Seven schools in The Argonaut coverage area are on the Parent Revolution’s list of schools that could be ripe for charter conversion under a state law.
Braddock Avenue and Stoner Avenue elementary schools and Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester, Grand View Elementary and Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista and Venice High School are on the list of 75 schools that have the potential to change hands from the Los Angeles Unified School District to a charter school using a new state law called the “parent trigger.” It allows for a traditional public school to be converted to a charter school if more than 50 percent of the parents at a school sign a petition requesting a change.
California schools that are on Program Improvement Year Three or above, have an Academic Performance Index (API) score of lower than 800 and are not classified as one of the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state are eligible for takeover under the new guidelines.
Program Improvement is a component of the national No Child Left Behind Act that mandates that each school adopt accountability measures known as Adequate Yearly Progress. If a school does not meet its progress goals, which include API scores, graduation levels and student participation rates in testing, it is placed in Program Improvement,
The Parent Revolution, a nonprofit school reform organization that has members from Venice and Westchester and ties to Green Dot Charter Schools, assisted a group of parents in Compton Dec. 7 in the first attempt to use the new law. After hearing from parents who both support and oppose the move to change McKinley Elementary School to a charter, the state Board of Education asked the state attorney general to open an investigation into the events surrounding the use of the controversial law.
The organization is hoping to lay the groundwork for a charter middle school to serve families from both neighborhoods, and an independent effort is also underway in Westchester.
Parent Revolution Deputy Director Gabe Rose acknowledged that his organization stands ready to assist families who want to reform their schools, including those on the list that are eligible for the parent trigger.
“We’ve heard that there is interest at Orville Wright and Mark Twain,” Rose acknowledged. “We are trying to support parents anywhere who want to organize and transform failing schools.
“(Since the Compton effort), we’ve heard from communities all over the state who are interested in transforming their schools.”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe, who is also the local board’s education chair, thinks the effects of using the law can have long-lasting ramifications that require a level of scrutiny.
“The name itself – parent ‘trigger’- should emphasize how serious an undertaking this option is. Just like a trigger on a weapon, once pulled, there are lasting consequences that cannot be undone,” DeSobe noted. “And there is no time to waste because kids need the best education now. They cannot stand by while adults sort out the realities of their decisions and engage in protracted struggles.”
Karen Wolfe, a Venice parent whose children attend Ocean Charter School in Del Rey, says there are advantages to having such a law, but also feels advocates of the parent trigger should think in broad terms of what its use could bring about.
“I think the parent trigger ismeaningful legislation because it demonstrates recognition that parents are evaluating educational choices and should have more control in that arena,” said Wolfe, a public relations specialist.“However, I would warn parents to make sure they’re not just voting for change for change’s sake. Make sure the group replacing their current group knows what they’re doing and that the new apparatus includes accountability.”
The state investigation could give all parties involved in improving public education an opportunity to assess the merits of the law, said LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents District 4, which includes Del Rey, Mar Vista, Westchester and Venice.
“I don’t reject out of hand the ability to convert to a charter,” Zimmer, who believes that there are “serious flaws” with the parent trigger law, said. “But I also believe that we need to find out who is funding this particular brand of transformation and who’s behind the radical anti-regulatory component of charter schools.”
Orville Wright Middle School Principal Kenneth Pride believes his school is on the right track, saying it was recently taken out of Program Improvement.
“I respect the right of every citizen to think and do whatever they feel is best for their own circumstances,” said the principal, who was an assistant principal at Westchester High School last year. “That said, I am a very strong proponent of traditional public schools.”
Marina Del Rey Middle School Assistant Principal Barbara Ledbetter said there has been no discussion about using the law at her school, to her knowledge. “Parents have never discussed taking over our school,” she said.
Ledbetter said her middle school has made great strides academically over the last several years, so the parents and administrators see the promise that it has.
“Schools with strong enrollment are going to hold off charters much easier, because they can argue that it isn’t needed,” Ledbetter reasoned.
Pride is also unaware of any overwhelming desire to use the parent trigger at his school. “Much of what’s happening with the parent trigger is borne out of frustration with what people perceive is wrong with LAUSD,” he said.
DeSobe said using the parent trigger should not be a decision that is undertaken without careful thought.
“I think it’s imperative that parents and families do a ton of research beforehand. If the school turns charter, will their child still be allowed to attend or will it be random lottery or something else? If a staff is turned over, who decides the hiring process for new staff?” he asked.
“There are so many questions and variables that must be explored and determined,” DeSobe, a former Compton Unified School District teacher, continued. “What is true is that kids must have a safe, welcoming school with the top-notch teacher talent supported by a principal with the highest expectations possible. And this school must prepare them to graduate from college.”
United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy welcomes the investigation.
“I hope that it’s a deep investigation,” said Duffy, whose members have clashed with the Parent Revolution over allegations of intimidation and underhanded tactics on previous LAUSD school initiatives. “It’s about time that the public knows what’s going on, which is siphoning off the best students to charter schools.”
While all charters organizations are operated independently, some have come under fire from education advocates for admitting only high-achieving students and accepting very few special needs and disabled students. In addition, in some instances, teachers who are in a union, like UTLA, would not receive the same benefits or could face a loss of tenure.
Westchester High School teacher Kenneth Tiegs feels that the charter movement has and will continue to have an adverse effect on traditional public education.
“The entire charter issue is quite disruptive. My real concern is if five years from now public education continues to be deregulated via the supposed ‘charter solution,’” said Tiegs, who teaches world history. “Why would anyone think deregulation of education would work after the example the financial industry set over the past 10 to 15 years?”
Rose said his organization would also help parents to reform their schools from within even if they did not want to change to a charter school. “We just want to help parents negotiate change,” he said.
Wolfe advised those who might be considering using the parent trigger to consider who will be running their school before using the new law.
“They should be experienced educators and administrators or they’ll end up in the same mess they’re in now,” she cautioned.
Tiegs feels the proliferation of charter schools could eventually lead to the demise of traditional public schools.
“Charters will bleed funding from true public schools; art, music and athletic programs may fall victim to the budget crisis; and the results will be the same, mixed results,” the teacher asserted. “The end result will be further segregation, stratification and decline of the public education system in our state.”
Duffy says he welcomes the challenge of having charter schools accept a comparable level of special needs and English as a first language students as LAUSD does, and then comparing academic achievement notes after a few years, something that he discussed in an interview with The Argonaut last year.
“I renew my challenge to charter schools that say they can do better with student achievement to accept local students (where they operate) and any students that walk through the door,” he asserted. “And then we’ll see who can do the best job of educating students.”