families should not be lured by the false promises of Parent Revolution
By Caroline Grannan 11/17/2011
Pasadena Unified School District parents are being targeted by an outside organization that claims it wants to “empower” them to fix their schools.
Parent Revolution is a front group for corporate-backed charter schools, which have a very mixed academic record. Parent Revolution has never improved or even worked in any schools. It aims to exploit PUSD parents, not empower them.
Parent Revolution, started (under another name) by charter school operator Steve Barr, is like Astroturf — it has fake grassroots. As a public school parent, blogger and observer of education issues, I’ve followed Parent Revolution closely. The “education reform” the group promotes is a kind that serves the interests of its corporate-backed benefactors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation [of Wal-Mart].
In 2010, Parent Revolution’s staff wrote — and used its muscle to pass — a California law that created a process called the Parent Trigger. The law mandates radical change at a school if a petition is signed by more than 50 percent of the school’s parents. The school may be turned into a charter, closed or restructured in two other ways, including replacing the principal and half the staff.
The law was sold as a means of empowering parents to choose an option from among the “turnaround” strategies. But none of those strategies has a record of success.
After the Parent Trigger law was passed, Parent Revolution looked for a vulnerable school to target and chose McKinley Elementary School in Compton. The group determined that the school would become a charter and pre-selected the charter operator to take over McKinley — all before a single McKinley parent had heard about the petition drive.
The petitioning was conducted in secrecy, without the knowledge of school or district administrators. There was no open debate or discussion; there were no open meetings. McKinley School parents were not told they had the right to choose an option.
Conflict erupted after Parent Revolution presented the petitions to school district officials in December. Media reports described hundreds of angry parents protesting the charter takeover at a school board meeting.
When the dust settled, McKinley School didn’t become a charter school; instead, Parent Revolution’s chosen charter operator, Celerity, opened a new charter school two blocks away.
How did that work out? It was a failure for Parent Revolution, The New York Times reported in a Sept. 24 article. “... [O]nly about a third of the parents who initially signed the [McKinley] petition ended up enrolling their children in the charter school … [and] only a fraction of the charter students are from Compton.”
One hallmark of Parent Revolution is attacking teachers. During the McKinley Elementary School brouhaha in Compton, Parent Revolution filed charges against teachers with the California State Board of Education and the US Department of Education. Parent Revolution has continually sent out a clear message that teachers are obstructions to the success of low-income students.
Parent Revolution has been working on another Parent Trigger petition drive for many months at Mount Gleason Middle School in Sunland-Tujunga within the Los Angeles Unified School District, but media reports indicate support is lagging. So far, there are no other accomplishments on Parent Revolution’s list.
Having failed so far, Parent Revolution is moving on to a new strategy of targeting PUSD, sending paid organizers to recruit parents at several PUSD schools.
California’s public schools rank nationally near the bottom in funding compared with other states, and it’s not surprising that parents are frustrated by large class sizes, inadequate facilities and other problems. Parent Revolution can’t fix these legitimate concerns but seeks to exploit common frustrations, getting enough parents riled up to create confusion and controversy. While Parent Revolution regroups from the Compton failure, the organization’s wealthy financial backers need to be convinced that it’s still busy doing something worth funding, and now it seeks to use PUSD parents to accomplish that.
One red flag is Parent Revolution’s complete lack of experience and expertise in improving any school anywhere. Another is its method of attacking teachers and pitting parents against teachers. Does anyone really think that parents can improve schools while treating teachers as the enemy, an opponent to be conquered? Will blaming and undermining your children’s teachers increase students’ respect for education and boost their academic success?
Or should parents and teachers work as partners to improve schools?
Parents should be involved and empowered. They can join PUSD’s School Site Council and make change through their local PTA or other parent-teacher organization and should be vocal and active advocates with their schools and district.
But they shouldn’t be lured by the false promises of an organization that is working to pit them against their kids’ teachers, tear down their schools and divert public education funding into the pockets of private charter school operators.
Caroline Grannan is a San Francisco public school parent, volunteer and advocate, as well as an education blogger and a founding member of Parents Across America (parentsacrossamerica.org).