As I read Watanabe’s LA Times piece on Compton’s McKinley elementary trigger law saga, I felt like I was in some altered universe. The right pieces seem to be in place, but it all feels so wrong. We’ve got parents engaged in the process—great! A call for full fledged reform in a severely underserved school—awesome! But all is not right in Trigger World.
With the California trigger law we’ve gone from utterly ignoring parent voice (parents of color in particular) in public education to making each PTA a mini-state legislature. With 51% of the parent vote a failing school can be converted into a charter, shutdown, or 50% of staff fired. Now that’s power! …But is it the right power and to whom has it really been granted?
Parent Revolution, the organizing body behind the Trigger Law and McKinley Elementary parents, is closely tied to the charter organization Green Dot. They receive some 80% of their funding from Green Dot. So, the parent revolution may be more like a charter invasion. Hmmm, with all this charter money behind them, I wonder which of the three trigger options parents will endorse? In Trigger World it looks like charter school companies may be the ones really holding the gun.
Which leads to the other issue. If we really believe in parent engagement and giving parents power; it seems hypocritical to give parents only three choices for reform. Who wants to see their neighborhood school closed, or to fire staff? Beginning a charter, the shiny new penny in everyone’s reform toolkits from Obama to the states; is the only halfway palatable option. It’s a Hobson’s choice, given to parents with the fewest resources and tools for making demands on the system.
The irony is that everyone may be right in this dysfunctional debate. If the McKinley trigger is successful and they get their charter, it may well be a better school than the status quo. After all, there are good charter schools. And people are watching this case. And districts are right that the trigger law is flawed. McKinley’s possible success doesn’t address the certain failure of charters in serving all children. Let’s also remember studies show charters to be little better than their traditional public school counterparts on average.
In the end, it’s a little insulting. Parents of color rarely get the limelight in public education. They deserve it! Their children are the least served. To finally “include” them—yet use their real distress to chase charter dreams instead of true education transformation is…unsettling. To pit their desperation to improve education for their own children against a broader need to insure thousands of other children aren’t lost in the charter fray is unconscionable.