School Privatization Critics Slam Parent Trigger Law

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August 26, 2013 in Education

(Photo by Bill Raden)

The topic of last Thursday’s roundtable discussion hosted by the West Los Angeles Democratic Club was “The Privatization of Public Schools.” About 80 Democratic activists and Los Angeles Unified School District teachers  at Mar Vista’s St. Bede’s Episcopal Church heard teacher and former congressional candidate Marcy Winograd moderate a discussion of such hot-button issues as charter schools, co-locations, Parent Trigger and federal learning-standards-based programs such as No Child Left Behind.

Panelists included LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer, United Teachers L.A./National Education Association Vice President M.J. Roberts, Crossroads School for the Arts & Sciences founder and charter school advocate Paul Cummins, middle school teacher Loren Scott, former middle school principal Marcia Haskin and LAUSD parent and education blogger Sara Roos.

The evening’s harshest words were reserved for LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and Parent Trigger, the controversial law that allows 50 percent-plus-one of parents from an under-performing school to fire the staff and start over.

Winograd criticized Deasy for what she called his “massive giveaways of public schools” to charter companies and accused him of disingenuously brokering a three-year moratorium on charter transfers with the UTLA, but then increasing “reconstitution” — the process by which a school and its laid-off teaching staff is replaced by a magnet school and a new staff.

Roos, whose own child went through reconstitution, criticized the process as “wrenching” and one that vastly complicates a long-term plan of learning and commitment and connection between students and teachers, adding that “these sorts of reconstitutions are really doing violence to education.”

When it came to Parent Trigger, Zimmer said the law’s worst aspect is the confrontational organizing tactics of militant groups like the Walton Family Foundation-backed Parent Revolution, which “pits parents against each other.”

Scott went further. Not only, he said, is the law “specifically designed to pit one stakeholder against another.” Parent Trigger “takes hope and turns it to hate.” A better name for the law, he quipped, would be “Drive-By,” since the parents who pull the trigger pass out of the school after a couple of years, leaving the teachers and administration to deal with the takeover’s lingering repercussions.

The panel also expressed unanimity on the shortsightedness of standards-based teaching, a policy that Winograd charged was shifting more and more public money and resources from arts programs to pursuing the “unrealistic goals” of standardized testing.

Scott noted that at his own school, the shift in funding has resulted in the cancellation of a film class he was teaching as well as the entire art program. Cummins recalled conversations with LAUSD principals, who declined free arts programs, saying that test preparation meant that they “just didn’t have the time.” The net effect of the national culture of testing, Cummins added, is that it’s “squeezing the joy out of education for both teachers and students.”

The ultimate cost of privatization, all agreed, was to the nation’s guarantee of a quality education for all students. Zimmer said that here in California, that broken promise is most apparent when one takes a look at what he called “outcomes.”

“If you look at the demographics of LAUSD and then you look at the demographics of who enters the U.C. system from LAUSD,” Zimmer summed up, “it is not enough to say it is institutional racism; the numbers force us to say it’s very much like apartheid.”

If a consensus emerged among panelists, it was that the most persistent and fundamental problem facing LAUSD remains the lack of adequate funding.

Scott noted that California ranks 48th nationally in per-student spending – just behind Mississippi. Cummins pointed out that while the cost of a first-rate education at Santa Monica’s private Crossroads School is $30,000 per child, LAUSD spends only $8,000 on each of its 650,000 students. Cummins added that while a teaching load of five classes of up to 45 students each are not uncommon at LAUSD, teachers at a school like Crossroads have four classes a day with 15 to 20 students each.

“Class size matter enormously,” Cummins declared to enthusiastic applause. “Class size can only be solved by funding.”

On the subject of charter schools, Zimmer affirmed his belief in offering parents choice but decried what he called “a system based on hyper-competition and saturation influenced by … a limitless amount of private funding.” He pointed out that it is a system that has produced an abundance of charters in the affluent Westside while leaving poorer neighborhoods seen as less desirable by charter companies relatively underserved.

Roberts termed school privatization efforts — a movement that she said included the push for both school vouchers and charter schools — as “a threat to public education.”

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Bill Raden
Bill Raden is a freelance Los Angeles writer.
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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the good recap of what went on. Unfortunately, Zimmer answered my question asking “why $800 million for ipads instead of more teachers?” with a mealy-mouthed defense that children need to learn technology. I forgot to mention that the ipads are all pre-loaded with Common Core curricula – so no wonder they don’t need more teachers. Public education: death by a thousand cuts.

    • Anonymous

      What is it with ipads and tablets? Are they really that much easier to use than regular computers? The software on them seems to have fewer features.

      • Odysseus Bostick

        iPads and tablets are excellent tools for delivering content to kids because they negate the additional skills required by a kid to operate a keyboard-based tool like a laptop.

        Your goal as an educator is to clearly prioritize the skills you want to develop (in this case, math or reading) and remove any obstacles that take focus away from the targeted skills.

        It’s difficult for adults who have mastered keyboard skills to consider the challenges they encountered while mastering those skills. But if you have 30 minutes for a 7 year old to work through a program designed to build basic reading skills, do you want them struggling with the keyboard or working with the content? I want that kid to work through the content and to do that, I would prefer to remove the additional frustration of a keyboard. I care more that a struggling 7 year old reader gets help in reading because it matters more than whether that kid masters a keyboard. He or she can do that later.

        That is the benefit of an iPad. Other practical issues abound, though, to make iPads more attractive.

        iPads require less space. A typical LAUSD classroom can fit a maximum of 10 desktop computers. An iPad cart can store the entire class’s tablets in the space that 1-2 desktops can fit.

        The overall trend in devices is shifting away from the keyboard-based computing and towards touch screen. Why force kids to work on what may well become an antiquated skill?

        Touch-screen tablets offer a more inclusive computing experience that facilitates more access for kids with special needs. Not true for every situation, but touching a screen to move forward is easier for many kids with special needs.

        Tablets are more engaging than keyboard-based computing. The keyboard presents an unnecessary obstacle for kids who start with a limited interest in the content. Removing the keyboard puts them closer to the content.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for the perspective.

          I’m pretty sure keyboards aren’t going away.

        • Anonymous

          “As Los Angeles launches a $1 billion iPad rollout to schools, officials
          say they may need to spend an additional $38 million to provide wireless
          keyboards for the devices. The keyboards, officials say, were
          recommended for students using the devices to take new computerized
          tests aligned with the common core and also to help older students write
          research papers and complete other assignments that would require a lot
          of typing.”

  • Ken Marsh

    In attendance at the event, publicized as an informational meeting on Privatization, I saw a witch burning of the idea of ‘privatization’, with the so-called moderator fueling the attack with questions to the panelists that encouraged a lot of closed-minded brutality.

    What I went to see and hear was a conversation among people in the know who could explain the circumstances of why public education is so exposed to alternative constructs, like privatization and charters, and then some ideas of what we, the public, could/should/must do to save educational equity within our society.

    The problem with public education as best as I could ascertain from what was said is that it is inexcusably underfunded. Dah? That, not privatization and charters, not even the Parent Trigger law, is the root of all its failings. Does anyone truly think that burning the witch will lead to the infusion of money needed to restore and rectify what is wrong with a system that put itself in the line of fire of capitalist hubris and excess.

    I left the meeting feeling I had spent over 2 hours at a meeting of a group diametrically opposed to the Tea Party, and just as close-minded liberal as the Tea Party is conservative. The evening was just more haranguing divisive partisanship, keeping alive the win/lose mentality that undermines and obscures our interdependencies and prevents us from dealing with the real issues in any kind of constructive way that might move us toward resolution.

  • Anonymous

    Just watched the video of the meeting. Unimpressed with each of the speakers.
    The first half are the speakers talking about themselves and what they believe, not a word about why they believe it. One panel member complains he was “caught off guard by the topic, but I’ll weigh in anyway”. Another complains that privatization is wrong because it’s supported by 1%ers, like millionaire Eli Broad and NYC mayor Bloomberg, implying that leaders who have benefitted from America must be presumed to be against others benefitting from America. Huh? These people are commenting about education? Conclusions are called strategies. Unions are presumed to be in the right. Sorry. This is simply pathetic. This was the choir speaking to the choir, with nothing accomplished.

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