the Chron's uncomprehension-based editorial, which they are highly unlikely to run.

    I first got involved in education policy issues back when for-profit Edison Schools Inc. was being hailed as the miracle that would save public education -- including by the Chronicle editorial board. They seem unable to grasp the concept "fool me twice, shame on me," because the same general set of con artists are pushing the supposed parent trigger.

    Here's my more detailed clarification on what's going on with the so-called parent trigger, though there have been a few plot twists in the weeks since.

  2. This is a long article and sure, maybe some minor details are bad, but I think the people against this law really want to defend the status quo.

    Whether or not there is a trigger law, we have to END THE FACT THAT ALL PAY, HIRING/FIRING AND PROMOTION IS BASED SOLELY ON SENIORITY NOT PERFORMANCE for teachers. We must end this very soon. Schools in SF having layoffs had to lay off the youngest teacher. Principals should have been able to decide which teacher wasn't doing best for children and made a decision in which the children were the priority, not an adult interest group.

    We need merit pay. We need principals to be able to fire teachers if they can hire someone who is more effective and the teacher isn't doing well, without it costing a ton of money. Some people lose their job, it's what makes people work hard, the principal should be able to fire someone who calls in sick 9 times a year when they have a job with so much time off, saddling the school with substitute costs and distracting their kids, if they can hire someone who doesn't call in sick that much. They should be able to give bonuses based on performance. They should be able to tell teachers they need to work harder and be more accomodating to parents and help kids who need help.

    Right now all hiring is based on seniority, all pay, all lay offs, all transfers. Principals are not allowed to consider performance when hiring and not allowed to fire teachers. This is what we have to change, and if charter schools are the way to do it, then I support it 100% until people like you come up with a way to end this status quo in another way. If you're just saying someone else will do it som eday, no, I fully support the trigger law.

    I believe teachers should get more pay, but their profession should be competitive like any other. The principal should have more power. If the principal falters, they'll be fired, and they are often. No more seniority and work rules as we have them now. I think you're dishonest and Brown is dishonest in stating that they want to end seniority and fix this problem another way. Come up with that way before we rescind this law. Unless it has already passed, I will vote to keep this law and against the unions on every vote. They lose credibility when they defend the worst teachers. Only a few bad ones will be fired, but it will change the whole work environment to one where everyone is nervous and has to work hard if the principal pushes them, not blow off the principal and parents.

  3. Great point. Don't fall for this. Don't be a sucker. These people will end this law and then in 10 years you'll see teachers are still paid, promoted, protected and never laid off based ONLY on seniority. Sure it should be a factor, but the Union mandates it be the only factor, which lets teachers not worry about poor performance and principals can't force teachers to do anything. I say let teachers have a boss like anyone else, a true boss who can fire them, demote them, give them a bonus, promote them, clean house. Don't fall for what these people are doing. They're secretly defending seniority as the sole judge of a teacher's performance, and that has to change. Oppose these people, they aren't for any reform. They're saying not this reform because blah blah blah, but deep down they don't want to change the seniority system which means they don't want to reform education. It was on the cover of Newsweek, Obama's said it, Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada. We can't go another 10 years with teachers being rated solely on performance. They should get bonuses based on their rating, test scores, perfect attendence, rather than salary increases, and principals should be able to clean house without the bad teachers they let go ending up at another school hurting more kids. 10% of SFUSD teachers should be fired as they're hurting kids, and replaced by new trainees. They could pay the younger ones more if they fired the older ones who are making a lot and calling in sick when they're not sick and not working hard. In business you cull the bad, so do the same in SFUSD. Caroline is against reform that helps kids. She's defending the status quo.

  4. I meant we can't go another ten years rating and paying teachers only by seniority. We need tenure to end and seniority to become only one factor, a minor one, below principals' judgement, parents' and students' reviews, test performance, and attendence, among others.

    Did you know if teachers didn't call in sick an average of 9 times in a job in which they only work 176 days and have constant time off, there would have been no layoffs? None, the cost of subs is huge and most teachers just treat the sick days as extra vacation, make sure to use the max no matter how many days they're sick. I had a friend who taught and other teachers told her she should use the days, it's part of her benefit. The kids don't learn anything when subs come in so there should be a bonus for perfect attendence rather than an across the board salary increase.

  5. All about those lazy, greedy, parasitical teachers.

  6. I say teachers should earn more, but the work rules have to change. Tenure was for Universities due to political reasons. It has no place for high schools or elementary or middle. There's no reason for it. Seniority was an awful idea. Teachers should earn more than cops, and 80% are good. However, the Union is a problem. You should see 'Waiting for Superman' or 'The Lottery' if you don't believe me. Even Obama notices this.

    I can give examples of real world issues in which the Union policies hurt children. At an elementary school my kids attend, one 50-year old teacher is getting complaints, uninspired, not working hard. A great 30-year old teacher was let go to save her. Now why was this? The net good is equal, but it creates a culture of entitlement and resistance to reform, and the principal having less power. Kids were hurt by this, adults were even, one adult was hurt and the one who deserved to be hurt more than the other wasn't. Shouldn't the one working harder, who went the whole year without calling in sick once, who had rave reviews on, who was admired by all, be the one to win over another who called in sick 9 times, had complaints, and had children switching out of her class?

    Another example is school loop. This is a great reform, and they were supposed to do it this year. Last year was to be optional, this year mandatory, but the Union stuck their noses in and now most teachers don't bother. Some refuse to give advice on how to get an A despite the fact that Lowell won't forgive Bs, refuse to meet with parents, don't call home when they're supposed to. Now this isn't right, at all. This hurts kids. The Union should be criticized when they do things like this, protect weak teachers at the expense of strong ones, or resist reform, or create a culture in which teachers can blow off reforms, principals or parent complaints. See the movie, you'll understand. In New York it costs 250k to fire a teacher and they keep them in a rubber room. In SF one teacher is fired per year, usually for a felony, in SFUSD. In NY it's 10. That's crazy, to keep any profession strong you must be able to fire the weakest members. When you take that away, you hurt children.

  7. I’ll try to make this as short as possible.

    1. Parent Revolution (PR) is a scam organization.

    2. Union scams make Parent Revolution look like child’s play.

    Though PR helped to institute and then abuse the trigger law for personal gain, this law is the first crack in the edifice that blocks parents from representation at the table which previously only included the politicians, bureaucrats and unions, all of whom are in bed together.

    The union leadership uses involuntary campaign contributions to keep themselves and their favored politicians and parties in power, and they in turn manage the taxes and the bureaucracies paid for with those taxes to the favor of all three. Only the parents and their children, the primary stakeholders, have little say in the process.

    So, while I despise the absurd tactics of PR and the cluelessness of those that can’t see the obvious when reporting on it, if and when the trigger can be employed properly, it is the only opportunity at present for parents have for a real voice at the bargaining table of the affected schools. When Program Improvement schools are not reformed after the 5 year mark, the districts are breaking the law. Parents SHOULD have the opportunity to force change - real parents, not some phony organization masquerading as parents.

    Don’t throw the law out just because it was misused. Fix it. But the anti- charter people (the unions) don’t want parents to have any power. They don’t want any of the turnaround models, period. They have no solutions. For the unions there is no problem. They are for the status quo.

    If SFUSD reduces funding to certain schools on a discretionary basis and for its leaders' own political ends, it is entirely ignored. On the other hand, if the State reduces funding to schools Mr. Garcia sues California. The bureaucracy and the puppet Board are the power brokers and they can act without raising the ire of SF parents who don’t understand what is going on with the new flexibility and how financing of schools has changed to promote a progressive agenda rather than to educate children. That’s why parents need more power and the trigger law.

    It is true as Caroline maintains that it was passed to promote charters. It was the brainchild of the charter industry. But any of the four models can be employed under the law and it can become more than its lowly beginnings promised. The problem is that none of the four models are particularly valuable until we have some reform of the teachers’ unions. Reform of education and reform of unions are one and the same. Both Caroline and Floyd have legitimate gripes.

  8. I think Don makes a great point. The question is, do you support teachers' pay, promotion, job protection and priority for transfers being based solely on seniority, rather than principals' and parents' judgement, test score improvement rates, attendence and other performance factors?

    I'm not fooled by Caroline. People often try to use sarcasm to attack a position and make it seem extreme while they blindly and mindlessly protect the status quo of an extreme position. Caroline, do you support any change to this? Do you feel a good 30-year old teacher should be laid off insead of a bad 50-year old, just so all teachers can feel comfortable and not have to go to work worried about working hard to keep their jobs like the rest of us in society? Or do you support principals having the power to do what's best for children and teachers being paid, hired, fired, promoted like any other profession, perhaps with some protections but not to the point where being fired is a rarity.

    I've often been told by pro union types that the principal just didn't follow procedure, but come on, the procedure was designed to make it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers and was set up to protect teachers, not children.

    So that's the key question. In my view, Caroline is for the Status Quo. That makes any point she makes irrelevant. If you don't see a need to reform the seniority system, you are not looking at this issue with an open mind, you are merely fighting for an interest group and are probably either in the Union or blogging on their behalf. No one with an open mind could possibly say it's good for children to fire a popular 30-year old teacher to keep a crappy 50-year old teacher who is calling in sick the maximum and not really trying. So I don't believe Caroline is showing any intellectual integrity here, just defending a biased interest group.

  9. That's a very good idea, provide Caroline with a litmus test. My bet is she stays silent. No one outright defends seniority as it's ludicrous and indefensible. However, they play shell games.

    I agree these people are con artists to a degree and Don makes a good point. However, it puts a dent in the monopoly of the union on this one key issue. I say we should end seniority for the entire system today, performance not seniority. Then this won't be an issue. The $50,000 question is is Caroline actually trying to find a better way to reform union owrk rules or looking for holes in a desperate attempt to defend the indefensible under cover of false logic.

  10. Susan and/or Floyd,

    I don't think Caroline is trying to fool anyone. She can respond as to her position if she wants to. But I will say that being against charters, the parent trigger or Parent Revolution does not constitute being against any kind of union reform. I don't know what her position is on union reform like ending seniority. Most union supporters will say it is an attack on unionism itself and there is a lot of truth to that.
    I don't believe if you need to end seniority in its entirety to have hiring and firing reform. But is not a serious substitute for performance evaluation. Get real.

    I know she's anti-charter so in that way she may play into the hands of unions. She helped co-found a parent group (what was the name?) - so the big question for me is what reforms does she want in order to empower parents?

    If charter schools don't want their reputations destroyed by unscrupulous operators they should develop a greater voice in the debate. But they don't want to alienate some of their donor base.

    If parent stakeholder groups want to have a greater voice in the debate they should tell us what they're for in addition to what they're against.

  11. Actually, in the big picture I believe that seniority rights and a solid measure of job security are essential to retain top-quality people in the teaching profession.

    That doesn't mean I think there should be ironclad job security for problem teachers, obviously. It's a delicate balance. I also believe that education needs to be not just adequately but amply funded so that teacher reductions in force are rare. And I believe that programs such as Peer Assistance and Review should be used and strengthened so that problem teachers can either improve or leave the field.

    How did the teacher-bashers seize on the Chronicle's misguided defense of the bogus Parent Trigger as their forum?

    You can take a look at the Parents Across America website for some views on what works, as well as reading up on Diane Ravitch's ideas (though I am not onboard with her enthusiasm about parochial schools). I don't see why my opinions are such an issue, since the point here is that the Parent Trigger is bogus and the Chronicle has fallen for an education-reform con job yet again. But when I get a chance I'll compile some thoughts on positive changes for education, as opposed to predatory fake-reform designed to funnel public dollars into private pockets.

  12. Caroline, your rebuttal speaks far more to Parent Revolution's specific actions in Compton than the merits of the Parent Trigger on balance. In the end Parent Revolution is just one lobby that wants to employ the legislation to increase charter school demand, though admittedly they were instrumental in the bill's creation.

    As you are firmly against Parent Trigger it follows that you don't want any parent capability to force one of the four reforms at a total of 75 schools. Otherwise you would be speaking out to reform the measure rather than lambasting it outright. Maybe the four reforms are the problem, but they're the only game in town right now.

    The Chronicle editorial board is not clueless in supporting parents and students, whether or not the bill needs clarification as most groundbreaking ones do. They are right to side with the consumers and taxpayers. That Chron failed to make clear PR's shenanigans only demonstrates in my mind that they consider them of minor importance in the big picture and does not connote their incompetence or cluelessness. I think they are right to want to give parents some power whether or not the bill needs work. I'd rather the four turnaround models than no options at all.

    Is your dislike for charters so great that you would refuse to give parents and their children any options at all at chronically failing schools ?

  13. 1. The Chronicle is clueless. They have no idea that the Parent Trigger they were hailing is a sham orchestrated by a predatory charter operator, in which parents are merely props. Either they're clueless or they're actively dishonest, and I don't think they're actively dishonest.

    2. The Parent Trigger has touched off chaos and divisiveness among the parents at Compton's McKinley Elementary. Low-income, at-risk children are particularly harmed by chaos and divisiveness in their community. I believe this chaos and divisiveness is inevitable in a Parent Trigger operation (see exception below)*. Here are some more reasons I think it's unworkable:

    -- The Parent Trigger's narrow, disruptive options have shown no reliable success in improving schools nationwide. In fact, decades into the charter school movement, and despite its aggressive promotion by moneyed interests, there is still no consistent research demonstrating that charter schools provide an academically superior education.

    -- The outcome of the Parent Trigger – disrupting and dismantling schools – is likely to harm vulnerable students and communities where the school provides stability.

    -- A Parent Trigger “transformation” has significant impact beyond the targeted school. If parents voted to close a school, neighboring schools would be severely affected.

    -- Allowing a hostile takeover of a public asset by individuals is questionable. Consider applying that to a police department or a park.

    * There is another Parent Trigger drive underway in California, at Mount Gleason Middle School in Sunland, near L.A. It's run by a former parent at the school who says she just wants to get the principal replace. In this case I don't think it's divisive; I just don't think it's gaining any traction at all. Parent Revolution isn't interested in helping, as it's not about charterizing the school, so they have sent no paid operatives out into the community and have not deployed the rest of their arsenal of shenanigans in this case.

  14. If Chron's editorial staff are reasonably competent, professional journalists it seems incredible that they would have failed to understand Parent Revolution's involvement and complicity in this scam, given all the reporting on the matter. Surely their risk-averse education reporter, Jill Tucker, would have told them. That they are all google-eyed over the Parent Trigger is pretty far fetched when all they needed to do was google it.

    Let me say that your perspective seems to be, and correct me if I am wrong, that not only is the Chron run by a bunch of clueless morons, but school communities are also too clueless to be an effective force for change. We might just as well drop the whole pretense of democracy and forget the last 10 years in SFUSD.

    It is true that the case of Compton illustrates how such reform should not happen. Parent Revolution is damaging the cause for parent driven change because they really do not believe in parent involvement. As you correctly stated, they are just using parents as props in their business model. While Parent Revolution has made a mockery of the law, the Parent Trigger should be repaired and the experiment should be given more time.

    As much of a problem as PR is, Compton does not define the real issue. Parents should have the legal means to create change at schools. This idea that such community power would be too divisive and upsetting to communities is just another way of demeaning and devaluing the capacity of the community to rally around school reform.

    I strongly object to Torlakson's statements that parents ought not to be entrusted with school reform. SFUSD schools have prospered because of parent involvement, not in spite of it.
    The law made need fixing, but I support the premise.

    This is my last comment on the subject. Please feel free to have the last word.

  15. If you had been following news coverage and editorial opinions about school reform fads as long as I have, Don, you wouldn't be surprised that the Chronicle's editorial board “would have failed to understand Parent Revolution's involvement and complicity in this scam.”

    Jill Tucker is savvy – though I don't know how well-informed she is on this particular issue, not having written about it – but the editorial board makes its own decisions without consulting with the beat reporters.

    “Clueless morons” is putting it too strongly, but they are poorly informed, failed to do their homework, and have been duped by the reformistas' PR machine, and not for the first time.

    It's oversimplifying to say that I'm claiming that “school communities are also too clueless to be an effective force for change.” But busy parents are susceptible to con jobs too. The notion that parents can simply take over and run a school is the implicit concept behind the PR for the Parent Trigger. Do you think that's valid, or that it's insulting to parents to question whether it's realistic?

    I'm not saying that's the actual motive of the Parent Trigger – as we see, it's to turn schools over to charter operators so the public money flows into private pockets – but the message behind the PR is “parents, you can run this school.”

  16. I know I said that was my last comment, but since you are asking me I'll answer your question - "Do you think that's valid, or that it's insulting to parents to question whether it's realistic?"

    It isn't unrealistic for parents to demand change. There is no expectation that parents would actually run the day to day operations of schools. Are we talking about the same thing or have I misunderstood you?

    I skimmed the law itself and I don't think it is accurate to say that parents would be required to run the school. Certainly PR didn't intend to have their operators take orders from parents. It is more about being able to decide to move Program Improvement forward toward turnaround after Year 3.

    Parents already serve on site councils and function in school governance. This would give them more jurisdiction over districts that are unwilling to cooperate with current law.

    As for the Chron, who knows? Maybe you are right that they are clueless - another reason why I don't read it anymore.

    The parent trigger can be viewed as a way to circumvent the labyrinthine halls of bureaucracy and to move forward towards reforms that are already in place but hard to get rolling due this bureaucratic resistance. Whether they are valid reforms is the bigger issue.

  17. This from the Informer:

    California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson plans to essentially re-write the Parent Trigger law, which allows parents to take over a chronically failing school through a petition drive... Torlakson has been a staunch opponent of the Parent Trigger.
    Torlakson was just elected superintendent in November. His campaign was strongly backed by California teacher unions, who hate the Parent Trigger.
    Teacher unions see the law as a tool that can be used by charter schools, which don't usually have unionized teachers. The Parent Trigger also gives new political leverage to parents, who can demand changes at public schools that unions may not support.

  18. The implication behind much of the rhetoric from Parent Trigger supporters is, "Parents, you can take over your school and decide how to run it." It doesn't say parents HAVE to run a school. But the further implication is that parents really could and should be able to run the school.

    This is a multilayered deception. Rationally, no, parents realistically couldn't and shouldn't run a school, under normal circumstances, for a number of reasons.

    But then again, the implication that that's what the Parent Trigger is about is a deception anyway, because its purpose is actually to turn public schools over to private charter operators.

    Torlakson did indeed have teachers' union support (which is not a bad thing, by the way -- teachers' union support promotes adequate education funding, small class sizes and other good things -- the real reason for the massive attacks on teachers' unions is to weaken support for those things).

    But the notion promoted by some corporate ed reformers that he won due to sleazy teachers' union support doesn't hold up. In the primary, Torlakson and opponent Larry Aceves split the vote, knocking out opponent Gloria Romero, former state senator, who had massive funding from charter/corporate ed reform forces. (Romero was technically the author of the Parent Empowerment Act (Parent Trigger law), though Parent Revolution actually wrote it. Now she works for the charter-promoting organization Democrats for Education Reform.) Even though two non-reformy candidates split the non-reformy vote, they still knocked Romero out and moved to the runoff. You can't attribute all that to teachers' union money.