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You’ve probably been watching or reading about a remarkable event here in California–a group of parents at Compton’s McKinley Elementary using the nation’s first “trigger law” to transfer management of the school. It’s an important story, raising interesting questions about a potentially useful law that is already being imitated across the country.

The problem is that you are getting the for-profit and charter school industry’s script–word for word–by most major news outlets, print and broadcast. Here’s some of the story you didn’t get:

+ The Compton parents didn’t rise up on their own; they were among half a dozen communities targeted for door-to-door sales campaigning by Parent Revolution, an “Astroturf organization” (ie, fake grassroots) spun off by Green Dot, a charter group managing fifteen Los Angeles schools.

+ As calculated by Caroline Grannan: by Parent Revolution’s own standards, all but one of Green Dot’s schools are failing, and on average have a California Academic Performance Index of 632, well below the 670 average of the schools that Parent Revolution has targeted for “trigger law” applications.

+ The school will now be taken over by Celerity, a four-school charter operation infamous for firing two teachers who included “A Wreath for Emmett Till” in their 2007 seventh-grade Black History Month celebration.

+In response to the firings, Celerity director Vielka McFarlane said “We don’t want to focus on how the history of the country has been checkered, but on how do we dress for success, walk proud and celebrate all the accomplishments we’ve made.”

+The California trigger law was written and proposed by the fake parent organization, a point well understood by state legislators. It passed by one vote, largely because of the ratchet on already-beyond-critical budget pressure imposed by Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top competition.

None of the major reports (Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, ABC, even the California NPR affiliates) even mention the connection between Green Dot and Parent Revolution, much less explore the dubious record of charter schools generally or the even more unimpressive record of Green Dot in particular. Most quote Vielka McFarlane, but none critically examine the pedagogy, record, or curriculum of Celerity schools. None point out that one of the quirks of the California trigger law is that the parents’ options for new school management are laid out in four fairly rigid tracks, meaning that choosing to explore the charter track doesn’t initiate an open competition. Only the Los Angeles paper noted the imposition of Celerity without competition, and none of the major accounts pointed out that in recent large-scale open competition with teacher-run charter applications, the teacher-led charters won overwhelmingly.

Lame? Sure. But sadly par for the corporate media.

How Should We Respond?

In a word: thoughtfully. I think if written and used properly, versions of trigger laws can actually be used to facilitate democratic change from below, especially when parents and teachers work together. Similar to the heartening example of the overwhelming victory of teacher-led schools in the large-scale charter competition, I have tremendous faith in the radically-democratic partnership of teachers, parents and students.

I agree that the California law is flawed, and that some parents will be manipulated by the powerful alliance of politicians, corporate media and charter/for-profit management companies.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of potential good to forcing educator trade unions to get out there and organize their communities against the bad ideas of the powerful forces arrayed against the best interests of their kids.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow: Teachers who talk to parents generally find that parents get it; parents support teachers and teaching for the whole person, not the test-prep-and-dress-for-success pap of Duncan, Rhee, and the corporate-managed charters.

There’s a real parent revolution out there, California teachers–just waiting for you to organize it.



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