Empowering Parents?


Ben Boychuck, an editor at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Manhattan Institute, decries the LA school district’s bid to preempt state and federal law relative to the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010 that former California Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat, co-sponsored and GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed. The Gates Foundation is a main funder of education privatization stateside, no small factor in Boychuk’s school reform rhetoric.

In his view, this California “parent trigger law” is a good thing. This law allows parents of students attending “a persistently failing public school” to close it via a vote is “one of the better reforms to come around in a while.”

This sets the bar for public school reform low. How low is that note? For an answer, look no further than Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America. Her TFA is a contract agency that provides classroom teachers with five-weeks of training for two-year classroom commitments in US classrooms.

Pushing the teaching profession toward temporary employment, TFA dovetails with standardized testing. According to education privatization proponents, the results of such high-stakes tests measure classroom progress or lack of it, i.e., “failing” schools.

This is the context in which Boychuk praises the parent trigger law in the Golden State, where 6.2 million students attend K-12 public schools. It hinges on the process of schools failing, a key part of the high-stakes student test-score metric of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that aims for a 2014 target of 100 percent proficiency.

Boychuk approves of Romero’s legislation that lays out a structure for petition signatures of a majority of parents at so-called “failing” schools to gain control of their kids’ education. Adelanto School District east of Los Angeles in California’s Mojave Desert became the site of the nation’s first parent trigger law in January 2010.

In essence, the parent trigger law permits one group of citizens to end a public service, in this case a community’s schools, for those voters who have yet to vote. Imagine one group of parents with a beef against a public library. A state law enables them to upend the library’s operations for future users. Such a scenario describes parent disempowerment. Why disempower them?

The answer is to better control them, and to plunder public schools by shifting taxpayer dollars to private hands, a goal of the education privatization, i.e., school reform, movement. Reformers such as Boychuk and Romero, the ex-state senator who founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment, use lofty language of student achievement mixed with parent empowerment.

According to Romero’s CCPE website: “Education is the key to the American Dream and kids cannot be trapped in schools that underperform year after year after year. We must give parents the tools to make the changes themselves—especially when so many special interest groups in the education system refuse to put the interests of kids first.” (http://parentempower.org)

Parent disempowerment is an attack on voting rights particularly and political democracy generally. In effect, the Golden State’s parent trigger law strangles future citizens’ right to vote on such a big matter as local school governance.

Democracy, in part the history of gaining the vote to shape public policy that benefits ordinary people unburdened by surplus income and wealth, was not a gift from above. Rather, blacks, women and other disenfranchised people undertook sustained struggle to win the right to vote and participate more fully as members of our democratic society.

A state law that in essence removes the right to vote from tomorrow’s electorate over local public school politics makes a mockery of democracy. Look no further than California’s parent trigger law for proof of that.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2014


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