Sunday, December 19, 2010

Calif. parents reclaim a failing school - and make history

By Arnold Schwarzenegger (Published in the Washington Post)
Thursday, December 16, 2010

History is usually made by a small group of passionate people. On Dec. 7, history was made by a small group of parents in Compton, Calif.

Their children attend McKinley Elementary School - a school that has been defined as failing for the past 10 years. Using a new power known as the "parent trigger," which I fought for and state legislators approved last year, these Compton parents banded together to demand change. The legislation allows parents of students at troubled schools to demand such significant reforms as closing a school, replacing a school's management or most of its staff, or reorganizing a school into a charter, if 51 percent of parents sign a petition.

McKinley Elementary is being reorganized and will soon be transformed into a charter school run by Celerity Educational Group, which is successfully operating three other schools in California.

Some have called this action "the shot heard across the country" - and they're not overstating the case.

How AMAZING! Parents have been given true power in California!

Without the power of the trigger legislation, parents whose children are in what the documentary and others call "dropout factories" have only one avenue to save their children. They must win a lottery to get them into a highly performing charter school.

Across the country, millions of families' prayers go unanswered. These parents are left to face the bleak reality that their child will be forever stuck in a failing school and a failing system. The exit doors may as well be chained.

For millions of low-income families, this means that their child is doomed to a life of unrealized potential.

For millions of California families, this is the shattering of the American dream.

Now, however, for the first time in California history, these historically underserved parents have new power and new choice.

The package of reforms I signed in January gives parents significant options for changing their child's school as well as the freedom to leave failing schools or send their child to a new school or even a new district. Schools are eligible for the 51 percent trigger if they have been judged under state standards to have shown no progress for three consecutive years.

This sort of majority-demanded restructuring is exactly what just happened at McKinley Elementary School. More than 60 percent of McKinley parents signed a petition and chose to convert to a charter school.

Throughout history, all great movements have started at the grass-roots level, with ordinary citizens and communities rising up to demand change.

In California, like in many other states, our public education system is not based on merit or holding the adults in whose care we have placed our children accountable. Some students get a good education, but others do not, and report after report reaches the same conclusion: No matter how much money we throw at the problem, unless the school is fundamentally fixed, we will not get the results in student performance we all deserve.

Giving parents the power to hold their schools accountable is a giant step forward, and I believe that what happened in Compton is the beginning of a movement that will sweep the nation.

Yeah Arnold!! I hope our new governor has half the muscle and moxie you do!


Anonymous said...

It starts with an acknowledgment that the school is broken. I think in DeKalb the parents who realize there is a problem have been allowed to opt out, leaving the least involved at the worst performing schools.

At the superintendent search meeting I said that I suspect that many parents in DeKalb don't realize how low performing their schools are. A teacher in attendance turned around and told me that is true.

When I as on the CPTF it really pained me to listen to parent after parent say good things about their very low performing schools. I understand that there are qualitative things that make a school feel good, but academically these schools could be doing better.

In DeKalb, unlike in Compton and other places, I don't find that there is a realization that things aren't working in individual schools. It takes a grass roots effort. Many of the public schools in California that have been converted to charters, using outside management have a grass roots community based effort. I see no evidence of that existing in many of DeKalb's poorest communities.

Lynn D

Anonymous said...

this article leaves out the fact that the parents were not the driving force in pulling this "charter trigger". Instead "Parent Revolution" a LA non-profit apparently lied (some parents were told that they were signing a petition for school beautification), harassed, and bullied parents into signing the charter petition.

Read more here:

If Gov Schwarzenegger was really serious about improving the schools in Compton, California he would increase funding for local public libraries, increase food stamp and WIC funding and ensure that health care is available to all the children and parents in his state.

Anonymous said...

I attended a US Department of Education presentation earlier this year and I did get the impression that some the charter starters in California have not been playing by the rules. Nor are they really interested in educating every child.

Anonymous said...

These charter companies have one goal - to MAKE MONEY. They care very little about the education of the children.

Anonymous said...

You have to be very careful about reorganizing into charters. Many charter "companies" are for-profit, which makes no sense in a school setting to me.

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous, 11:24 AM

You have to be very careful about reorganizing into charters. Many charter "companies" are for-profit, which makes no sense in a school setting to me.

I have no problem with a "for profit" company setting up charter schools, as long as they are successful in their core business: educating our students. That's one of the great things about charter schools. They must set academic goals and commit to meeting these academic goals. If they do not meet their goals, they are shut down.

Look at it this way: could a charter school company (who stays in business only if they are successful in meeting academic goals contracted in the school charter) do worse than DCSS?

The only "core business" DCSS and its BOE "enabling partner" are successful in is corruption.

Anonymous said...

There are a precious few innovative, smart people who have suggested this-- Sandy Spruill for one. I admire this in a person. Most are too fearful to step out.

Anonymous said...

Do you think this is helpful?

""A few years ago, we had a no late work policy in my department. Guess,what....VERY few students attempted to turn in late work (maybe 3 out of 100) and the rest turned in everything on time. Everything was fresh in their minds and led to a better product. Then, we had to change this due to a "shift in the district philosophy." Now we are required to accept any
late assignment until the very last minute. The result, a lot of poorly done assignments, thrown together in December for things we required in August.

This goes for assessments also-- miss a test/quiz in August, make
it up in December.""

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 11:58---I guess what I am saying is, how do you make money in education? Any money used in the process of educating should benefit children and not some CEO. I don't think DCSS does a good job of spending money wisely, but how does a for-profit company make money without detriment to students. And all charter schools are not in the business of making money. I have no problem with these schools.

Anonymous said...

What happens when these companies who run charter schools begin to be less profitable or even start to lose money?

They pull out and afterwards an even bigger mess is left.

No, these "for profit" charter companies are one goal - making money.

Anonymous said...

"I don't find that there is a realization that things aren't working in individual schools. It takes a grass roots effort. Many of the public schools in California that have been converted to charters, using outside management have a grass roots community based effort. I see no evidence of that existing in many of DeKalb's poorest communities."

Many parents in the poorer communities of Dekalb did not receive a good education,so they don't really know what to expect for their children. I agree it does take a grass roots effort. That effort would have to first start with honestly educating the parents in some of these areas about what a good education should and should not look like. These communities need honest leadership from within to educate the entire community. Hopefully, a knowledgeable group of parents, with proper leadership, will fight for a good education for their kids.

Anonymous said...

The Wall Street Journal has mentioned this law twice in recent weeks, and both times has listed Georgia as one of the states that is considering a similar law.

I googled this and found that Glenn Delk, an Atlanta attorney, is proposing this. I missed it but apparently he wrote an opinion piece in the AJC on this in September.

We should keep an eye on this.

Anonymous said...

For profit companies don't have the waste that DCSS does. They can't afford to have it and make a profit. They don't give people 44% raises and know that they need to provide the children with a quality education, as parents can choose to go somewhere else. Demands on teachers are higher and teacher are expect to care, and go above and beyond.

I am all for for-profit companies in education if the results are better than the status quo.

I agree with those that have said most DCSS parents in low performing schools don't understand that the school is failing their child. Their child has a false sense of pride and it won't be until the child fails out of college or barely passes the graduation exams that they will, if ever, figure it out and then it will be too late.

DCSS is not going to change given the current board, the results of the election, and the parents lack of knowledge and/or care. The corruption that flows throughout DeKalb is appalling to me. I am ready to sell my house and take whatever I am offered to get out. Not sure why the county government or the school board aren't willing to use the funds that they have in a fiscally responsible way.

Anonymous said...

"Not sure why the county government or the school board aren't willing to use the funds that they have in a fiscally responsible way. "

1. It is profitable for them to do business the way they currently do it.
2. They are not really very knowledgeable about business operations.

Anonymous said...

Delk's article in the AJC

Cerebration said...

I'm sorry. Charter or not, I think we can do better than the current leadership who continues to skim from the top for themselves, leaving bones and scraps for teachers and students.

Anonymous said...

A few things about California (from a former Los Angeles teacher).

First, many of the charter schools mandate parent participation. These charter schools behave much like private schools in that parents must comply or the child will be removed. Parent participation directly correlates to academic performance. Parent participation often results in the availablility of additional funds. Additional funds results in access to better equipment, more teaching tools, and access to enrichment activities (ie field trips, etc), which in turn correlates to improved academic achievement.

Second, the charter schools are much smaller than the regular public schools. Thus, the students tend to perform better.

Third, many parents opt to return their children to a regular public school for high school. The small charter schools often do not have comprehensive athletic programs, so the parents of athletes enroll them in the large schools with reputable sports programs.

Fourth, there are INDEPENDENT charter schools and DEPENDENT charter schools. Independent charter schools are in almost complete control of their budgets/funds, hiring, curriculum, etc. Dependent charters are not.

Fifth, despite the parental trigger, California teachers enjoy union protection. Teacher pay (in LAUSD)is protected by 3-year contracts. Teachers may transfer relatively freely throughout the district within that time.

Sixth, charter schools are "results driven." Ineffective administrators and inferior instructors diminish profits. Charter schools have a vested interest in delivering a "quality product." Thus, "dead weight" is transferred out ASAP.

Seventh, Theme-based schools in California are real. For example, King-Drew Medical Magnet students actually work in the hospital across the street from the school--in Watts. For more examples, see Crenshaw High School's Teacher Training Magnet and Food from the Hood; the World Languages Magnet at Venice High; the Law Magent at Dorsey HS.

Last, many school districts in CA are confident in the expertise of the teachers. Are there problems? Of course. But, to even begin to replicate some of the successful educational movements occurring in California and other places around the nation, DCSS must begin by trimming the fat and waste at the top.

Question: How is it that the superintendent of DCSS (100,000 students) earns MORE annually than the salary allocated for the governor of California (one of the most populated states in the country)?

Loquacious from CA