If the battle over California's new parent-empowerment law was only vicariously between the California Teachers Association and the growing charter-school business before, it just got very literal: Their top dogs are now going head-to-head in the capitol, arguing over the final regulations for the "Parent Trigger" law. The competitive spirit at yesterday's California Board of Education meeting was palpable, even over webcam.
Both are rooted in self-interest. But the self-interest of the pro-charters -- principally Parent Revolution, the organization currently helping a group of Compton parents overthrow McKinley Elementary -- plays more closely to the interest of reforming the state's largely inept education system, in the name of the kids stuck inside it.
Because one thing's for sure:
Whatever we're doing now, with a few exceptions, isn't working. The Trigger is a huge leap in the right direction, allowing 50 percent of parents at any failing school to change the way it's run -- but over a year after it passed under Schwarzenegger, official regulations have yet to be agreed upon.
Parent Revolution and California's radical reform movement has been spooked ever since unpredictable new Governor Jerry Brown wiped out the old, pro-charter Board of Education in January for a mixed bag of education experts that includes CTA advocate Patricia Rucker.
But yesterday's meeting began on an optimistic note of togetherness. Turns out two big groups who were never too keen the law, the Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association, actually worked with Parent Revolution and the California Charter School Association to draft a compromise for the Trigger 's rules.
One commendable point of concession: Parent Revolution leaders now agree that the petition should include the option for a specific charter company to be chosen by parents after the initial overthrow. (That would eliminate any corporate bias in the signature drive, as was perceived by many during the Compton petition process. Celerity Educational Group was initially chosen by Revolution organizers and a small group of involved parents, then presented as the only option to the rest.)
Meanwhile, the CTA, pissed it wasn't invited to participate in the joint draft, has created its own set of ideal Trigger regulations, including a statute that teachers should have to sign on before such a momentous change is made at any school.
What a strange concept: Ask the permission of those you are trying to oust before the ousting. As Trigger author and State Senator Gloria Romero described it to us in December:
The California Teachers Association and California State PTA have decried the "stealthy" way Parent Revolution gathered its signatures. They want organizers to notify the district before recruiting parents to sign a petition.
Sen. Romero compares that to a woman notifying her abusive boyfriend before filing a restraining order.
"You're telling the parents they have to go and stand before their batterers and tell them, 'I'm going to go file papers on you!' " she says.
She's right. If educators are innovative, perceptive and good at what they do, they'll have nothing to worry about. It's the unregulated, union-protected lagging teachers who are, and should be, worried.
Take Mr. Tellez at McKinley Elementary, an unprofessional YouTube homophobe who allegedly threatened kids and parents once he learned of the Parent Trigger petition, which could put him out of a job. Aka, not the kind of guy who should get a say in education reform.
The Board of Education meeting yesterday was flooded with parents and stakeholders from Southern California schools -- mainly L.A. County. Though the conversation is now taking place in Sacramento, the passion and experimentation remains centered in the Southland; and McKinley Elementary, the first campus ever to utilize the law, is its beating heart.
At least a couple dozen SoCal parents, sporting their "I Am the Revolution" shirts, made the eight-hour drive to NorCal and took their 30 seconds at the podium to ask for a better education for their children.
So Trigger backers were understandably offended to learn, further into the meeting, that Rucker, the CTA lobbyist on the board, will be allowed a vote on the Trigger's final capabilities.
Parent Revolution quoted Lynwood parent Marvin Aceves in its press release:
"I can't believe that these overpaid lobbyists are trying to derail our efforts that way. Parents will not allow special interests to take away our power, no matter how many high-priced lobbyists are in the room or on the board."
Other board members were ambiguous about which draft they supported -- the CTA's or the four-group compromise. In a frustrating move that will delay the Trigger's regulations for at least another month, and probably until July, the board decided after hours of discussion to post both a mash-up of their own draft and the CTA's, alongside the compromise draft, on their website for public comment.
So now, again, we comment, and we wait.
At stake in the interim is a messy court battle between the Compton Unified School District and McKinley parents. It has moved into a frustrating gray area, with the district now claiming it can verify none of the signatures, and the judge having no verification instructions to go by.
What we do here in California with the Trigger will set an example for similar parent-empowerment laws across the nation. The third of its kind just passed through the Indiana legislature -- but their operative axes will be just as important as the reforms themselves, proven by the many hangups in the regulation-less Compton case.
Then there are the 400-something McKinley students who continue to wake up every morning to learn what they can within the Compton Unified School District, from which under 50 percent will graduate, and only 2 percent will continue on to college.
High stakes, for a bunch of paperwork.