One wouldn’t have expected California’s Board of Education to essentially sustain the state’s Parent Trigger law and actually make it easier for families to overhaul failure factories. After all, Gov. Jerry Brown moved immediately upon taking office to remove Ben Austin and Ted Mitchell, the two leading school reformers on the board, and placed a lobbyist for the Golden State’s National Education Association affiliate onto the board. Given that the nation’s first Parent Trigger law lacked clear guidelines on how parents should petition for overhauls — and the fierce battle in Compton between parents and the tag team of the Southern California school district and the American Federation of Teachers local over efforts to remove McKinley Elementary from district control — and the district the board could have easily crafted rules governing the process that would have made it impossible for families to exercise power.
But today’s move by the state board to pass clear regulations governing Parent Trigger efforts is a step in the right direction. The fact that the state Department of Education will have to provide sample petitions that families could use in their efforts has the potential to make it easier to initiate Parent Trigger drives. So did the decision by the board to not allow school districts and teachers unions from being able to block proposals to remove failure factories from district control by simply massing a majority of rank-and-file teachers. And barring districts from tossing out signatures (and petitions) because of technical errors is an acceptance of the reality that the families that will attempt these efforts will not be nearly as savvy (at least at first) as the districts and NEA and American Federation of Teachers affiliates with lawyers at their disposal.
This is good news. But it isn’t the end of the story. In theory, the regulations go into effect in October so long as there aren’t any significant comments requiring the state board to reaffirm them. But given efforts by the NEA’s California affiliate so far to curb the expansion of charter schools and tie the hands of cash-strapped school districts, don’t be surprised if the union attempts a push-back. Particularly, the union wants to force efforts by parents to convert failing schools into charters to go through approval by half of their rank-and-file members, which would effectively keep the schools under failed district management (and under NEA and AFT influence). Expect the union to do so, either in its comments or through the legislative process by demanding Golden State legislators to revamp the law to their liking. So Parent Revolution, the group that helped bring the Parent Trigger law into reality, and Gloria Romero, the former state senator who now runs the state branch of Democrats for Education Reform, will have to aggressively work with families to defend Parent Trigger laws and efforts to use the law to systemically overhaul the schools their children attend.
All in all, California’s education officials managed to do the rare — and right — thing by families no longer willing to accept cultures of mediocrity and academic failure. They, along with statehouse leaders, should continue to do so by embracing systemic reform.