Its all about the Children

Review & Outlook: Crushing Hopes in Compton –

Can I enroll?


No good idea goes unchallenged by the forces of the educational status quo, but the tactics they’re using to stop the first experiment at “parent trigger” school reform in California sure are revealing—and ugly.

As we reported in December, a majority of parents (more than 250) have exercised their right under a new state law to petition to replace the administrators at McKinley Elementary school in Compton, California and invite a charter-school operator to take over.

McKinley is one of the worst schools in one of the worst-performing districts in the country. Fewer than half of the Compton Unified School District’s students graduate from high school, and only 3.3% of those graduates are eligible to attend California’s public universities. The parents want McKinley to be run by Celerity Educational Group, which operates three high-performing charters in the Los Angeles area.

The educational empire has not taken this well. At a PTA meeting teachers urged parents to rescind their petitions, and during school hours they pressured students whose parents supported the trigger effort.

When that intimidation failed, the school district suddenly came up with a new signature-verification process. The district required parents—many of whom work multiple jobs—to show up at McKinley at appointed times on one of two days. It also required parents to bring official photo identification, knowing that some of them are illegal immigrants. (The Supreme Court said schools must educate children of illegals in Plyler v. Doe, 1982.)

The parents have sued to stop this harassment. “This is akin to an elected official who is subject to a recall petition requiring that each voter meet with his office,” said their legal team from Kirkland & Ellis, which is working pro bono. “The District intends to make it more difficult to petition a local school for reform than vote for President of the United States.”

A judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the district’s verification gambit, so the empire struck back again, declaring last week at a hastily-called community meeting that every petition had been disqualified on technicalities: Some legal code numbers were mistyped, for example, and some petitions weren’t stapled. Really. The parents will now also challenge this in court.

Meanwhile, the powers in Sacramento are trying to undermine parent trigger statewide. On his first day in office, Governor Jerry Brown replaced seven reform members of the state board of education with union allies, including a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association. The new board immediately announced that it would write new rules to govern the parent trigger law, throwing out eight months of work by the previous board.

In addition, state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley and new state schools chief Tom Torlakson—both of whom voted against parent trigger last year—are drafting what they call “cleanup legislation” to amend the law. Expect “cleanup” to equal repeal: When Sacramento first debated the trigger option, Ms. Brownley proposed allowing parents in failing schools to petition only for “public testimony and comment.”

This is nasty business, another example of rigging the system to help the adults who run it rather than the children it is supposed to serve. Would it be too much for Education Secretary Arne Duncan or President Obama to speak up for the parents and kids of Compton?


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