Saying nothing of the fact that business interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce, love this bill (which always gives me pause in education policy) there are some inherent problems with the “Parent Trigger” bill (SB 1718) about to go to vote on the floor of the FL Senate this week. I laid many of my concerns out during my recent testimony at the FL Senate Budget Committee meeting, the last stop before the bill is taken to the floor for a vote. (Some of my testimony’s comments were reported here and here.) However, it seems it would be good for me to address my four main problems with this bill here.
1. Trickle Down Divisiveness
The bipartisan gridlock in DC and Florida (and many other states) seems to be producing bills that don’t fall far from the culture of the legislative tree. The theme: Divisiveness.
The site, ColorLines, recently reported on an effort in a California town by parents to pull the trigger.
In January, Desert Trails parents delivered 465 signatures to the school, a whopping 70 percent of parents’ support.
But in the weeks since the petitions were delivered, the parent trigger law has created a widening gulf in the small town of 36,000. Not everyone remains excited about the reforms, and even those who say they share the petitioners’ goals say the conflict of the petition process damaged their hopes for a more collaborative change.
Critics of the parent trigger say this is precisely its danger. They say it’s susceptible to abuse by corporate-backed groups that use parents as spokespeople for untested and short-sighted competition-based reforms—creating an astroturf movement for dismantling public schools.
Communities that are already stressed don’t need the additional stress of trickle down divisiveness. They need actions that build bridges and lead to solutions.
2. Kids as Profit Margins
The law opens up opportunities for predatory practices from non-profit and for-profit charter management companies. Organizations can come into communities, work to get petitions from parents, and pave a pathway to their formulaic programs. These companies, looking to satisfy their investors and CEO’s, reduce students to profit margins.
Not all charter schools operate in such a way, but there are plenty of documented examples of charter schools being used for profit and fraud over student empowerment and achievement.
Plus, I wonder, will having a school run by an out of district or out of state management company improve parents’ capacity and ability to be engaged and involved? I doubt it.
3. Lack of Support
All of Florida’s parent organizations oppose this law. All. Not because they are unionized. Not because they have the status quo in mind. They don’t support it because it fails to see the bigger picture. The bill leverages propagandic rhetoric to charter-wash school reform.
The word “parent” is often followed by one of the following misleading terms: Empowerment. Engagement. Involvement.
But as any and every educator knows, simply signing a petition once does not constitute empowerment, engagement, or involvement.
Parent organizations and community leaders do not support this bill because it does nothing to lay the foundation for long term development of authentic parent-school engagement and collaboration. Simply closing a school and opening a charter will not lead to more parent involvement by itself. There are no guarantees that the new school will effectively engage the parents, operate with the best interests of the students and communities in mind, or take ALL students previously served by the old school.
White Washing “Charter Washing” School Reform
For some reason charter schools seem to be silver bullet of the school reform movement. However, before we go replacing our failing schools with charter schools, there are a few facts and figures to consider. The following is by Daine Ravitch from a piece she wrote for the NY Post:
A national study conducted by Stanford University economist Margaret Raymond found that 37% of charter schools got worse results than comparable neighborhood public schools, 46% did about the same and only 17% were superior to the local public schools.
According to this study, a charter school is twice as likely of being worse than a traditional school than of being superior to it. Half of them, though, it’ll do about the same. Worth taking the risk? Is a less than 20% chance of succeeding enough to gamble with our communities?
Last year’s Florida school grades paint a sobering picture that should be taken seriously. The Orlando Sentinel reported:
Charter schools, which account for only a fraction of the state’s public schools, received half of all the F’s when the state handed out its annual letter grades two weeks ago.
Of all the failing grades given to public schools, 15 of 31 went to charters.
The charters, often billed by proponents as a superior alternative to traditional schools, were seven times more likely than regular schools to get an F in the appraisal of the state’s elementary and middle schools.
As we look to make decisions about how to improve our schools and heed the necessity of NOW! Let’s look to solutions that also meet our long term goals that positively impact our kids and communities far beyond voting cycles and term limits. For now, let’s put an end to this parent trigger bill, before someone gets hurt.
Image: Spacious Planet