By Jenny Heitz | Daily News Op-Ed | http://bit.ly/fl2bUD
12/19/2010 01:00:00 AM PST - THERE has been tons of finger-pointing lately as to whom, exactly, is to blame for failing schools: the unions, or the lousy teachers, or the lack of funds. Sometimes, the parents get placed in those cross hairs for too little participation, the idea being that, if parents could just volunteer and help kids with homework, the school's problems would magically dissipate.
Well, it looks like parent participation is up, at least at two failing Los Angeles-area schools, but it doesn't involve bake sales. Thanks to the Parent Trigger Law, parents with children at failing McKinley Elementary School in Compton and Mt. Gleason Middle School in Sunland-Tujunga have a very proactive method of involvement.
The Parent Trigger Law allows a majority of parents at failing schools to organize significant change. They can force their school district to find a new principal, replace staff and/or give financial oversight to the community. They can demand smaller changes or that the school be closed completely and reopened as a charter.
For a school to be eligible for the parent trigger, it must have an Academic Performance Index score of less than 800 and be classified as one of the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state. A majority of parents at a school must sign an official parent trigger petition.
All this information is easily obtainable through the website of Parent Revolution, a grass-roots nonprofit organization that specializes in helping shepherd parents through the process.
At McKinley Elementary, an impressive 61 percent of parents signed the trigger petition. Their demand? That Celerity Educational Group, a charter school group consisting of three successful schools, take over McKinley.
The school would serve the same student population as before, but the major management decisions, from teacher hiring and firing to curriculum and policy, would be in Celerity's hands. The parents aren't just looking for API test score gains; they want more control over teacher absences, a tighter grip on student whereabouts (students were leaving campus), and a crackdown on teacher insults aimed at students.
In Sunland-Tujunga, a similar situation is brewing at Mt. Gleason Middle School, where fed-up parents are trying to wield the same stick.
Giving parents the power to set this in motion is the ultimate parent school involvement. Naturally, school districts and teachers unions such the California Federation of Teachers aren't thrilled with this turn of events. The CFT president referred to the parent trigger as a "lynch mob law," offensive wording when applied to a school in Compton.
Unfortunately, the Parent Trigger Law might be too good to be true for these parents seeking lasting educational reform. There's a catch. A little advertised provision in the law allows local school boards to make a unilateral veto of Parent Trigger Law demands through a simple public hearing, thus avoiding the substantive changes parents might want to implement, like charter conversion.
It seems impossible that the boards of education of the Compton Unified School District or the Los Angeles Unified School District would let a public school slip away, losing union positions and funding, when there's such a simple way to overrule it.
LAUSD, it turns out, demands parental involvement only when it suits the district. Parents are good for toiling in the classrooms and raising extra funds. When parents do actually organize, petition and demand change through law, districts wants their voices silenced.
It remains to be seen whether parents will finally have the power to enact real change for their children's education. For now, it's up the district to decide whether it really respects parental involvement, or has just been giving it lip service all these years.
Jenny Heitz, a Los Angeles writer, is a former LAUSD parent who writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.