LOS ANGELES – TUESDAY, AUGUST 13, 2013 – Parents in Los Angeles are making history today with the opening of the nation’s first ‘Parent Power Partnership’ school created as a direct result of the use of a ‘Parent Empowerment’ law. The 24th Street Parents Union forged a unique partnership between the nation’s second largest school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and a high-performing, non-profit charter school – Crown Preparatory Academy – to operate their school.

The 24th Street Elementary School opened its doors today for the 2013-2014 school year. Parents with children at 24th Street Elementary School used California’s ‘Parent Empowerment’ law earlier this year to create a transformed, high-quality school for the new school year.

As a result of the 24th Street Parents Union efforts, the school is the first of its kind ‘Parent Power’ school, with the historic partnership between LAUSD (responsible for PreK-4th grade) and Crown Preparatory Academy, which will be responsible for 5th – 8th grades. A precedent setting feature of the new school is its Pre-K program, a collaborative arrangement with LAUSD and Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) providing preschool services.

“Today, we mark the beginning of a unique partnership, a partnership focused on providing the best possible education for all the children and families. We have an unprecedented opportunity to show people everywhere how collaboration between a school district, parents and a high-quality charter operator can result in an outstanding education for every student. I congratulate and thank the parents of 24th Street Elementary for their dedication and commitment," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.

“For the parents and children of 24th Street Elementary, today is an exciting day. Our thanks go to Superintendent Deasy, and officials from the school district and Crown Prep Academy for working together so our children can have a fresh start. As parents, we are very proud of the example we have been able to set in bringing together different education partners focused on what is best for our children. It’s a wonderful day, and no-one can turn the clock back,” said Amabilia Villeda, lead parent coordinator for the 24th Street Parents Union.

“The parents of 24th Street Elementary School have done something that only a few years ago was unthinkable. As a result of their efforts, parents now have real power to change schools previously forgotten and failing. Our hope is all stakeholders in this new school, whether they be district officials, administrators, teachers and their union, elected officials and policymakers will wholeheartedly join these brave and dedicated 24th Street parents to assure academic success and a bright future for all the children at this new school,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution.

Two other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – Weigand Avenue Elementary and Haddon Avenue Elementary – are also beginning the 2013-2014 school year this week with new school transformation models as a result of parent empowerment organizing efforts in those locations.

At Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood, parents in the Weigand Parents Union (WPU) opted to leverage the ‘Parent Empowerment’ law to bring in new leadership, while retaining the public school model. WPU successfully led the first 100 % in- district transformation option. Parents deliberately chose this option to bring in new leadership for their school without turning to an outside non-profit charter operator.

"We are confident that teachers and parents alike will work towards a new and successful school year to keep focus and efforts on building a stronger foundation for our children at Weigand Elementary School", said LAUSD Board President Dr. Richard Vladovic.

Haddon Avenue Elementary School voted to “pause” – and then end – their Parent Trigger petition efforts to work on a collaborative in-district reform plan for their school with teachers and the district. Parents formed the United Parents of Haddon (UPH) in August of 2011. The collaborative model for Haddon also starts today.

For media interested in the national growth and impact of Parent Trigger and Parent Empowerment legislation, please take a look at an editorial in today’s USA Today: http://tinyurl.com/l87sx8w

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SPECIAL MEDIA NOTE: ‘WE THE PARENTS’ DOCUMENTARY OPENS THIS WEEK

WE THE PARENTS follows the first group of parents attempting to transform a failing school under California’s 2010 ‘Parent Empowerment’ law. As news spreads about the events in Compton, this powerful documentary tracks the ripple effect of these parents’ efforts as the idea of a ‘Parent Trigger’ spreads to other communities in California and across the country.

WE THE PARENTS opens in Los Angeles this Friday, August 16th at the Laemmle Music Hall. The film will play in New York at the Quad Cinema starting Friday, September 6th. For further information: http://wetheparentsfilm.com/

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AuthorParent Revolution

LOS ANGELES – TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2013 – Parents in the Southern California community of Desert Trails are making history this week with the opening of the first ever school anywhere in the United States fully transformed by the use of a ‘Parent Empowerment’ law.

After a two-year struggle with the status quo – including two California Superior Court hearings and decisions in favor of parent efforts – the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy is welcoming students this week for the start of the 2013-2014 school year. The Academy, a high performing, not-for-profit charter school, was selected by Desert Trails' parents following the success of their 2011-2012 Parent Trigger campaign to replace the previous chronically failing elementary school.

“For the parents and children of Desert Trails, it is a wonderful and exciting new chapter. Although there were times when we wondered if we would ever see this day, we knew our children were counting on us, and so we kept on going. Last year, Hollywood tried to tell our story. Today, with our new school opening, it’s a better ending than anything than Hollywood could make,” said Cynthia Ramirez, lead parent coordinator for the Desert Trails Parent Union.

“The parents of Desert Trails have done something that only a few years ago was unthinkable. Now, because of these parents, the power the law gives them has become real and tangible. We can walk through the school campus and see children engaged and learning. We feel the parent’s optimism that their child will succeed academically and will have a bright future. Parents all across America can share that optimism because of what the Desert Trail parents have achieved,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution.

“We can no longer just pay lip-service to parental involvement in schools. Instead, parents must be empowered to stand up and say the status quo isn’t good enough for their children. When school districts and communities have failed to improve their schools, it is unconscionable to ask parents and their children to wait. They have waited long enough. Parent Trigger gives parents not just a voice, but a say in and involvement in the quality of their child’s school. I believe they have the right to be heard,” said Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House of Representatives Education & Workforce Committee.

In addition to the opening of Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, the Desert/Mountain Children’s Center (DMCC) will immediately begin providing counseling services to children in the Desert Trails community who meet the counseling criteria. Services to be provided include individual, group and family counseling.

This will be followed in the near future with the opening of the Desert Trails Preparatory Family Resource Center on the school campus, where DMCC will offer a clothes closet, food bank, tutoring services and linkage to other community resources. A significant component of the Family Resource Center is the involvement of parents and parent education. Consequently, there will be a strong focus on strengthening family relationships.

“For more than 20 years, the Desert/Mountain Children's Center has been providing counseling services to children, youth and their families from birth to 22 years of age. We specialize in school-based treatment services, intensive therapeutic services and infant/toddler mental health services, providing nurses and psychiatric services through a psychiatrist as well as offering nutrition and health education classes. We currently serve over 5,000 children and youth each year in the Desert/Mountain region. We’re excited about now bringing our services to the Desert Trails community,” said Jenae Holtz, director of the Desert/Mountain Children’s Center.

NOTE

Three other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – 24th Street Elementary School, Weigand Avenue Elementary, and Haddon Avenue Elementary – will all begin the 2013-2014 school year in mid-August with new school transformation models as a result of parent empowerment organizing efforts in those locations.

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(Pat DeTemple, Senior Strategist for Parent Revolution)

At a neighborhood park in Los Angeles this past April, the mostly Latino parent union of nearby 24th St. Elementary was conducting a secret ballot election to decide who should run their chronically failing school next year. The contenders were high performing charter schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District that had run the school ineffectively until parents organized and used California’s controversial “Parent Trigger” law to shake things up.

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The voters are parents who signed a petition that the parent union submitted with about seventy percent support. At the end of the day over eighty percent of the parents chose to approve a unique solution that largely returned control to the District, but with an added pre-k year and substantial improvements in staffing and resources, but also integrated an existing co-located charter school into the mix by turning over the previously overlapping fifth grade and improving coordination between the Pre-k through 4 District and the 5-8 charter schools.

The vote and subsequent district approval of the plan were the culmination of an organizing campaign assisted by Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution but driven by frustrated low-income parents who had tried without success for years to improve their school. The success at 24th Street also marked a turning point in the long fight over parent empowerment as a strategy for improving the quality of education in our worst schools.

The parent-trigger law is a response to the problem that too many children are stuck in schools that are not providing them with educational opportunities – and the resulting lack of preparation for meaningful work or active citizenship are devastating to the child and their communities. The reasons for persistent failure in the worst performing schools are many, and the challenges to teachers and administrators are great, and in the worst schools staff often become demoralized, the culture dysfunctional, and the expectation for significant improvement minimal. Particularly in urban areas where such schools are concentrated, the obstacles to anyone in authority significantly changing the culture, expectations, practices and outcomes are often insurmountable. And too often the will to change is not even present because competing adult interests trump what is best for the students.

The premise of the parent-trigger law is the belief that radical improvement of failing schools is possible, not through any of the magic bullets that have been fashionable over the years but by focusing attention and organizational will, through the instrument of organized parents exercising legal power, on improving a failing school or facing the prospect of loss of control to a high quality charter that, under the law, would be required to serve all the children. The proponents of Parent Trigger are unapologetic about placing the needs of the child in a failing school in front of all others. There should be no sacred cows blocking the path to a good education for all children, and that includes aspects of the collective-bargaining agreement, financial resources, or quality of leadership. There is no formula for resolving all those challenges, but exercise of the parent-trigger law lights a fire under an often unresponsive system and shines a light on the problems in such a way that positive movement becomes possible.

So, in the end it’s a lot about power, and for that reason there has been resistance from those who have it towards those who might use it. Teachers unions, administrators’ organizations, school boards, and all of their allies have demonized the law and its proponents from the start when a California Teachers Union spokesperson denounced it as a “lynch-mob law.” Since then the line of attack has mostly been to accuse proponents of acting as surrogates for a right wing corporate conspiracy to privatize public education through charter conversion, in spite of the fact that Parent Revolution, the originator of the law, has helped kill copycat legislation that would sneak voucher programs into law or primarily benefit for-profit charters. The job description for the director of their national work actually specifies that they work against legislation such as that put forward by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), and most of the staff of Parent Revolution are drawn from labor and community organizations and have deep roots in progressive politics and the Democratic campaigns.

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In this context the campaign at 24th Street, presented the opponents of the parent-trigger law with a test. If the issue was corporate privatization, and if the parent activists and their supporters were now proving that to be untrue, then common ground in the fight for quality education might exist as well as around issues such as school funding and salaries and benefits. On the other hand, if the issue were the preservation of power and privilege, and "privatization" a mere pretext, then the effective use of the law in an "in district" context would be doubly threatening.

The results came a few weeks after the success at 24th Street when parents at another horribly failing LA school with a history of parent struggle, Weigand Elementary, filed a parent-trigger petition to remove the principal and demanded a plan to improve the school while leaving District control and teachers untouched. The response from the opponents has been swift and feverish with one prominent critic, Diane Ravitch, stating that Parent Revolution staff and supporters deserved “a special place in hell,” the executive director “loathsome,” and the local teachers union deploying “rapid response teams” to counter organize at any site where rumors of parent organizing emerge.

The 24th Street parents were instrumental in helping to expose the roots of opposition to parent power. This did not come as a surprise, and, to paraphrase Malcolm X, this isn’t something that makes us lose confidence in what we’re doing. As long as there are failing schools there will be the opportunity for the teachers union and many others to get on the right side of the fight for a quality education for all.

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Patrick DeTemple is a Senior Strategist for Parent Revolution and developed their organizing model. His long history in organizing and progressive politics began in the anti-war movement, continued through the UFW and other labor and political movements and organizations for over three decades and, before Parent Revolution, two years on the ’07-’08 Obama campaign.

 

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(Gabe Rose, Deputy Director for Parent Revolution)
Although this resolution was written without any input from Parent Revolution or the parents who are actually using this law, we are supportive of many of its goals.

We support public meetings and public notice of school data – whether in relation to Parent Trigger campaigns or otherwise – that give LAUSD parents more information on the state of their children’s schools.

And we also support the letter and spirit of the resolution’s emphases on accuracy of data and options available to parent, and on non-manipulation and non-intimidation of parents at Parent Trigger eligible schools, because the process by which parents have organized and operated Parent Trigger campaigns already complies with this.

We cannot, however, support the full resolution unless it addresses the most pressing issue with the law today, which is the continued harassment and intimidation of parents – too often by district staff using district resources – who are trying to organize to improve their children’s low performing schools. If the resolution is amended to provide real protections for parents and real transparency that will allow them to communicate with their entire community, we will be happy to support it.

And these dialogues must be held in an environment of civility and respect. Any resolution that takes seriously the idea of open dialogue must also effectively enforce rules designed to protect parents that are already on the books (as codified in the CA State Board of Education regulations).

As long as we can all agree that intimidation, misuse of power, and other unsavory behavior won’t be tolerated in the public square just like it wouldn’t be allowed on the school yard, we are fully in support of open public debate -- because it benefits the parents and kids of LAUSD.
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To read the full resolution, click here.  Board Member Zimmer's resolution is #45 on page 17.

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By Los Angeles News Group

06/12/2013

The details of the online spat between New York University education professor Diane Ravitch and Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin aren't very interesting to anyone except an education wonk. The highlights: Ravitch ravaged Austin on her blog; Austin responded with an open letter on Huffington Post. Ravitch kind of apologized, but then insinuated Austin was a bully. Who knows what will come next?

What is interesting for the uninitiated is what is revealed by the fact that two of the most influential people in the nation on education reform policy are going head to head publicly -- at least in the manner in which people go head to head in a 21st century civil society. It shows how much is at stake for the future of education in both California and the nation.

Ravitch is a former U.S. assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton and a one-time supporter of No Child Left Behind and charter schools. She famously changed her mind about both, denouncing them in her 2010 book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education."

Since then, her dislike has expanded to include Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, which has been using California's landmark Parent Empowerment Law to shake up education at the worst schools in Southern California. The action at Weigand Avenue Elementary school in Watts this spring, in which Austin's group helped parents organize to oust the principal, prompted the New Yorker to blog: "Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization -- Walton, Gates and Broad."

Stung, Austin responded in the form an a letter to Ravitch: "Parents, educators, and education advocates have a lot in common when it comes to a kids-first agenda. But we can never seize that common ground if those with whom we disagree are deemed to be 'evil' and sentenced to Hell, as you did last week."

This is not the first attack on the virtue of Parent Revolution or Austin, but so far it has been the most prominent. It shows that the local group has caught the attention of those who have held the reins of power for way too long in American education. And they are worried.

 

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by Cynthia Ramirez, Lead Parent Coordinator, Desert Trails Parent Union
6/4/2013

The allegations in the story "Were parents promised pay" (May 25) have no basis in truth. As someone involved with the Parent Trigger campaign in our Adelanto and Desert Trails' community from the beginning, I am deeply offended and insulted our volunteer efforts of the past two years are being twisted and diminished.

Unfortunately, The Sun appears to have been misled by someone lashing out at other parents in our Desert Trails community and at Parent Revolution. The good news is the only person damaged by this outburst of false statements and outright lies is the person making them.

I can say without hesitation, no promises of financial benefit or support were ever made by Parent Revolution staff to members of our Desert Trails Parent Union (DTPU). No one ever promised us a single dollar -- let alone thousands of dollars -- if we went around the country promoting the movie "Won't Back Down."

After all the hours and hours of hard work we Desert Trails parents put into turning around our school, the legal battles we had to fight, and all the conspiracy theories about Parent Trigger we have had to put up with, it's just plain insulting to have someone say we were only in it for money.

It has not been easy being called names and told we didn't know what we were doing. Many people, who think they know better, have said we were duped or conned and were controlled by millionaires pushing charter schools.

Nothing is further from the truth. Our kids were in a school that had been failing for many years and, as parents, we needed to take action. That's why we used the Parent Trigger law and were successful in bringing change to our school.

What we're doing now is staying focused on the opening of a wonderful new school for our kids in late July. We're not going to let this person distract us from making sure our kids get the best possible education.

As Desert Trails' parents, we've been through too much for our kids to let someone who wants to rant and rave to a journalist to take away the success we've achieved. People outside our community said we would never succeed, that it was impossible for us to change the direction of our school.

Well, we did it -- and no one will ever take that away from us. We're the true face of parent power.

And that's the truth.

-- Cynthia Ramirez, Lead Parent Coordinator, Desert Trails Parent Union

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The ouster of a Watts principal is wrenching but hardly surprising. Parents lack patience for incremental improvement.

By Jim Newton
June 3, 2013

Transient

Irma Cobian, principal at Weigand Avenue Elementary School, gives a thumbs up to 3rd grade students. The Los Angeles Unified School District voted this week to accept a parent petition to remove Cobian at the low-performing school although she has led efforts to craft a turnaround plan this year that was highly rated by the district. (Los Angeles Times / May 15, 2013)

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What's happening at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts is undeniably divisive and stressful. A slim majority of parents there, fed up with the lack of progress toward a satisfactory education for their children, signed petitions and exercised their right under California law to oust the principal.

It hardly needs saying that the principal, Irma Cobian, did not much appreciate the campaign. She sees it as the work of politically motivated interlopers and disaffected parents — "a personal vendetta met a political movement," as she told me.

The parents behind the effort don't view it that way. They contend that they've pushed for improvement, only to be met with brusque indifference. Meanwhile, test scores at the school have dropped, adding to the alarm. Just a few years ago, Weigand was on a slow but upward march — its API score rose from 643 to 717 over two years. Since Cobian's arrival, those numbers have turned south, and the score for last year was down to 689.

By the numbers, Weigand is one of the worst-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and that's saying something. These parents describe their work as one of necessity, the requirement that they do what they can for their children.

So which is it? Is Weigand's division the result of impetuous parents and outside forces, or an expression of principled disagreement over the future of the school? Is the fight over bureaucratic inertia or competing visions?

I would submit that although the dispute contains elements of all of those, it's really about something else: The fight at Weigand is a contest between school authorities who believe change can only be accomplished over time against parents who have no time to waste. In that, it is emblematic of a fundamental collision that is playing out across California.

Take Cobian's turnaround plan for the school. It's full of ideas and principles, methods of engaging parents and determination to push teachers. But none of it is quick. Indeed, the ideas guiding the proposal are known as the "Six Principles for Gradual Improvement," and the first of those states: "Expect improvement to be continual, gradual and incremental."

Cobian is proud of that plan, and even some of the parents who are unhappy with her like many aspects of it. It relies heavily on fundamentals and stresses the importance of imparting knowledge, values and communication skills to the students.

Where it's frustrating, though, is in the patience it demands. And it's easy to understand why. Imagine being the parent of a second-grade student at the school. For the last several years, that student would have been enrolled in a struggling school that showed signs of getting worse. And the administration's answer to that is a program for slow improvement. Will it come in time for that second-grader to get any benefit? No parent could be expected to be patient in the face of that record or that program.

None of that is a hypothetical to Llury Garcia. Her daughter is in second grade and has received considerable praise from her teachers. But Garcia worries. "They tell me she's doing great, but I see something different," she told me last week. Garcia is concerned about her little girl's spelling, her mastery of reading. All parents worry, but Weigand's record reinforces those concerns.

Moreover, Garcia is not alone. Parents of more than half of the school's students signed a petition demanding Cobian's firing. Under California's "parent trigger" law, that was all it took to force that outcome, so Cobian will soon be out of work. Some of the school's teachers are outraged, and some parents are dismayed. Cobian blames Parent Revolution, a community organizing group that helps parents band together to transform schools using the parent trigger law. Even the name of the group offends Cobian: "It's a revolution. It's bloody. There's violence."

Cobian would prefer a gentler system, an approach to reform that is less divisive, less confrontational. The trouble with that is that too many educators and administrators have tolerated failure for too long. They have allowed too many students — the vast majority of whom are poor — to complete their educations without being able to read or write or master the skills of a modern culture.

When school officials ask for more time, parents whose patience has been tested for too long are unwilling to give it. They will seize the authority they have in order to protect what they care about most: their children. Who can blame them?

As the controversy at Weigand reminds us, education reform may be painstaking, but childhood is fleeting.


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RiShawn Biddle (editor and publisher of Dropout Nation) also responds to Dr. Diane Ravitch's outrageous remarks.

Check out the full article over at Dropout Nation for full links and more.

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PERHAPS CONSERVATIVE REFORMERS HAVE FINALLY STOPPED PROTECTING DIANE RAVITCH
by RiShawn Biddle, Dropout Nation May 28, 2013

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Rick Hess shows the respect for Parent Power that Diane Ravitch cannot muster.

Certainly by now, there is now question that once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously. From her factual inaccuracies and logical misfires in her sophistry, to her effort this past December to politicize the massacre of 23 teachers and children at an elementary school in Connecticut, Ravitch continually discredits herself with every tweet and blog post. What has been questionable is how conservative reformers who were once her comrades in arms continue to give her any credence. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, for example, gave Ravitch a prominent spot in its recent video on the 30th anniversary of the Reagan Administration’s release of A Nation at Risk, while leaving out others from poor and minority backgrounds who could give broader perspective on the issues brought to light by the report that remain today. Some rallied to Ravitch’s side two years ago, criticizing Kevin Carey for rightfully exposing her charlatanism and honestly questioning whether her change of heart was related to her anger with former New York City chancellor Joel Klein over his decision to not hire partner, Mary Butz, for a post in the city’s department of education. As a result of their willingness to give her sophistry cover, Ravitch continues to be treated as if she deserves to be among more-respectable commentators on education policy issues. Too much credibility and respect is given to someone who has long ago lost both.

So it is nice to see that Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute finally offered some strong criticism of Ravitch for her latest bit of demagoguery, this time criticizing the families of children attending Los Angeles Unified School District’s Weigand Avenue Elementary School for successfully using California’s Parent Trigger law to oust Irma Cobian, the school’s principal, with the help of Parent Revolution. [Don't worry: I will criticize Hess' argument for a moratorium on implementing Common Core tests later this week.] From where Ravitch stood, the Weigand families and Parent Revolution wrongfully removed “an excellent principal” who was supposedly turning the school around; the families were, as far as Ravitch is concerned, dupes who helped the outfit “destroy schools and fine educators like Irma Cobian”. As you would expect, Ravitch had particular ire for Parent Revolution, which she called a “malevolent organization” which deserves “a special place in hell” for daring to help families become lead decision-makers in the schools their children attend; in another bit of demagoguery, Ravitch accused the outfit’s honcho, Ben Austin, of being a “loathsome” person who “ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre”.

As you would expect, Ravitch doesn’t get her facts straight. Between 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 — the bulk of Cobian’s four year-tenure running Weigand — the school only once met federal and state requirements for improving student achievement – including those from black and Latino backgrounds who make up the majority of enrollment. In fact the percentage of all Weigand students proficient in math declined from 61.6 percent in 2009-2010 to 43.7 percent in 2011-2012, according to data from the California Department of Education, while the percentage of all students proficient in reading declined from 38 percent to 35.4 percent in that same period. [Data for 2012-2013 is not yet available.] The fact that many of Weigand’s parents found Cobian to be rude and dismissive of them makes clear that there were clearly concerns about the tenor and effectiveness of her leadership style. It’s hard for anyone to be considered a high-quality teacher or school leader if they are unable to work respectfully with the mothers and fathers whose children you are entrusted with educating.

Hess rightfully calls Ravitch on the carpet for engaging in “vicious, Dante-esque hyperbole” that doesn’t actually address the underlying reasons for the decision the Weigand families made. As far as he is concerned, Ravitch’s “tirade” essentially stands in contrast to the fairly good-mannered approach Parent Revolution has undertaken in helping Weigand’s parents and other families looking to overhaul the failing schools their kids are forced to attend. From where he sits, Weigand’s families are perfectly within their rights to engage in the same kind of leadership hiring and firing that boards and shareholders in other organizations inside and out of education do every day in order to turn things around.

Meanwhile Hess actually shows respect for the decisions made by Weigand’s families when he complains that Ravitch didn’t take the opportunity to offer an honest and thoughtful critique of whether they were taking the right approach to turning the school around in the first place. Given what Ravitch has displayed over the past couple of years, it’s rather vain to expect her to undertake such an endeavor. But Hess is right in arguing that Ravitch should have at least attempted to address what is a legitimate question. Sure, one can argue as I do that the Weigand families would have been better off petitioning to take full control of the school from L.A. Unified instead of merely choosing to fire Cobian; after all, it is the district’s failures on the teacher quality, school leadership, and curricula delivery fronts that are the long-term culprits of Weigand’s problems. At the same time, one must also admit as I do that this is a situation in which the Weigand families may have been making the decision they think makes sense given the issues on the ground.

For Ravitch to engage in such an exercise, she would first have to actually believe that families have the right to make educational decisions for their children as well as for the school communities their kids must attend. It also means trusting and accepting that families are making the best decisions for their kids and schools in light of the challenges they surmise. It means allowing families to take the responsibility for the consequences of their decisions that are implicit in undertaking Parent Trigger efforts in particular (as well as for Parent Power efforts in general). Finally, it means being willing to offer advise and guidance to those families so that they can make their decisions as well as learn from mistakes they (along with all of us) will inevitably make. Simply put, Ravitch would have to abandon the disdain she has expressed since her first book,he Great School Wars: A history of New York City schools, for families playing powerful roles in education. And that’s not going to happen.

The good news is that at least one conservative reformer has finally given Ravitch the business for her shoddy sophistry. It would be nice to see others do the same.


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Rick Hess (educator, political scientist, author, and host of "Rick Hess Straight Up" on Education Week) responds to recent, off-color comments made by Dr. Diane Ravitch.

For the full story (with links), visit Hess' "Straight Up" blog on EdWeek.

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"DANTE" RAVITCH'S ABHORRENT ATTACK ON BEN AUSTIN

By Rick Hess
May 28, 2013

I've been friendly with Diane Ravitch for a long time. Encountering her historical work 20 years ago, I was struck by her hard-hitting, erudite analyses. She invited me to deliver my first featured talk (at Brookings, on my then-forthcoming Spinning Wheels book). When I was leaving UVA's Curry School of Education, she was one of the handful of mentors I turned to for guidance. A few years ago now, I hosted the first public event for her Death and Life book.

All of which left me enormously disappointed as I read two blog posts that Ravitch penned over the weekend. Ravitch weighed in on a situation in Los Angeles, where principal Irma Cobian was removed from her position at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in Watts when Parent Revolution helped parents exercise California's "parent trigger" law. Ravitch started out reasonably enough, pointing out that 21 of 22 teachers requested a transfer in response to Cobian's removal, and that one third-grade teacher said that Cobian's the best principal she's had in her nine years at the school. (It's also worth noting, though, as Parent Revolution does, that the school ranks close to the bottom of all LAUSD elementary schools on California's Academic Performance Index and that scores have fallen over the past three years under Cobian.)

Ravitch then shifted gears, summoning shades of Dante's Inferno, as she wrote of Parent Revolution, "There is a special place in hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization." One can just picture Ravitch fastidiously consigning these folks to their proper stations in the various circles of hell.

Ravitch grew even more heated as she wrote of Parent Revolution's founder Ben Austin, "Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization." She continued, "Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian. She should be on your conscience-if you have one-forever."

Now, I've got my own qualms about Parent Revolution. I've mixed feelings on the trigger and on Parent Revolution's policy recommendations. But none of this, not one iota, even begins in the tiniest way to justify Ravitch's tirade. Moreover, I know Ben Austin and will attest to just how smart, well-intentioned, passionate, humble, and nice he actually is. Indeed, last fall, when I proffered a pretty tough critique of Parent Revolution, Ben's genteel response moved me to note, "I was cheered recently by Parent Revolution's impassioned but thoughtful and courteous [tone]," and to hail their contribution to healthy civil debate.

Let's consider the supposedly horrific nature of what Parent Revolution helped the parents at Weigand to do. Cobian had been at Weigand since 2009, and there's no evidence that things were getting any better. Meanwhile, a very sympathetic L.A. Times story reported parent leader Llury Garcia describing Cobian as "inaccessible and rude." Llury Garcia, coordinator for Weigand Parents United, said in a private communication, "We love the teachers at our school and don't want them to leave. However... many of the teachers have turned on us, calling us 'uneducated' and unable to make good decisions for our children. By trying to support the principal who is leaving after years of failure, the teachers are the ones now trying to divide our community."

Nonprofits, for-profits, military units, sports franchises, and even churches routinely demote, transfer, or fire executives, generals, coaches, and pastors when they deem it appropriate. Sometimes it's undoubtedly the wrong call, and good leaders sometimes unfairly get the boot. But there's a sense, and it strikes me as a reasonable one, that it can be essential to change leaders in order to give a persistently low-performing organization a fresh start.

As Ben Austin wrote to me, in response to Ravitch's attack, "Her argument (and the reporter's argument) is that the principal was on the cusp of turning things around. It's possible, but the parents didn't think so. [Cobian's] tenure has been almost as long as the academic lifetime of an elementary school kid and [Weigand] is still 15th from the bottom of all LAUSD elementary schools (out of over 500). The parents felt they had waited long enough." Oh, and complicating the question of how ardently Cobian's teachers have her back, Parent Revolution communications chief David Phelps writes, "Contrary to the Times reporting, it is our understanding the teachers who have said they are leaving have not submitted official transfer requests to the district."

Now, I have no trouble with the notion that it's a mistake to fire leaders too casually, or that Cobian may have been treated unfairly. There's no clear evidence that Cobian did anything especially wrong. Indeed, Austin wrote to me, "We have gone out of our way to not personally attack the principal, or anyone else. As you can see in our media statement, we rely only on objective data to make our case and intentionally don't even mention her name." At the same time, despite Cobian's apparent popularity with the current staff, she has not been able to make a difference during nearly a half-decade as principal. In such a situation, pushing for a change hardly seems an act of malice.

I'd have loved to see Ravitch challenge the notion that replacing school principals is much of a restorative. I'd be especially open to the notion that Cobian got a raw deal if Ravitch had offered evidence that she's good at her job, and not just popular with the teachers at a persistently lousy school. But I can't focus on the merits when the arguments are swaddled in vicious, Dante-esque hyperbole that is unworthy of the author.





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AuthorParent Revolution

Yesterday, members of Weigand Parents United - the community organization of parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School - announced a vote scheduled for today to endorse a 'Public School Choice' plan proposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District to turn around their failing school.

For more, check out the official press statement below.

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LOS ANGELES – Wednesday, May 22, 2013 – Members of the Weigand Avenue Elementary Parent Union announced today they will vote tomorrow (Thursday, May 23) to formally endorse a 'Public School Choice' (PSC) plan proposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to turn around their failing school. The announcement comes one week after the LAUSD Board voted in favor of the first ever 100 % in-district transformation option provided in California’s Parent Trigger law.

Parents deliberately chose this option as they work toward new leadership for the failing school. At the same time, this option means no teachers at the school will be transferred or replaced. Additionally, there will be no charter operator selected for the school.

Over the past three years, under the leadership of the current principal who will now be replaced, the school’s API scores have decreased from 717 to 689. Currently, more than half of the students in the school are unable to read or do math at grade level.

“The lead Weigand Parent Trigger petitioners participated in a parent meeting with the district this afternoon and communicated the importance of all parents working together and collaborating with the district,” said Llury Garcia, lead parent organizer for the Weigand Parent Union.

“The parents will vote Thursday afternoon to endorse the district’s PSC plan for our school. We have spent several months carefully reviewing and considering this PSC plan. After the vote, we will continue our outreach to any parents who did not sign the Parent Trigger petition. We know how important it is for all of us to begin working closely with the district on these much-needed school improvements and implementing the plan. Weigand Elementary parents want the best possible education for their child. All of us will be focusing on making Weigand Elementary one of the top-achieving schools in Los Angeles.”

“And we will also continue to reach out to the teachers at our school. It is our hope, as they see the commitment of each and every Weigand Avenue Elementary parent to make it a great school, they will understand how essential they are, as well, to transforming our school,” Garcia said.

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AuthorParent Revolution

Matthew Tabor from Education News reports on last week's major victory for the parents of Weigand Avenue Elementary School.

Weigand parents successfully petitioned the second-largest school district in the US with the nation's first ever 100% in-district transformation under the Parent Trigger process.

Matthew writes on what this victory means for parents and parent empowerment advocates in California and across the nation.

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By Removing Principal, Parent Trigger Shows Real Parent Empowerment

by Matthew K. Tabor, Education News
May 20, 2013


At Weigand Elementary in Los Angeles, parents were so dissatisfied with the leadership of the school’s principal that they used the state’s parent trigger law to send that principal packing. It’s the third parent trigger victory in California, with two districts aided by Parent Revolution winning the right to be turned around by a non-profit charter network — but this is the first time a school’s administration has been singled out for change.

Weigand parents claimed that the school’s principal fostered a culture of intimidation with teachers and was anything but friendly to parents. 61% of Weigand parents signed on to force reform that will see a new principal — and hopefully a more effective leader – step in.

This is a significant development because it testifies to how historically difficult it has been for parents and the community to change their schools.

Anyone well-versed in the dark arts of parent and community involvement in schools understands the ‘Parent Involvement Paradox’: Schools constantly ask you to be involved, but they make it very difficult to help in a meaningful way.

Schools tend to want parent and community help — as long as it’s on the school’s terms. They’re most welcome to offer their charity, whether it’s money or time, as long as their contribution matches up exactly with what the school will let you do.

Volunteers can generally serve refreshments at a dance or campaign for the passage of a school budget with the full support of your local school board, but try to involve yourself in the operations of a school or district — say, a finance expert wanting to weigh in on a fiscal plan, a tech entrepreneur offering to lend his expertise about digital media, or a CEO helping out on management or leadership — and in an instant a gauntlet of obstacles appear that would make an Olympic 3,000m steeplechase runner nervous. Personnel is a virtually untouchable issue, especially when it comes to specific school leaders.

When community members choose involvement that doesn’t fit a school’s modus operandi, a school becomes a bridezilla who screams at a guest for giving a wedding gift that isn’t from her registry. That guest tends not to be welcome at her future functions until they step in line and perform as commanded.

It’s not uncommon for a community to try to reform a school, though. Parents and community members unhappy with a school’s leadership frequently try to make a change, but they have little power and the deck is stacked against them. Parents worry about retribution against their kids for making an issue (and that happens); they clash with well-organized, well-funded unions; they can be labeled divisive members of their community, which can bring terrible fallout personally and professionally.

And that’s all for a years-long battle with an abysmal success rate. In the end they usually hear, “If you don’t like it, run for the school board” (which most folks aren’t able to do for a host of reasons). Sometimes these movements field a candidate or two who are successful — and who then clash with a board majority frequently backed by school loyalists keen to put down their rebellion.

As this happens, years go by as schools can be run into the ground. Performance declines, new and often expensive problems pop up, and thousands of students are ill-served.

Non-parents speak out here and there, but parents tend to grit their teeth and bear a bad situation, which can include high private tutoring costs and a tremendous investment of time (as they continue to pay taxes for an ineffective school), until their child is out of the system. Then they breathe a sigh of relief and wash their hands of school politics and a new generation of parents further down the road are left to kick the can.

Many years, tremendous personal costs, little hope of meaningful success. One can understand why community members don’t think of themselves as David and why they think it takes more than a sling and a stone to fell a school Goliath.

But the parent trigger, whether it’s used for addressing leadership problems or for forcing an overhaul of an entire school, is a game-changer. It allows parents and communities to organize and become involved in a way that a school has to take seriously — and on a reasonable timeline.

The parent trigger is a solution to part of that ‘Parent Involvement Paradox.’ It’s a shame that we need a law to force schools to take community input seriously, but generations of frustrated parents and taxpayers are reading about Weigand and Parent Revolution and saying, “Can you imagine if we had this so many years ago?”

Now more parents will be able to look across the dinner table and say, “Look what we did.”

Matthew K. Tabor is the editor of EducationNews.org.





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AuthorParent Revolution

Los Angeles Unified School District Board approves first ever in-district reform arrangement to transform failing Weigand Avenue Elementary School

LOS ANGELES – Tuesday, May 14, 2013 – The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board today approved, by 5-2, the first ever in-district reform petition to transform the failing Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. The new arrangement will be in place for the 2013-2014 school year.

Parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles will now move forward with the first ever 100 % in-district transformation option provided in California’s Parent Trigger law. Parents deliberately chose this option to bring in new leadership for the failing school. At the same time, this option means no teachers at the school will need to be transferred or replaced. Additionally, there will be no charter operator selected to come in to turn the school around.

The LAUSD Board vote follows recent verification by the district of the Weigand Parents United Parent Trigger petition signed by 61% of eligible parents at the school.

“We thank the school board for its vote of support. We look forward to working with the school district and the great teachers at our school to begin turning it around. It’s been a long road to get here, but today the school board told us they agree it’s time for a new day and fresh start at Weigand Avenue Elementary. All our children will benefit because of this vote,” said Llury Garcia, lead parent coordinator for Weigand Parents United.

“Since passage of California’s historic Parent Trigger law over three years ago, opponents of the Parent Trigger movement have rooted their ardent opposition almost entirely in a conspiracy theory about charter schools. But the Weigand Elementary parents are not interested in a charter school. They are using their power under the Parent Trigger to work collaboratively with their teachers and the school district in this first ever in-district reform petition. Unfortunately, the parents have still met with intense opposition. Because the parents of Weigand have chosen an option not involving charter schools, opponents of the Weigand Parent Trigger have been exposed as being simply opposed to parent power. While we strongly differ with these opponents, their position is perfectly legitimate and we welcome that debate,” said Ben Austin, executive director for Parent Revolution.

“The vociferous critics pushing and promoting Parent Trigger conspiracy theories must now either embrace the Weigand parents or admit their opposition is simply about denying parents an equal seat at the decision-making table for their children’s education,” Austin said.

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AuthorParent Revolution
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Reportaje de Univision (Mayo 14, 2013): Los padres de familia de esta primaria en LA decidieron tomar cartas en el asunto y hacer cambios cruciales.

En este vídeo, los padres de familia de la Escuela primaria de Weigand Avenue explican por qué el cambio es necesario para sus niños y comunidad.

Por favor haga clic en el título arriba para poder ver el vídeo. Gracias.

http://losangeles.univision.com/videos/video/2013-05-14/padres-activistas-toman-riendas-de







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AuthorParent Revolution
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LOS ANGELES – Monday, May 13, 2013 – Parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles will move forward with the first ever 100 % in-district transformation option provided in California’s Parent Trigger law.

Parents deliberately chose this option as they seek new leadership for their failing school. At the same time, this option means no teachers at the school will need to be transferred or replaced. Additionally, there will be no charter operator selected to come in to turn the school around.

The decision was announced today following news the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has verified the Parent Trigger petition the parents submitted to the district four weeks ago. A total of 61% of eligible Weigand Elementary parents signed the petition.

“We are pleased the school district has verified our petition so now we can move forward and transform our school. As parents, we love the teachers at our school. They care about making sure our children have every opportunity to learn. The principal, however, has failed to provide leadership and a vision for success. In her time, 12 teachers have left, and the school’s academic performance has dropped by 28 points and stayed the same for the past two years. More than half of the children at Weigand cannot do math or read at grade level. We want to work with the district and the teachers to make our school a place where our children can learn and succeed,” said Llury Garcia, one of the leaders of Weigand Parents United, the parents union that lead the petition campaign.

“Since passage of California’s historic Parent Trigger law over three years ago, opponents of the Parent Trigger movement have rooted their ardent opposition almost entirely in a conspiracy theory about charter schools. But the Weigand Elementary parents are not interested in a charter school. They are using their power under the Parent Trigger to work collaboratively with their teachers and the school district in this first ever in-district reform petition. Unfortunately, the parents have still met with intense opposition. Because the parents of Weigand have chosen an option not involving charter schools, opponents of the Weigand Parent Trigger have been exposed as being simply opposed to parent power. While we strongly differ with these opponents, their position is perfectly legitimate and we welcome that debate,” said Ben Austin, executive director for Parent Revolution.

“The vociferous critics pushing and promoting Parent Trigger conspiracy theories must now either embrace the Weigand parents or admit their opposition is simply about denying parents an equal seat at the decision-making table for their children’s education,” Austin said.

The LAUSD Board will vote tomorrow – Tuesday, May 14 – to approve the transformation model option chosen by the Weigand parents.

Weigand is the third successful Parent Trigger in history. Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto California was the first, where the parents ultimately embraced a non-profit charter school to turn around their failing school. Twenty Fourth Street Elementary School was the second, where the parents selected an unprecedented partnership between the district and a high performing non-profit charter school. Weigand is the first pure in-district reform. All three will open up as newly transformed schools this fall.

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AuthorParent Revolution

Our press release on today's two meet-and-greets with Los Angeles mayoral candidates hosted by the 24th Street Parents Union.

LOS ANGELES – MONDAY, MAY 6, 2013 – The two candidates for mayor of Los Angeles today said they supported California’s Parent Trigger law and expanding efforts to help parents organize in other failing Los Angeles schools.

Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, who are both progressive Democrats, made their comments during separate ‘meet-and-greet’ sessions with parents from the 24th Street Elementary School earlier today. These parents recently used the Parent Trigger to turnaround their failing school starting in the 2013-2014 school year. The parents recently extended an invitation to both candidates to meet with them.

Despite steady rain, about two dozen parents and children met with the candidates in a local park near their school. Following candidate remarks, parents had the opportunity to ask questions of each candidate and to share their personal stories and concerns.

“We are pleased Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti were able to visit with us this morning to listen and talk with us. It was very encouraging to hear both of them congratulate us on our work to turn around 24th Street Elementary School and express their support for the use of Parent Trigger. We know there are many other parents, just like us, trapped in failing schools around Los Angeles, who will feel more confident knowing the next mayor of Los Angeles wants parents to be able to use Parent Trigger to bring about change,” said Amabilia Villeda, lead parent organizer for the 24th Street Elementary School Parents Union.

“Today’s visit by Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel is an important milestone for Parent Trigger and Parent Revolution. Just over a year ago, the National Conference of Black Mayors, followed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, unanimously announced their organizational support for Parent Trigger laws. Two months ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villagairosa came to the same local park to stand with the parents of 24th Street. Now, the two candidates for mayor are unequivocally showing their support for Parent Trigger as a way for parents to transform a failing school,” said Ben Austin, executive director for Parent Revolution.

“It is clearly evident Parent Trigger has support across the political spectrum. Party politics do not play into this support. Local elected officials – and the candidates for mayor of the second-largest city in the country – are making it clear they support a kids-first agenda, including empowering all parents to have a seat at the decision-making table for their child’s education. Not long ago, Parent Trigger was considered to be a radical new law. Now, it’s considered radical to oppose it.”

The Los Angeles mayoral election is on Tuesday, May 21.

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AuthorParent Revolution

For Immediate Release

PARENT REVOLUTION STATEMENT ON TIED VOTE FOR PARENT EMPOWERMENT BILL IN FLORIDA SENATE

LOS ANGELES – TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 2013

“Today’s tied vote (20-20) in the Florida Senate on the ‘Parent Empowerment Bill’ (SB 862) represents a victory for powerful special interests, and a blow to the thousands of parents and children trapped in failing public schools that the high-priced lobbyists who engineered today’s vote would never send their own children to.

“A spokesperson, who claims to speak for Florida parents through the National Education Association (NEA) funded group, ‘Parents Across America’ just tweeted: ‘Hallelujah. Trigger defeated in FL. The sun just came out in Tallahassee! We have our lives back.’ It is worth noting this spokesperson has no children in a Florida public school, let alone a failing public school.

“As this spokesperson tweets about getting her life back, there are tens of thousands of parents with children trapped in failing schools grappling with the reality that they now have no way out.

“This isn’t about a victory for lobbyists at NEA-funded faux groups. It’s about giving parents power over the educational destiny of their own children. In California, we have recently seen at 24th Street Elementary School how empowered parents can – and will – make wise decisions for their children. One day this will also be true in Florida.”

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For attribution to:

David Phelps
Parent Revolution Spokesperson

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AuthorParent Revolution

Apple - We hope you are taking notice. With powerful stories, everyday advocates can make waves!

Last week, Florida parents asked a Parent Revolution organizer to tape testimonies about the need for better educational opportunities.

Our organizer used an iPad! Just real parents sharing real stories.

What happened next couldn't have been predicted...

(After the jump, parents' video and Washington Post article)

Sunshine Parents - Sneak Peak from Sunshine Parents on Vimeo.

Strident opponents to education reform like Diane Ravitch labeled the video as "slick" and "high quality." We think they were just profoundly impacted by the power of these parents giving voice to thousands and thousands of other parents and caregivers with kids stuck in failing schools. The best opposition they could come up with was "it was slick".

Guess this shows what an everyday advocate can do with technology when you have a powerful story to tell!

You be the judge. Watch the video - and check our Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post, who gives a fair overview of the entire thing.

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A 'PARENT TRIGGER' MYSTERY SOLVED IN FLORIDA

by Valerie Strauss
4/27/2013

Every major parents group in Florida, including the PTA, has long been vocally opposed to the “parent trigger” legislation now before the state legislature. Recently, a new group called Sunshine Parents was formed, this one in support of parent trigger — laws allowing parents at a failing school the right to change the school’s structure. What seemed unusual about the group wasn’t that some parents in Florida support parent trigger; surely some do. Rather, nobody was standing up and taking credit for creating the group, which sent out a pro-parent trigger e-mail, with a link to a video, to legislators and other Floridians. There was an e-mail address for the group on the letter, but nobody responded to the e-mails I sent to that address.

The Sunshine Parents e-mail urges support for the parent trigger legislation, known as the Parent Empowerment Act. It says that “Sunshine Parents is a group of parents and organizations that support Parent Empowerment Legislation in Florida,” but it doesn’t give names of any individuals or groups.

The e-mail includes a link to this slickly produced video in which Florida mothers talk about their children’s education, though they never mention parent trigger or the legislation now under consideration. The PTA, however, is disparaged by one mom as a “social club” that exists to “bake cookies.” (Bob Sikes, the author of the Florida blog, Scathing Purple Musings, noted that House sponsor Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami) said the same thing during testimony on the legislation).

The parents groups opposed to the Florida legislation include:
- Florida PTA
- Florida NAACP
- League of Women Voters
- Citizens for Strong Schools
- League of United Latin American Citizens
- National Jewish Women’s Council
- Parents Across America
- Fund Education Florida
- 50th No More
- Save Duval Schools
- Support Dade Schools
- Marion’s United for Public Education

Florida education activists had suspected that the Foundation for Florida’s Future may have created Sunshine Parents, but Jaryn Emhof, national communications director of the foundation, denied it, saying in an e-mail: “The first we heard of it was when we received an email with the documentary.” She wrote that the petition was created by one of Bush’s two foundations, noting: “Any organization or individual can share the petition on a website or through email.”

After several days of mystery, the Miami Herald figured out who did what. The paper says in this story that the video was created by the California-based group Parent Revolution, which has been supporting parent trigger legislation in other states, including Florida. But it did not create Sunshine Parents, according to Parent Revolution Communications Director David Phelps.

According to the Miami Herald:

  Parent Revolution spokesman David Phelps said his group had indeed “initiated” the mini-documentary, but wasn’t “directly affiliated” with Sunshine Parents. He said the connection was brokered through the Urban League of Greater Miami.

  The Urban League is run by T. Willard Fair, who serves on the Foundation for Florida’s Future board of directors, and was a Bush appointee to the state Board of Education.

  Fair said Sunshine Parents was newly formed, but said he was “insulted” at the suggestion that the group had been created to carry water for Bush’s foundation or Parent Revolution. “When minority parents decide that they need to flex their muscles, there is always some criticism,” he said.

Phelps wrote to me in an e-mail:

  The Urban League of Miami and the Coconut Grove Barnyard invited Parent Revolution representatives to meet with them — and, through them, a group of parents who wanted to learn more about the Parent Trigger. Two members of our organizing team went to that meeting, and answered questions on parent empowerment, parent organizing and, of course, Parent Trigger.

  Coming out of that meeting, the Urban League of Miami, the Coconut Grove Barnyard and the parents decided to create a group called Sunshine Parents. Our organizers suggested doing a video with parents sharing their stories and aspirations for their children; the parents agreed and a video was put together (using an iPhone).

  So it would not be accurate to say we were behind the creation of the group. I’d be happy to put you in touch with the folks at the League and the Grove who can confirm that. The video was put together by us and shares parent stories.

    My final comment would be this: If the critics — like Parents Across America — are saying there is no actual parent support for the Parent Trigger legislation in Florida, then they (PAA) seem to be making a lot of noise if (as they’re suggesting) there’s no there there.

StudentsFirst, the advocacy organization founded by former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, had its own petition in support of parent trigger, but the Miami Herald story said there were questions about some of the signatures, with some of the people on the petition saying they hadn’t signed it.

The “parent trigger” is intended to give parents with children at low-performing schools the legal right to petition the state or district for a change in school structure, with the parents getting to pick from a list of options (which include turning the school over to a private management company). Proponents say it gives parents more options and power in their children’s education. Opponents say it is a stealth way of turning traditional public schools into charter schools and that it will lead to more privately run schools.

The Sunshine Parents e-mail sent to legislators says:

  We want to be sure our sons and daughters are getting the very best educational opportunities, regardless of circumstances. The voices of all families should be heard in decisions about how to improve schools and where and what type of school our children attend. Senate Bill 862 and House Bill 867 give us actual political power to transform our child’s low performing school.

  The Sunshine Parents are saying that it is time that politicians listen to us. We are saying:

    We must insist on high quality teachers.

    Parents are the best advocates for their children.

    Parent Empowerment transforms communities.

    Parent Empowerment allows parents to dream.

    Parents deserve a voice at the table.

    The PTA does not speak for ALL parents.

After watching the video, there are many ways you can support Parent Empowerment legislation in Florida.

1. Call your State Senator and tell them to support and VOTE YES on Senate Bill 867 because it gives parents real political power. Click here to find your State Senator.

2. Call Governor Rick Scott’s office and tell him to sign the bill once it has passed the Legislature. Call him at (850) 488-7146

3. Add your name to the thousands of parents that support Parent Empowerment legislation in Florida. Click here to sign.

4. Share the video link with family, friends, other parents, and people in your organization and encourage them to contact their Senator and the Governor.

Will you join us?

The Sunshine Parents
sunshineparentsfl@gmail.com

There is a “Parent Empowerment, Florida” Page on Facebook, which was created March 20. There were 22 “likes” as of 10 a.m. Saturday.









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AuthorParent Revolution

Julianne Hing, a reporter for ColorLines, posted a thoughtful story on last week's 24th Street Selection Day. Her article highlights to impact of the movement on the parents of 24th Street - as well as the growth and maturation of the parent empowerment movement itself.

Check it out!

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Voting day at 24th Street Elementary in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jorge Rivas for Colorlines.com)

IS CALIFORNIA'S 'PARENT TRIGGER' SCHOOLS MOVEMENT FINALLY GROWING UP?

by Julianne Hing, ColorLines
April 15, 2013

It was an election, but it could have passed for a party. Last Tuesday morning, parents from Los Angeles’ 24th Street Elementary School gathered at a public park two blocks west of the institution to set up pots of tamales and gigantic piñatas in the shape of “2” and “4.” Sharp white voting tents gleamed on the grass, and workers from Parent Revolution, a national school-reform advocacy and lobbying group, prepared games and snacks for the afternoon.

With organizing support from Parent Revolution, more than 350 parents had signed a petition in favor of using the so-called parent trigger, a controversial tactic designed to overhaul public schools with chronically low standardized test scores. As we’ve previously reported, the parent trigger became an option for Californians three years ago. The state assembly passed the so-called Parent Empowerment Act by a one-vote margin in an effort to win a federal Race to the Top grant. Cash-strapped California didn’t receive a grant from the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion program, but the vaguely written parent trigger law—the first in the nation—still went into effect.

At 24th Street Elementary School, a total of 359 parents were eligible to vote for one of four parent-trigger proposals because they’d signed the petition calling for the election. They represented 69 percent of the school’s student body according to Parent Revolution.

At Tuesday’s election 190 signees cast votes. By an overwhelming majority they chose a plan that allows Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to head up pre-K through 4th grades and taps Crown Prep charter school—which already runs a middle school on 24th Street’s campus—to take over grades five through eight.

The pre-kindergarten portion of the agreement is significant. LAUSD is not legally required to provide pre-K but under the new plan the district will offer a seat to every eligible student. Also under the plan, which the LAUSD board is expected to approve this week, select parents will sit on the hiring committee for the redesigned school.

United Teachers of Los Angeles, the local teachers union, did not respond to a request for comment. LAUSD said it would not comment until after this week’s school board vote.

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Amabilia waits in line to register her vote. (Photo by Jorge Rivas for Colorlines.com)

Parents and the Machine

At 24th Street, 80 percent of the students are Latino, 18 percent are black, and nearly half of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. According to California State Department of Education data, 82 percent of third graders and 71 percent of fifth graders there weren’t reading at grade level in 2011.

It took Amabilia Villeda, mother of three 24th Street students and a parent trigger leader, less than a minute to cast her ballot in favor of the overhaul. In an interview that Colorlines.com had translated from Spanish to English, she said she’s been fighting for the right improve her kids’ education for years.

“It’s not just parents that live in Beverly Hills or those that live in Santa Monica who have a right to a good education because they have money,” she said. “We too have the right to the same education because all children deserve an equal education. Race should not matter.”

The night before the election, Villeda stayed up all night making 250 tamales. She finished at 5 in the morning, showered then shuttled her kids off to school before heading to the park.

The mother attempted a parent trigger effort on her own three years ago when she discovered that her fifth-grader, Tatiana, was reading at a first-grade level. “I felt bad because I couldn’t rewind the time. Every single day I was with my daughter but I didn’t know,” Villeda said. “When I noticed that lots of other mothers were saying the same thing—that their children did not know how to read—I wanted to do something.”

Villeda said that when she tried to speak with 24th Street’s former principal, Renee Dolberry, she was by turns rebuffed or laughed at. So the mother started circulating a petition to demand a new principal. She gathered more than 300 signatures and even protested outside the school twice. “They didn’t even notice us,” Villeda said, chuckling at the memory. “It’s as if we did not even exist out there. No one, not the district or anyone came to even ask us, ‘Why are you out here?’”

Parent Trigger Grows Up?

It was Parent Revolution organizers who approached Villeda outside of the school last August to ask if she knew what the parent trigger was. The group also helped her become a key organizer.

In many ways the 24th Street Elementary vote was as critical to Parent Revolution as it was to parents and students. The group has been engaged in a very public effort to shed criticism that it has astroturfed its way across communities of color to advance a school-reform agenda hostile to teachers and public education. Critics include the national progressive network Parents Across America, teachers unions, and Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education for George H. W. Bush.

The overhaul at 24th Street marks the group’s third attempt to lead parents into using the parent trigger and the first to succeed without a lawsuit. The two prior attempts—at McKinley Elementary School in Compton and at Desert Trails Elementary in a small Southern California town called Adelanto—ended up in the courts. In both districts officials challenged the parent petitions; parents who’d signed the petition sought to revoke their signatures; and parents on both sides charged that there was misconduct or intimidation at play in the signature-gathering process.

In an interview last week Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin readily acknowledged the organization’s past mistakes.“We were the ones who chose the school, we were the ones who chose the transformation option, we were the ones who chose the charter and we were the ones who did most of the community organizing,” he said of Parent Revolution’s failed organizing in Compton. “So when the blowback happened … parents agreed with the petition but didn’t see it as being their fight.”

After McKinley, Parent Revolution ditched its original organizing model and instituted individual chapters of what it calls parent unions. “The lesson we learned from Compton is that it’s not about us,” Austin said. “In terms of the role we play, it’s in support of the parent movement. That’s our only role.”

It’s been harder to convince parent trigger skeptics of that. Critics have accused Parent Revolution of using poor communities of color to advance a market-based reform agenda.

It’s an easy allegation to make. After all, the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the group behind Stand Your Ground laws among others—adopted and circulated model parent trigger legislation. Both the Heritage Foundation and Heartland Institute are vocal supporters of the technique.

And as Colorlines.com has previously reported, Parent Revolution is largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Wal-Mart. The foundation is a staunch supporter of education reforms like charter schools, right-to-work legislation and test score-based accountability mechanisms, which are built on the premise that bureaucracy, ineffective teachers and unions lay at the root of the country’s education woes. As Parent Revolution’s largest single funder, Walton has given the organization $6.3 million in the last three years.

On the local level, it can be difficult to ascertain where Parent Revolution’s support ends and parent power begins. It supplies parents with professional organizers, education experts, and all the day-to-day necessities of running a campaign—coffee, photocopies and a professional communications staff. Parent Revolution staffers also conduct crash courses for local parents in education policy.

Members of the 24th Street Elementary School Parent Union can recite the tenets of a high quality school drawn from a policy framework supplied by Parent Revolution—empowered leadership; engaged parents and community partners; effective teachers; safe schools; and a culture of high expectations. But Austin claims the parent trigger and Parent Revolution are agnostic about the kinds of reforms parents choose.

“I of course don’t believe the parent trigger is a solution for all poverty-related inequities in a capitalistic society,” he said. “But it’s what we can do. …The kids at 24th Street shouldn’t have to wait for society to solve poverty before they can get the kind of education that parents at my kids’ school take for granted every single day.”

Despite Parent Revolution’s involvement, Villeda insists that she is not being used. “When we only wanted to change the principal no one listened to us,” Villeda told Colorlines.com. “[Parent Revolution] never told us, ‘Do this’ or ‘Do that.’ They said, ‘No, you are the parents and you decide because these are your kids.’ After this is over, they will be gone. We are the ones that will remain here with our children inside that school.”

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AuthorParent Revolution

Check out the following article by Julia Johnson on the effort and need to enact parent empowerment legislation in Florida.

She notes: "Parent empowerment isn't a plot to privatize schools.  It is a plot to educate children."

Empowerment is key element in education reform
by Julia Johnson  

I have the greatest respect for parents who get involved in education issues — especially the ones now engaged in the debate over parent empowerment legislation.

However, I disagree with those who oppose the bill, and I must question the accuracy of some of their claims. Some historical perspective is in order. Back in the 1990s, when Florida first began assessing students’ ability to read, 74 percent of Florida’s African-American students were functionally illiterate. Yet schools that had failed these children could still collect full funding to underwrite more failure. And parents of these children had little if any say in this system.

I don’t understand what a critic of parent empowerment meant when she recently wrote that it would use parents like “cheap napkins.’’ But I do know that low-income kids were used as a cheap paycheck and their schools were oftentimes used as a training ground for novice teachers and a depository for ineffective ones.

Education reform has started reversing this trend. Florida’s African-American fourth-graders have advanced more than two grade levels in reading, and their scores on national assessments now exceed the national average. Low-income children once were practically nonexistent in Advanced Placement classes, but now Florida leads the nation in providing them access to these courses.

The genesis for this change is accountability and choice.

Student funding started becoming contingent on results. Schools actually had to demonstrate they were educating children with the people’s money. And parents had options beyond the failing neighborhood school down the street.

This parent empowerment bill would embrace and expand these highly effective reforms. Parents could ask their local school board to bring in new management if the existing public school received two consecutive failing grades. If the local board disagreed, then the State Board of Education would have the final say. Charters would not gain ownership of facilities; as has been falsely stated. Instead, a charter school could use public facilities as long as it delivered academic progressand would have to vacate them if it did not.

The real outcome of this legislation would be the end of consecutive school failures, because districts would be more proactive in preventing them and eliminating the circumstances under which the “trigger’’ would be pulled. And kids would be the winners.

I would ask those parents who oppose this bill — and whose children attend high-performing schools — a simple question. If two consecutive failures aren’t enough to empower low-income parents, then how many failures should we allow? Three? How many would you tolerate in your children’s schools?

Another section of the bill would prevent children from being assigned to two ineffective teachers in consecutive years. Low-income children often don’t get the home enrichment of their more affluent peers. Two years of ineffective teaching puts these kids so far behind they’ll never catch up. So again I must ask, if not two years, then how many? Three?

At Melrose Elementary in Pinellas County, a double-F school, only 16 percent of kids read at grade level. Last year, the superintendent said he had difficulty replacing ineffective teachers because they were protected by collective bargaining. Shouldn’t parents have more of a say in this?

These are not the questions of right-wing ideologues. I am a Democrat and a parent. But it has long bothered me that too many of us worry about protecting adults in public education at the expense of kids. That is changing with President Obama, who advocates reform, and with groups such as Democrats for Education Reform and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which unanimously backs empowerment legislation.

Parent empowerment isn’t a plot to privatize schools. It is a plot to educate children.



 

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AuthorParent Revolution

Oklahoma allies shared with us the following press release issued by Rep. Jason Nelson, House author of this year's proposed Parent Empowerment Act. The growing coalition of parents and community supporters are disappointed the bill has been delayed. But they vow to remain committed to seeing greater parent empowerment come to their state in years to come.

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Oklahoma House of Representatives
Media Division
April 1, 2013



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: State Rep. Jason Nelson

                                  Lawmakers, Parents Express Disappointment “Parent Empowerment
                                                                      Act” Will Not Advance in 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers and parents who supported a measure that would have allowed parents to “trigger” major changes in their local underperforming schools are disappointed the bill did not receive more support in the House of Representatives. The measure will be laid over until the 2014 legislative session.

Senate Bill 1001, by state Senators David Holt and Jabar Shumate and state Rep. Jason Nelson, would have allowed a majority of parents in an underperforming school to sign a petition that would transition the school to a charter school or terminate the administrators.

“It’s obvious that we have a lot more work to do, but the momentum is on our side,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “There is a growing coalition of parents and policymakers who are determined to ensure that the voices of our students and their parents are heard, so that is very encouraging. Parents want choice for their children. The parents are on the front lines; they know whether their local school district is failing their children or not.

“Blaming parents, as was done by an education organization recently, is not constructive – it’s wrongheaded. It’s ironic that opponents of the bill complained the law would create an adversarial relationship between parents and educators when a statement by a teacher organization pointed the finger at parents by saying ‘Letting parents have more control over the schools when they don't have control at home is not the answer.’

“It’s important to remember that the bill only applies to ‘D’ and ‘F’ school sites. That negative and condescending attitude toward parents will create more division than this or any other legislative initiative at the Capitol, and I think it speaks to the need for programs like Senate Bill 1001.”

Under the measure, the option to terminate administrators would only have been available in Oklahoma or Tulsa counties. An underperforming school would be defined as a school that has received a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for at least the last two years under Oklahoma’s new grading system, or a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ for two of the last three years, as long as the most recent grade was a ‘D’ or an ‘F’. The bill provided that if the parents were to choose the charter school option, the charter school would first serve all students in the existing attendance boundaries of the school.

The measure was based on a concept that has been enacted in at least seven other states.

“Opposition to this bill has little to do with the merits of the policy, because anyone would tell you that a failing school could use the parent involvement and regulatory flexibility this bill facilitates,” said Sen. Holt, R-Oklahoma City. “Opposition to this bill has everything to do with power – power that some apparently don’t want to share with parents. The title of this bill is the ‘Parent Empowerment Act,’ and I guess there’s nothing that scares some people more.”

Holt said the goal of chartering an underperforming school under the Parent Empowerment Act would be to provide the flexibility needed to improve student performance at the school in a manner led jointly by motivated parents and school district leaders. The process of creating a charter school outlined in the Parent Empowerment Act is designed to create a collaborative relationship between the parents and the school district, rather than an adversarial one.

“It is unfortunate for parents and children across the state that we have not found consensus on Senate Bill 1001,” said Shumate, D-Tulsa. “I am committed to working with other members of the legislature in the future to bring real empowerment to our parents.  I still believe that people support that which they help create; therefore, I hope that educators in the future will demonstrate better how to plan with and not for the parents and children they serve.”

Tulsa resident and parent Lauren Marshall made the decision to homeschool her children rather than allow them to attend the local middle school.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my job and have been able to dedicate the past five years to ensure my boys had a quality education,” said Marshall. “But very few parents – especially where I live – can afford to quit their jobs in order to be at home with their kids. What about Gaven and Reagan and Evan – real kids in my neighborhood that my own children play with? They deserve better than a ‘D’ or ‘F-rated’ school.”

Nelson, who filed a similar measure two years ago that did not even receive a hearing, said he is encouraged by the progress the bill has made, but that supporters need to put more effort into educating other lawmakers and other parents on the issue.

“We’re trying to make real changes for our communities of Tulsa by giving the parents the power to save their children in places where the schools have failed them,” said Pastor Joyce A. Cooper of World Won for Christ in Tulsa. “We need to keep on standing up for our kids and giving our families the power to make the changes they need. Our children are stuck in these schools with no options, and so it is a shame that this bill is not going to be heard. All we can do is press on for real power for our parents and communities.”

Holt also believes the bill will become law in the near future as long as lawmakers remember who the bill is designed to protect.

“Unfortunately, real parents have no voice in the Capitol, especially parents in the kinds of communities where this bill would do the most good,” said Holt. “That’s why we as legislators have to speak for them. Our job is not to protect failure. Our job is to empower our parents to make positive change, because parents are who we represent, and improvement is what we should demand. I hope that when this bill returns in the future, we’ll remember that.”

Last month, SB 1001 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 30-12. It can be considered in the House of Representatives in 2014.

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AuthorParent Revolution