February 11 2010

California Teachers Union Says Newly-Empowered Parents = "Mob Rule"

Vicki E. Alger

(This post was co-authored by Evelyn B. Stacey, Education Studies Policy Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, California)

When moms and dads act as boosters for the annual school bake sale, teachers unions applaud their "parental involvement." But empower those same parents to pick or fix their children's schools (what some of us would consider real parental involvement), teachers union leaders in California last month called it "two of the most objectionable ideas developed in this special session on education," likening it to "mob rule," and a "lynch mob" provision.

[Note: Public outcry erupted over the California Federation of Teachers' "lynch mob" crack. See here, here, and here]

What put teachers unions, along with the California School Boards Association (CSBA), the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), the California School Employees Association (CSEA), and other members of the public-schooling establishment (p. 6), over the top? Race-to-the Top-specifically two reforms, dubbed "parent triggers," adopted in one bi-partisan bill last month to help make California more competitive for some $700 million in federal funding.

The first reform lets parents pick their children's schools. Parents of children enrolled in low-achieving public schools can transfer them out of their assigned public schools and into other public schools, including (horrors!) those outside their resident district-"a big change in state education policy." As a concession to the ed establishment, this provision was limited to just 1,000 schools. California currently has more than 2,800 schools failing to meet federal standards.

The second reform empowers parents to fix their children's schools. This provision requires low-performing schools to improve by hiring a new principal and staff or inviting in a charter school operator if a majority of parents sign petitions. Opponents lobbied hard against this measure, and some objected that parents of students in low-performing schools just can't be trusted with that kind of power. Ben Austin, founder of the Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, scoffed at such an idea. Still, a compromise was reached making only 75 schools statewide subject to this provision.

In spite of being watered down, the San Jose Mercury News rightly hailed these reforms as "a watershed moment" and "an unmistakable message to ineffective school boards, turf-protecting administrators and intransigent teachers unions: Listen to parents, or they'll bowl you over."  Likewise upon signing these reforms into law last month California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared, "Today is a truly historic day for children and parents throughout the state of California-and for the future of our state's education system," adding that:

...the signing of these legislative measures into law demonstrates California is ready to break away from the status-quo and work to truly improve education for students-as envisioned by President Obama's Race to the Top initiative. The reforms...will change the culture of education in California by empowering parents to have a true voice in making choices for their children and ensuring their voices are heard at every level of their school district.

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