By Bruno Behrend
[Sigh]…Diane Ravitch launched another attack on the Parent Trigger. One of America’s best known reformers is now an apologist for an overpriced and failing education bureaucracy.
Let’s start with this. California’s Parent Trigger is not a perfect law. There is no such thing. That said, it is a powerful tool that empowers parents to enforce real accountability. It does this by forcing school districts to implement real reforms for failing schools (as defined by a state standard).
Opponents like Ms. Ravitch attack the law as “punitive,” and rail against its ability to expand of charter schools. I address most of those critiques in the long post below.
Before delving into the debate, however, I hope you take a moment to reflect on just how beneficial the expansion of the Parent Trigger might be when expanded to digital, blended, and online options.
The current California law allows for conversion to school closure, conversion to a charter, and two bureaucratic options called turnaround and transformation. The two bureaucratic options are cumbersome, and will likely lead to very slow progress in turning around a school.
In our Heartland Institute brief analyzing Parent Trigger, we advocated for adding a voucher option where the infrastructure necessary to take advantage of private schools exists.
If a state has a virtual charter or other digital options, any child attending a failing school should be able to have that option as a trigger as well, perhaps even across state lines. Like the Florida and Utah laws, if a child can take advantage of an on-line course, the money should follow the child as they avail themselves of that option.
The fact remains that whether the option is a charter, a voucher, or digital courses, we cannot transform education until districts with failing schools are threatened with the loss of schools, students and funds. Legislators might consider adding options to any Parent Trigger legislation filed in the next legislative session. The Parent Trigger law isn’t perfect, strengthening and expanding parental options will improve the law.
To read Diane Ravitch’s attack on the trigger, go here. My response to her main points is below.
Ravitch: “The Trigger is a ‘deceptive scheme’”
Many parents have discovered no “scheme” is more “deceptive” than your typical school district, where a class of superintendents are trained to obfuscate facts, avoid FOIA requests, and generally shield budgets and contract negotiations until after the citizens have no say.
The Parent Trigger is generally an open and accountable process. Regardless of how the petition campaign is run, the signatures must be verified. There is nothing deceptive about it, particularly when compared to the one of the most deceptive government entities of all – the school district.
Ravitch: “All options are punitive.”
To whom? If a district has been failing to properly educate children for years, then they are the people that DESERVE to lose control of the school. Ms. Ravitch calls it punitive. I call it REAL accountability, not the false accountability of a worthless vote in a rigged, off-year board election.
The Charter Option is hardly punitive for the parent or child. For them, the charter option allows them to dismantle failed “government” infrastructure.
To be sure, charter accountability is an important component, but easily addressed by mandating transparency. Districts have had the ability to shut down failing charters all along. It is time to empower parents so they can shut down failing districts schools.
Hence, charters are a GOOD option. Allowing a voucher, or access to a digital learning option, would be even better.
Ravitch: The promoter of the legislation, Parent Revolution, is “what is known as an ‘Astroturf’ group, an organization pretending to be representative of ordinary parents, but actually promoting a charter agenda.”
I am getting tired of this absurd critique. ALL the education codes in every state have been written by the “promoters” of the existing system. These “promoters,” made up of unions, the DOE, state/local bureaucrats, and backed by an army of government employees, have literally purchasedthe legislation that has made US education the morass of waste, opacity, and mandates that it has become.
Furthermore, these “promoters” have done so out of morally illegitimate financial interests (protecting and expanding their pay, payroll, and job security).
The reader of this post must keep in mind that Parent Revolution, a liberal/progressive group of reformers, is entirely within its rights to “promote” dismantling failed district infrastructure. They are engaged in a pitched political battle with a giant Government Education Complex of well-funded financial interests.
Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations, along with many others on the left and right, are perfectly legitimate in their fight to transform education. Certainly everyone has a right to look at their motivation, but when the most powerful interest groups in the nation – the Complex – do so, their crocodile tears amount to a sad joke.
Lastly “Promoting a charter agenda” is a great tool for parental empowerment. Triggering a voucher or digital options would be even better. This isn’t Astroturf. It is old fashioned “community organizing,” and there is nothing wrong with it.
Ravitch: “To me, a public school is a public trust.”
The system has lost that trust.
It is time to force them to face real accountability, not the false hope of useless commissions, studies, meaningless elections, and the shifting sands of musical chair superintendents and education fads (class size, self-esteem, balanced illiteracy, and the latest fad in churning curriculum providers).
Compared to the existing system, those trying to transform education deserve a shot at the title, particularly where the system has failed.
Ravitch: “It means if those who use Central Park in Manhattan don’t like the way the city of New York takes care of it, they should be able to sign a petition and privatize it.”
This is an utterly silly analogy. A city park is not a child’s education. You can’t force people to go to a badly managed park, yet we force children to attend failing schools.
This kind of analogy, however, does expose Ms. Ravitch’s worldview. She protects the system, not the child. It is time to stop caring about districts, systems, unions, bureaucracies, commissions, and the churning of dollars that public education has devolved into.
Trigger laws challenge the failed district system with true accountability. This can only be done by draining the district of funds and students when it fails. If your district schools are good, you have nothing to fear. If they are not good, empower the parents. It’s that simple.