Themes in the News for the week of Sept. 12-16, 2011 by UCLA IDEA | http://bit.ly/ownZ3r
09-16-2011 - In this era of competing school reforms, all sides want public support. Typically, reformers insist that parents have an important role in making their reform a success. And yet, not all parent engagement looks the same, and neither does it serve the same purpose.
For example, Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit advocacy organization, was instrumental in lobbying for the nation’s first Parent Trigger law—a legal mechanism that allows parents to petition for a drastic change in their school.
Last year, Parent Revolution led an effort to transform a Compton elementary school into a charter school. This week the group led a two-day, nine-city bus tour from San Diego to Sacramento that showcased different communities considering using the parent trigger law (Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Examiner). But do Parent Revolution and California’s Parent Trigger law actually expand parents’ meaningful engagement in school reform? Or does the trigger law simply give parents a one-time choice between the status quo and an alternative crafted by a well-funded political organization that has little to do with school improvement or empowering communities? The answer may lie in recognizing key differences between mobilizing and organizing.
A cursory look at dictionary definitions distinguishes between mobilizing and organizing. Mobilize means “to assemble and make ready for war duty; to marshal (as resource) for action.” Organize means “to cause to develop an organic structure; to form into a coherent unity or functioning whole; to arrange by systematic planning and united effort.”
Parent Revolution, using the trigger law as leverage, mobilizes parents, school-by-school, to vote for one of four reform efforts—firing staff, replacing the principal, closing the school or converting to a charter. Once such a change is made, there is no mechanism for parents to be organized for sustained, long-term action to improve their local schools and communities. Organizing, in this sense, is an ongoing process that develops the capacity of its own members and uses the power of their experiences and numbers to effect change (Educated Guess).
The Compton experience and others across the country reflect parents’ real frustrations with their schools. However, the four trigger choices don’t address much of what upsets parents most—lack of attention from teachers, canceled programs, old textbooks and learning materials, and poor, rundown facilities. In short, the trigger solution seeks changes in governance and organizational structure without addressing key problems ailing struggling schools.
There are times when it is important to mobilize parents for a just cause. But mobilizing alone can heighten frustration and create friction without making schools better or more equitable. Research shows that there is nothing magical about reorganizing a school unless the new organization builds a greater sense of inclusion and social trust among different members of the community—including administrators, teachers, parents and students (Bryk and Schneider). A national study recently found that when community organizing groups work on education reform, they build the social trust necessary for school improvement (Mediratta, Shah and McAlister).
Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews recently challenged follows) his readers to send him examples of successful parent “coups” or “rebellions.” But rebellions (political, educational, or both) don’t necessarily result in increased educational or civic improvement or self-determination. They may only serve the narrow interests of one group or another. It would be better for Mathews to ask for examples of schools in which parents have organized to build their own and the entire school community’s capacity for sustaining high-quality schools. Examples of such organizing abound and we encourage people to send their nominations.
Can you name successful parent coup?
By Jay Mathews Washington Post Class Struggle | http://wapo.st/pdbX5t
11:00 AM ET, 09/13/2011 - Joseph Hawkins, senior study director at the Rockville.-based research group Westat, read my recent attack on the Parent Trigger Law in California and issued a challenge:
“If we put 10 hot-shot education reporters together in a room and asked this question I think the answer would be zero: ‘In the past 10 years of school reform, can you list any schools where a parent revolution took place?’”
Hawkins said he is talking about a successful parent rebellion-- “meaning that the parents were fed up with low performance and they literally took over the school and improved it—demanded that it become better.”
He said “I don’t think such parent ‘revolutions’ ever take place at all. We probably could find some schools where a group of fed-up parents started their own charter, but I’m talking about something totally different. I’m pretty sure that both us have been in those low performing schools where many parents when quizzed in depth about their school confessed their frustrations. But mounting a coup d’état? Out of the question.”
He said he didn’t think even a concerted search would find more than a dozen failed coups. The first attempt by parents in California to use their new law is tied up in court.
Is he wrong? Has there actually been a Glorious Parent Revolution? Let me know, either here or via email@example.com, and I will tell Hawkins.
The ten year cut-off quashes my two historical arguments for true revolution, the First Congress of Mothers in 1897 and the Third Congress in 1999 (documented in Chapter 1 of Raising America)
From these two events came almost every positive incarnation of public education and child welfare reform in the 20th Century. Universal Free Kindergarten, Free Public High Schools, Child Labor Laws, the Juvenile Justice System, School Lunch Programs, etc., etc., etc.
The Congresses became PTA and we’re still at it – though as active a troublemaker as I am I feel we fall short at mobilizing and organizing. I’m afraid we look back at those pictures of our predecessors in their hats and white gloves and mistake them for some sort of idealized grandmothers. These were iron women, adept at mobilizing and organizing. And making trouble. The gloves were on for the battle ahead, not prisoners were taken - and those hats were held on with hat pins you wouldn’t want mess with!
So my example instead is small and simple. At Colfax Elementary School in LAUSD a few years back the District in its infinite wisdom tried to transfer out a beloved principal in a bureaucratic normal rotation – a ‘personnel matter’ of no concern to parents. The parents complained. Wrote letters and agitated. Met and fumed and petitioned. And finally rebelled, organizing with teachers and converting their school to a dependent charter school. It was a short and non-violent – but very Glorious Revolution.
And the schools’ API continues to rise. The kids continue to excel. It was always about the kids …not the parents …not the principal’s job.