Friday, April 22, 2011

Teachers Veto Parent Trigger

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
In a potential (albeit double-edged) victory for teachers, they may gain the power to nullify charter conversions resulting from California’s Parent Trigger law. The law has been in limbo, as the State Board of Education tried to resolve conflicts and ambiguities in its original wording. A final version probably won’t be completed until July, reports John Fensterwald - Educated Guess, in his Toped piece: Could teachers veto charter option?

It is a victory for teachers because it gives them some power to fight the potential layoffs or loss of union rights that typically result from charter school conversion. Charter schools conversion also typically reduces or eliminates teacher and parent oversight and their voices from decision-making. It is also a victory for teachers because they are in the best position to understand the needs of their student population and to be able to see the larger picture and plan reforms that benefit the majority of students, rather than a vocal subset.

The decision is potentially double-edged because if teachers veto a decision made by the majority of parents, they will likely alienate parents and exacerbate relations with a powerful ally. This could increase animosity toward their unions and further fuel the anti-teacher hysteria that is currently poisoning the education reform discourse. However, this should not happen if teachers cultivate strong relationships with parents in the first place and work with them to develop a common understanding of the needs of the school and solutions that are not only beneficial to students, but that also preserve parent and teacher oversight of the school.

The problem is that the Parent Trigger law is not really about parent power at all. It is a Trojan Horse that allows private charter school companies to force their way into districts under the illusion that parents made the decision. This was clearly manifested at Compton’s McKinley Elementary, the law’s first test case, where Parent Revolution, a front group for Green Dot Charter Schools, funded and manipulated the process, even resorting to intimidation and extortion in order to pad the vote. Astroturf organizations like Parent Revolution will certainly exploit any teacher resistance to their advantage, making it even more urgent for teachers to be well-organized before anyone evens starts to discuss Parent Triggers.

The reason why teachers may win a veto over Parent Trigger charter conversions is because there was already a law on the books that allowed a majority of teachers to vote to convert their school to a charter school. Therefore, if a school hasn’t already been converted to a charter as a result of a majority vote of teachers, it can be assumed that a majority of teachers did not want a charter conversion. Because the Parent Trigger law must follow existing law, a group of parents should not be able to overrule a prior decision by teachers.

If a reform is truly worth doing (i.e., it is both beneficial to students and the benefits outweigh the costs), then it would make the most sense for there to be a consensus of all stakeholders, rather than pitting one group against another. Alienating any of the stakeholders can undermine their buy-in and full participation and consequently the success of the reform.

Not surprisingly, the Astroturf phony parent power proponents are angry with this turn of events. Advocates say that the purpose of the law “is to empower parents to change schools, not put obstacles in the way,” reports Fensterwald. He also quotes Gabe Rose, deputy director of Parent Revolution, who said “It’s nonsensical on its face” to also require teachers’ approval. Tellingly, Rose also noted that if teachers wanted a conversion, they would have already done it, suggesting that he doesn’t give a damn about the professional expertise of teachers or their concerns and issues. He simply wants free reign to use his vast war chest to manipulate, bully, intimidate and confuse parents in opposition to teachers and in support of his corporate charter school buddies.

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