Friday, July 16, 2010

PARENTS GIVEN MORE CLOUT IN SCHOOL CHOICES: New rules make it easier to transfer students and trigger reforms +2¢ more

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer L.A. Daily News

07/15/2010  -- California parents will be able to transfer their children out of 1,000 low-performing schools this fall and push for drastic improvements at other troubled campuses under two reform plans approved Thursday by the state Board of Education.

The 11-member panel unanimously approved the guidelines and the list of qualifying schools - including 13 in the San Fernando Valley - under the open enrollment plan.

The board also approved the so-called "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to demand drastic reforms at failing schools if a majority of parents petition for the overhaul. The possible changes include turning the campus over to a charter operator, replacing its entire staff or even closing the school.

"This creates an entirely new paradigm and new way of thinking about education reform," said Ben Austin, a recently appointed board member and the executive director of Parent Revolution, the reform group that launched the parent-trigger concept.

Austin recused himself from Thursday's vote on the parent-trigger law, but said he was thrilled with its passage.

"This is simply about giving parents the power to advocate for their own children," he said. "Now parents have a host of new tools, and long past are the days where parents had to accept systemic failures for generations."

The plans were mandated by a package of state laws approved earlier this year that are designed to turn around California's failing public schools.

The state board passed the final regulations under an emergency declaration, which means the new programs take effect immediately. Emergency declarations are reserved for instances when students are at risk of "serious harm," according to state law.

With classes set to resume in less than two months, the decision to implement drastic reforms drew the ire of teachers' union officials, who opposed both plans.

"Political heartburn is not a health-and-safety condition," said Ken Burt, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association. "An emergency is really an emergency, and this doesn't meet the condition."

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines expressed concern that too many reforms are being implemented simultaneously, confusing parents, students and educators.

"I think this is a tempest in a teapot," he said. "The state board should be focusing on how they provide more support and services to schools and districts that are struggling."

With summer vacation now well under way, officials will have to scramble to meet a Sept. 15 deadline for notifying parents they can transfer their children out of the targeted schools.

Parents will have until Sept. 30 to request transfers within LAUSD or with outside districts - such as neighboring Burbank, Glendale or Las Virgenes Unified - and enroll by Nov. 1.

This could mean some schools will then have to transfer teachers and classrooms in order to meet shifting needs, officials said.

LAUSD officials said they will be able to approve transfer requests only for campuses that have seats available.

And transportation will not be provided, which parent advocate Scott Folsom said could put students from less-affluent families at a disadvantage.

"True open enrollment I support," he said. "It's about parents being able to shop around for the school that best serves the need of their children."

Additionally, more than 200 schools in Los Angeles, including more than two dozen in the Valley, could be vulnerable to parent-driven reforms under the "parent trigger" law.

To qualify for takeover, a campus must have fallen short of federal academic benchmarks for three or more years.

The school also must have a state Academic Performance Index of less than 800, on a 200-1,000-point scale.

However, schools that are eligible for the trigger law cannot have been included on a roster of low-performing schools that was drawn up a few months ago to determine which California campuses could receive federal "Race to the Top" grants.

That list of low-performing schools had to meet different federal guidelines to identify the state's lowest 5 percent of schools.

The final list of 1,000 campuses, approved Thursday by the state, is the result of a complex process that started by targeting schools with the lowest scores on statewide achievement tests.

However, no district could have more than 10 percent of its schools on the list. And a specified number of elementary, middle and high schools sites had to be included.

Staff Writer Melissa Pamer contributed to this report.

●● 2¢ more: Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda.  What I should have said to Daily News reporter Connie Llanos when she called was this:  The package of state laws approved earlier this year that mandated  these  programs were designed specifically to qualify California for the Race to the Top funding.

That issue is moot.

California is not going to qualify for Race to the Top

And  RttT is – for the time being – Dead in the Water.

The first tier of states that did qualify and win RttT still haven't received their funding.  And Congress is refusing to appropriate  funds for RttT v. 2.0 – preferring to fund jobs for educators instead. President Obama is threatening to veto any jobs bill that doesn't include RttT v 2.0 – but vetoing for not including is a double negative and extremely dubious in an election year with high unemployment.

As to: "Austin recused himself from Thursday's vote on the parent-trigger law, but said he was thrilled with its passage" :  Mr. Austin, who is an attorney and should know batter, 'recused himself' only after working the room and his colleagues, praising his own efforts in crafting the legislation and complimenting Senator Romero for her courage. That is not recusing oneself - Austin is the executive director of Parent Revolution - that is lobbying on behalf of your employer. It takes the appearance of a conflict of interest all the way to First Degree Conflict of Interest.

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