Triggering Parents

No matter where you go in the education reform discussions, it is impossible to avoid some sort of discussion on parents and families.  Earlier this year, as Connecticut was working its way through a comprehensive reform law, we had teachers blaming parents for kids coming to school ill-prepared to learn and incapable of showing educators the respect needed in the classroom.

There was even the head of a local teachers union who declared that teaching would be much easier if it weren’t for the kids and parents involved.  Now who could disagree with that?
In return, parents voiced frustration with teachers.  Groups like the Connecticut Parents Union demanded greater oversight and accountability for teachers, calling for overhaul of tenure laws and seeking to revisit a previous legislative fight to bring a “parent trigger” to the state.
Of course, the Parents Union was talking about a law like that adopted in California (and enacted by more than a dozen other states).  The “Parent Trigger” is the ultimate form of family engagement.  When a majority of parents or guardians in a given school agree that their children’s school is in need of turnaround, they can vote to reconstitute the school and bring about the sort of school improvement so many parents think.
No surprise, then, that the coalition of the status quo is opposed to such actions.  While we want parents to make sure their kids do their homework and bring their books to school, we certainly don’t want them meddling in how a school operates, what it teaches, or what is expected of educators. 
As the power of the “Parent Trigger” continues to grow, and as more and more parents seek this sort of power, it only makes sense that that coalition is going to try and discredit the effort.  They resort to name calling (with Diane Ravitch and others taking to the Internet to call it the “parent tricker.”  Get it?)  And then going even further to suggest that the who “Parent Trigger” movement was some sinister corporate plot to fool parents and turn all of our schools into Wal-Marts and One-Hour Martinizers.
Fortunately, there are some that are seeking to set the record straight.  There are some that are speaking up to educate and inform about the real origins of the Parent Trigger and the real power of meaningful parental engagement.
Over at redefinED, former California State Sen. Gloria Romero has a terrific piece on the Parent Trigger in California.  Why is this piece so important?  Senator Romero is the actual author of the California Parent Trigger law.  Speaking directly to Ravitch and her followers about efforts to disparage the origins of the law and the people who advocated for it, Romero writes:

Diane, I’m a product of public education, from kindergarten through Ph.D. I believe in the power of education. I understood the dreams of my mother, and the recognition that it is education that lifts us out of poverty and is the gate of entry to the American Dream. I never forgot where I came from, including that I was “counseled” in high school not to attend college. Too many kids like me from “the other side of town” experienced and continue to experience the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Hollywood makes nice movies about standing and delivering on behalf of kids, who are caught simply by virtue of zip code in chronically failing schools. But even then, generation after generation of children are sent back to those same schools with the same bureaucrats running them, simply to fail yet again. I proudly represented East Los Angeles. Garfield High School was in my district – that iconic school that Hollywood later immortalized in ”Stand and Deliver,” starring Eddie Olmos as Jaime Escalante. (I knew him too, and know great teachers matter.) But once the movie left the theaters, the demand for change dissipated. I wanted to revive it. We need to revive it.

Remember, my generation learned lessons not only from the non-violent boycott of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also from the by-any-means-necessary view of Malcolm X. Therefore, I also believe in the urgency of now, the power of the boycott (yes, I knew Cesar Chavez too), and the courage it takes to declare that we shall overcome by any means necessary. I know firsthand that separate is not equal. I have personally experienced what it means for kids like me when teachers and principals don’t believe in us, and tell us that our educational futures do not include a path to college.

So we may never agree on the law itself. But I ask you to be honest about its origins. And about the hard work and integrity of the people, mostly women of color, who understood what this meant for our children and our communities. Please do not disrespect me, a Latina from the Eastside, by falsifying the idea of the bill, and how I took an idea, shaped it into legislation, and gave life to it by forming a coalition that took on the number one political force in California – and succeeded!

In our quest to improve public schools for all, we must, at some point, move beyond the name calling and the ascription of personal motives and focus on the quality of the idea itself.  If one doesn’t like Parent Trigger, offer an alternative path for parents to get substantively involved in the direction of their local public schools.  But insinuating that parents are easily tricked and there are shadowy figures manipulating state senators, the clergy, the civil rights community and so many others who brought the California law to existence does no one any good.

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