The New York Times today features a story on California's parent empowerment law, also known as the Parent Trigger, which is a particular interest of mine. The piece is really about the challenges facing parents now that the State Board of Education has settled on permanent regulations and brought quite a bit more clarity to the 2010 law.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten appears near the end story as a critic of the law. (She's really the only source cited in opposition in the piece.) Her comments deserve some scrutiny, especially in light of the revelations about AFT's efforts to kill the Parent Trigger in Connecticut.
Here's the set-up:
Randi Weingarten, the union's national president, said that the problem with the parent trigger law in California is that it encourages parents to focus on closing a troubled school.No it doesn't. In fact, of the petition drives with which I'm familiar, not one would close a school.
The Parent Trigger in California offers parents essentially six remedies, five of which are codified in the law: convert the school to an independent charter; "turnaround" the school by replacing the staff, extend school hours, etc.; "transform" the school by replacing the principal; set up "alternate governance," which may involve anything from parents forming a local governing council to handing management of the failing school over to the school district superintendent; or close the school and let the students enroll at a higher performing school nearby.
The sixth, unwritten remedy is for parents to use the threat of the trigger as a bargaining chip. Parents at Jefferson Elementary School in Pasadena, for example, had begun gathering signatures this summer to oust Principal Hoori Chalian when the school district announced she would be reassigned.
The Times then quotes Weingarten, who mixes more falsehoods with clichés:
Nonsense. What the law really says is, if an intractable school bureaucracy is unwilling or unable to reform a failing school, then a majority of parents can force change. The school system has given up--or if it hasn't given up, the school officials have failed or lost their way, usually by placing the interests of adults ahead of the children they should be educating. But the parents haven't given up. Not at all."It [the law] basically says there is nothing else a school system can do but say, 'We give up on this school,' " Ms. Weingarten said.
"Ultimately, parents should be involved in fixing the school, and nobody should wait until after it fails to give them a voice."
Cliché! Of course parents should be involved. But for the union and the rest of the education establishment, the way parents should be involved is through the Parent Teacher Association. Or they can offer public comment at the next school board meeting (and be ignored). As one parent puts it in the story, "We've been waiting for this for a very long time. We are very tired of being told if we want to help we simply should stand outside watching recess or making something for a bake sale."
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Happy parents do not sign petitions. Neither do the disengaged parents about whom we so often hear, the ones who don't care whether their kids do their homework or show up to school on time (or at all). The Parent Trigger isn't for them. Got it? It's very simply for the parents who have gone through the usual channels and met with indifference and hostility.
Thousands of schools are failing in California. Weingarten says, "nobody should wait until after [a school] fails to give [parents] a voice." Well, they waited. And here we are.