As you may have read, parents at McKinley Elementary in Compton, California, on Tuesday submitted petitions to convert the failing school into a charter school under California’s “parent trigger” law.
Turns out, the date — December 7 — was serendipitous. Organizers, who pulled together a magnificent campaign in just a few months with the help of the savvy progressives at L.A.’s Parent Revolution, planned their precedent-establishing petition drive as kind of sneak attack on the education establishment.
It appears to have succeeded marvelously:
Chanting “yes we can!” and “si se puede!”, a busload of parents on Tuesday became the first in California to try to force reforms at their children’s failing school using a new law empowering parents to demand change.
The group of Latino and African-American parents delivered a petition signed by 62 percent of parents… to Compton Unified Acting Superintendent Karen Frison…
…Parent leader Ismenia Guzman, whose daughter attends McKinley, said: “Us parents, we care. I don’t want our kids struggling in poor schools.”
Patrick Range McDonald at L.A. Weekly followed the parents for weeks as they systematically gathered signatures to transform one of the worst schools in one of the lowest-performing districts in the state. McDonald’s story is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the gulf between parents and local school district bureaucrats who, in the words of a recent state audit, “focus… primarily on the adult issues and not on student needs.”
Of course, just as the surprise attack of Dec. 7, 1941 awakened a Sleeping Giant, those parents in Compton can expect a ferocious counterattack from the people who have quite a bit invested in the status quo.
According to the Associated Press:
Parent Marlene Romero and others said school staff pushed back, saying the charter school would charge tuition and would not accept special needs children. It suggested the petition was really aimed at closing the school, parents said.
Teachers showed up uninvited at meetings to dissuade parents.
“Their arguments weren’t about benefits for our kids. It was about their jobs,” said Munoz, who like many parents was wearing a T-shirt Tuesday emblazoned with “I am the revolution.” Her preschool kids wore shirts that said, “The revolution is about me.”[Frank] Wells [a spokesman for the California Teachers Association] said the union would be looking into how the petition campaign was conducted and whether open discussions were held at the school, with an eye toward possible legal action.
“We have concerns about how parents were informed,” he said.
Parent Revolution may have the backing of some high-profile foundations, but the group’s annual budget is only about $1 million. By comparison, the CTA spent $212 million on political campaigns over the past decade. But the union has “concerns” about how parents were “informed”? Please.
The teachers union isn’t the only well-heeled establishment organization looking to sue a group of low-income parents who just want a decent education for their kids. Looks like Compton Unified plans to waste a lot of time and energy looking for some way to weasel out of the law.
Since this is the first Parent Trigger attempt, nobody knows how quickly the parents will be able to force the district to relinquish the school. Compton Unified School District Board vice president Micah Ali, four days before the Parent Trigger signature-gathering success was announced at the Dec. 7 press conference, hinted at a possible battle to come. He insists to the Weekly that he is a “determined advocate” for student and parental rights, knows of no particularly pressing academic issues at McKinley, and that he hasn’t “heard any complaints” about the school.
Asked how Compton Unified will handle the Parent Trigger, Ali offers a somewhat sly response, pointing to section 53303 of the Parent Trigger law, which states that a school district “shall not be required to implement” the Parent Trigger if the request is “for reasons other than improving academic achievement or pupil safety.”
Says Ali: “Nothing is guaranteed.”
Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution, and Gabe Rose, the group’s deputy director, both insist the law is written is in a way that makes it virtually impossible for districts to deny a petition. Although as our own Bruno Behrend has noted, what the large print giveth, the small print may taketh away.
Nevertheless, it sounds like Parent Revolution is ready for a fight:
[Austin] says, “The law is clearly on the side of the parents of McKinley, not the bureaucrats at Compton Unified.”
If Compton Unified’s lawyers fight back based on section 53303, “They’ll be laughed out of court,” he says. “McKinley is one of the lowest-performing schools in all of California, and it’s in one of the lowest-performing, most dysfunctional school districts in the country. If that’s not enough for a Parent Trigger, I don’t know what is.”
And if this isn’t a fight worth having, I don’t know what is. Win or lose, the outcome could have implications for reform far beyond Compton.