The following is an OP-Ed proposal the L.A. Times would not print.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. That is one of the first lessons I teach my students in economics. I realize the statement identifies me as a teacher and to some that is somehow tantamount to confessing that I am a villain. That is unfair because I love teaching. I am also the Board President of the Adelanto School District– the first district (albeit by court order) to accept a Parent-Trigger petition. This article is to clear some of the misperceptions surrounding that event. And that brings me back to the lack of free lunches.
A true story illustrates this point. A few years back, I was in line at a gas station store for a cup of coffee. Ahead of me was man in a hurry and not in the best of moods. He paid for his coffee, but did not grab the complimentary newspaper that went with it. The attendant called out to him. “Hey, you forgot your free newspaper!” The man turned around. “Can anyone walk in here and grab a newspaper,” he asked. The answer was no. You had to buy a cup of coffee first. “Then it’s not free,” he concluded.
Another true story that illustrates this point is Parent Revolution’s involvement in the Desert Trails’ Parent-Trigger petition. Parent Revolution is the corporation behind the Parent Trigger law. Their expert advice and related professional services may be called “Pro Bono”, but it is not free. They have an agenda that must be satisfied.
The Parent-Trigger Law allows parents of underperforming schools to circulate a petition that will force the implementation of one out of several federal school interventions. Restarting a school as a charter is one of the options. The parents of Desert Trails Elementary School have said from the start that they did not want a charter. They wanted reforms. Parent Revolution, however, devised a two-petition strategy that had parents sign two different petitions. The first petition was described as wanting reforms that included changes to the teacher collective bargaining agreement, curriculum, and professional development. Absolutely nothing that is not up for negotiation or review periodically anyway. The second petition was for a charter. The purpose of the second petition was to strategically intimidate the district into taking the first petition seriously. At least that is how it was described. Interestingly, it was the second petition for a charter that was actually submitted.
Many parents representing almost 100 students wanted to take back their signatures. They did not want a charter. They felt misled or confused by the signature gathering process. The school board honored the requests of these parents and did not include them in the petition count. This brought the number of signatures below the required amount to make the petition valid. Parent Revolution backed the lawsuit against the district that had this decision reversed. The judge in this case ruled that the school board was prohibited from allowing parents to change their minds.
In the meanwhile, the district had been working with the community to bring reforms to the school. The reforms include adding instructional minutes to the school day, a new curriculum, staff development, an infusion of technology, a memorandum of understanding with the teacher union, signed pledges by teachers to support these reforms, a school site coach to support the reforms, an elected council to oversee the reforms, and of course, an excellent principal to make it happen. In short, what the parents wanted.
The school board complied with the judge’s order and accepted the petition. The board also concluded that it was not possible to implement a charter for this school year. The board, as allowed under the Parent-Trigger law, chose another intervention that supported the reforms instead. A charter school option for next school year as sought by Parent Revolution would undermine the efforts of improving the school THIS YEAR. Parent Revolution backed another lawsuit against the district anyway.
It is not true that the board has tried to stymie the law and blocked improvements to the school. That is crazy talk that makes no sense. What is true is that the parents stated that they did not want a charter. What is true is that Parent Revolution will not agree to place this question up to the parents in a secret ballot vote. What is true is that a lawsuit and a charter school the parents did not want are undermining the reforms that have been set in place to improve the school. Why is that happening? I suggest it is because Parent Revolution is calling the shots and there is no such thing as a free lunch.