Chicago-style politicking is playing out in Compton, CA possibly forcing Compton Unified School District to open its doors to Los Angeles-based Celerity Educational Group, a nonprofit that presently runs four charter schools. With help from Parent Revolution, and its Executive Director, Ben Austin, over 61% of parents at the 500-student McKinley Elementary reportedly signed a petition to invoke the so-called “Parent Trigger” law Mr. Austin lobbied the California state board of education and assembly to implement. The law went into effect earlier this year thanks to former State Senator Gloria Romero who was chair of the Senate Education Committee when she introduced the bill in 2009. Mr. Austin is also a member of the state board of education, which sure seems like a massive conflict of interest to me. Comments on a May, 2009 blog post and a more recent November 2010 blog post speak to the potential for conflict of interest so I am not the only one with that thought.
While I applaud these parents’ involvement in their children’s schools, and welcome it always, where were they beforehand? Did they meet with their children’s teachers at parent-teacher conferences? Were they able to support their children with their homework, even if that meant finding a friend, relative, or someone else who could if they were unable to themselves? I realize many parents in schools like McKinley work multiple jobs, may not have the education they desire for their children so feel incapable of helping, respect school’s so do not wish to seem as they are interfering, or just do not know what to do. At the same time, if they can find time to rally around Mr. Austin and Celerity, and speak so eloquently about their difficulties with the school, it seems as if they could have made the time to do so earlier, in some fashion.
So I wonder if without the funded organizational effort led by Parent Revolution, would McKinley parents have rallied around this unproven option? And is there a “bait and switch” in play? Specifically, will these parents see the results they were told would happen if Celerity takes over? Without any more parental involvement needed? Or will students simply continue to achieve at the same level as before, assuming nothing else changes but Celerity runs the show instead of the district?
And what about the charter schools mentioned by parents in the moving, seemingly scripted video on the Parent Revolution website? Did those Celerity charter schools, reportedly with top 10% in the nation rankings, have a student body reflective of McKinley, with ALL students enrolled? Or did they use selective enrollment with poorer performing, academically and/or behaviorally, students counseled to leave, or forced out?
I have more questions than anything close to answers at this moment, but something does not seem right. I hope these parents have not been intentionally misled to think Superman is about to arrive to save their children from their woes. While there possibly are some ineffective administrators, teachers, and counselors in Compton Unified who should be dismissed, my estimate is they also have many passionate, caring staff who try their best to help their students learn. But teachers are an easy target to blame, especially if a well-funded, PR machine keeps messaging that public teachers, and their unions, are to blame.
As some recognize, teachers are just one variable in the equation for a student’s successful education. Parent educational background, family socioeconomic status, student motivation, neighborhood / community support, to mention a few significant factors, are also variables in the equation, all of which are well outside a teacher’s influence, much less control.
So while a teacher is the most significant determinant of student success within a classroom (excluding the student his or herself), they are not the sole factor. Until this fact is understood and accepted, specifically by the voting public, politicians, boards of education and legislative bodies, we will continue to see our school systems, public or private, fail generations of schoolchildren who do not have an adult in their life to make sure the student learns.
Superman will eventually be seen as an impostor, unable to save students at McKinley or elsewhere, especially if held to the same standards as the public school system. And that is the sad truth of the matter.
Parents demand to bring in charter operator
Confident that they have more than the majority of families’ signatures needed to exercise their right, the parents plan to drop off their petitions at the Compton Unified’s central office. The petition asks the board specifically to bring in Celerity Educational Group, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that runs four charter schools, starting next fall.
The Legislature passed the “parent trigger” law in January as part of legislation to strengthen the state’s unsuccessful Race to the Top application. The provision was pushed by Los Angeles Sen. Gloria Romero and opposed strongly by the California Teachers Assn. A half-dozen other states are considering adopting California’s law.
Under parent trigger, a majority of parents within a school can request one of four reform options similar to models that the Obama administration is requiring for failing schools: closing it down, transforming it through a longer day and other changes, restarting it with mostly new teachers and a new principal, and converting to a charter school. Most parents are expected to pursue the latter option, and the burden will be on district trustees to justify why they shouldn’t agree to that choice.
Schools that have failed to make targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law four consecutive years qualify for the parent trigger – about 1,300 of the state’s 10,000 schools. The law capped the number of parent trigger schools at 75. Getting enough signatures, amid expected opposition of teachers and districts, could prove daunting in many cases.
Last month, the Little Hoover Commission endorsed the parent trigger in a report on charter schools, saying: “This latest development expanding opportunities for parents to petition to convert existing schools into charter schools is another step in the right direction, … The Commission believes that parents should have the opportunity to petition to convert poor-performing schools into charter schools.”
Parents at the 500-student McKinley Elementary have been organizing since the summer, according to Ben Austin, a member of the State Board of Education and a leader of Parent Revolution, a non-profit organization that that lobbied for the law and has sought out parents to take advantage of it. Austin said he’s confident McKinley leaders have gathered signatures of 62 percent of parents. Under temporary regulations adopted by the State Board of Education, parents are entitled to one signature per student.
“It’s been an uphill fight,” Austin said. “The district holds all the cards. Only it knows the enrollment numbers and controls contact information for parents.” Organizers had to counter lies by opponents, Austin said, that a charter school would charge tuition and exclude special education students.
McKinley Elementary, with low-income minority children, scored in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, with an API score of 684, an increase of 26 points from 2009. African-American children’s scores dropped seven points to 635.
The district itself has struggled for years. Only 47 percent of students graduate, and only 3 percent of seniors – one tenth of the statewide average – have passed enough courses with high enough grades to qualify for a four-year public university.
In a scathing evaluation of the district this fall, a state District Assistance and Intervention Team concluded, “We remain deeply concerned about the commitment to student achievement across the district, and have grave reservations at this time, about the capacity of the District to make significant gains for students.” The report cited a focus on “adult issues as a priority before student needs;” a lack of civility and respect for people in meetings and during school visits; and a failure to hold adults accountable for their work and for unethical behavior.