Parent ‘Unions’ Pushing for Education Reform

School parent groups are no longer just about holding the next bake-sale fundraiser. They’re about education reform, writes Christina Hoag at the Associated Press.

In 2010, Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles-based parent empowerment movement pushed through a landmark law giving parents authority to force turnarounds at failing schools through a petition, writes Hoag.

The “parent trigger” was the first of its kind. It inspired Texas and Mississippi to adopt similar laws and 20 other states are considering legislation. So far only two states have voted down parent trigger bills. The new approach means an increased focus on empowering parents and working with local groups.

“Parents have a different incentive structure than anyone else,’’ said Ben Austin, Parent Revolution’s executive director. “They’re the only ones who really care about kids.’’

In an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, Jim Newton called the school board of the Compton Unified School District “civil rights villains” and “obstructionists” for failing to act when the parents of the McKinley Elementary School students invoked California’s “parent trigger” law to ask for a charter to replace their underperforming school.

San Diego mother Teresa Drew founded United Parents for Education after her daughter’s reading and math scores fell below grade level for two years. The district is not doing enough to ensure teachers are effective and weed out bad educators, she said.

“I talked to other parents and found they had the same experience,’’ Drew said. “I have nothing against the PTA, but the problem for me is there’s a T in PTA. This is parent-led.’’

Parent Revolution will offer training, policy ideas and other support. And chapters must pledge to put the interests of children first — taking on ineffective teachers even at the risk of alienating them, for instance, according Austin.

Critics have come out against the trigger law. Frank Wells, the spokesman for the California Teachers Association, said:

“The Parent Trigger law was meant to be a vehicle for a local grassroots movement, as opposed to a vehicle for outside charter groups to sell their organization.”

And unions say it’s oversimplistic to blame teachers. Parents should enlist educators in the solution, not dismiss them, they say.

“It’s well meaning, but misguided,’’ said Wells. “Parents shouldn’t be acting with authority in a vacuum.’’

Parents already have a tool to leverage policy change — school board elections, Wells said.