Saturday, November 20, 2010

Parent Triggers: People Power or Corporate Financed Witch Hunts?

Parents are understandably frustrated with low test scores, low graduation rates and a persistent achievement gap. Many are demanding change and believe the delusion that charter schools will solve all these problems. One of the latest Ed Deform tactics is called the Parent Trigger. It works like this: if a school has been in program improvement for four or more years, and has at least 51% parental support, parents can force the school to become a charter or shut it down.

The Parent Trigger has been allowed in California for the past year. Many other states are in the process of enacting similar provisions. It has been touted as an example of parent power. In reality, it is lynch mob power serving the interests of education profiteers.

Like the Tea Party movement, which is portrayed as a grassroots movement of angry citizens who want to take back government, the Parent Revolution movement looks like angry parents who just want to take back control of their dysfunctional schools. Also like the Tea Party movement, which has heavy corporate backing, the Parent Revolution movement does, too, especially by for-profit charter schools and EMOs like Green Dot.

We tend to give a lot of lip service to democracy in our country, but reduce the concept to the simplistic idea of majority rule. If the majority wants it, they feel entitled to it, even if others’ rights are suppressed in the process. If the majority believes it, then it must be true, even when it’s not. The majority of Europeans once believed the Earth was the center of the universe and they created their own lynch mobs to persecute and kill scientists who claimed otherwise. The majority of Southern whites tolerated or even approved of Jim Crow, with very real lynch mobs to support it.

Even if a school truly needs help (remember that virtually all California schools will be in Program Improvement by 2015, even the good ones, due to the Enron accounting tactics of NCLB), throwing out the baby with the bathwater by closing schools and giving it all away to for-profit education management organizations won’t solve these problems. This line of reasoning (if you can even call it reasoning) presumes that anything is better than the status quo. Ample research shows that most charter schools perform the same as or worse than traditional public schools. They also tend to be more segregated, spend less on curriculum and supplies, and they have higher teacher turnover due to low pay and stressful working conditions. Ironically, charter schools also tend to be autocratic and squeeze out community oversight and participation, thus reducing parental power.

Another problem with the Parent Trigger is that it presumes that parents know better than the professionals. Can you imagine if patients could force a medical clinic to shut down, fire its entire staff, and sell out to a private firm because it operates in a low income community where mortality rates tend to be higher than in more affluent communities? A better way to empower parents would be to have the 51% petition for a change that includes the collaboration of existing teachers and staff, and that does not necessarily lead to privatization.

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