California’s 20th Street Elementary School will be under new management this fall after a group of parents used the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the “parent trigger” law, to reach an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
California’s parent trigger law allows parents dissatisfied with their children’s low-performing school to sign a petition to intervene by “replacing all or some of the staff, turning the school over to a charter operator, transforming it through some programs, or closing the school altogether,” according to the California Department of Education website.
The first “trigger” 20th Street parents pulled on LAUSD in 2014 led to an agreement with the district to provide several concessions to improve the floundering school. Parents were not satisfied with the district’s level of fulfillment of its promises, and they filed a second parent trigger petition in February 2016, which 262 parents signed. The district initially rejected the second petition, saying it wasn’t valid because the district is exempt from using the performance measurement the petition requested.
The two sides reached a deal in July, avoiding a lawsuit. Accepting the district’s concession 20th Street would not become an independent charter school, parents chose to join the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization that manages 17 other Los Angeles schools. In a press release, LAUSD said, “The Partnership is dedicated to bringing additional resources to high-need schools and generating innovative solutions that can be implemented districtwide.”
Persistence Seen as Key
Gabe Rose—chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, the group that helped organize the petition drive to activate both parent trigger campaigns—says parents had to keep pushing the district to provide results.
“We first met some of the 20th Street parents back in March 2014, when they approached us asking for help,” Rose said. “They were very frustrated with their school’s performance, but they felt like they hadn’t been able to get the district to make changes on their own. We’ve been working with them and helping them ever since.”
Rose says the second petition was necessary, because after the district “[promised] parents the moon, everything felt like business as usual.”
Rose says the parent trigger parents are satisfied with the agreement.
“Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is an organization that runs schools within LAUSD; [it] has a proven track record of raising achievement at the lowest-performing schools in LAUSD, where they currently run 17 schools,” Rose said. “It is empowered to manage the day-to-day instructional program at the school. Parents wanted new management for the school that could deliver on promises of change, and they believe that is what they have now.”
‘Parents Back in Charge’
Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says the parent trigger law gives parents the power they deserve.
“The beauty of the law is that it takes teachers unions out of the picture and puts parents back in charge,” Sand said. “Instead of bureaucrats and union bosses making decisions about a child’s education, it puts parents front and center.”
Sand says the parent trigger law also functions as a spur for change.
“It’s sad it has to come to that, but if a school has become complacent, a [parent trigger] jolt may be just what the doctor ordered,” Sand said. “Parent Empowerment threatens the education status quo, and that’s just what a sclerotic system needs.”
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.