Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource

A group of parents in the Anaheim City School District on Wednesday submitted petitions to force reforms at their children’s struggling elementary school – changes that may include turning the school into a charter.

Frustrated by Palm Lane Elementary School’s long history of poor student achievement, organizers collected signatures from 66 percent of the school’s parents to back the campaign, according to Alfonso Flores, chief executive officer of the Hesperia, Calif.-based consulting firm Excellent Educational Solutions. Palm Lane Elementary serves about 721 students, the majority of whom are low-income children; 63 percent are English language learners.

Parents initiated the effort under California’s Parent Empowerment Act, which gives parents of students attending chronically low-performing schools the opportunity to force school districts to enact education reforms. The 2010 so-called “parent-trigger” law calls for more than 50 percent of parents to agree to request the changes, which can range from the removal of the principal and staff to converting the school into a charter.

Flores said the Anaheim City School District has 40 days to verify the signatures before parents can accept requests for proposals to develop school improvement strategies for Palm Lane Elementary. He said Palm Lane parents are willing to consider plans from charter school companies, nonprofits and even the local school district. Although parents have requested help from the school district in the past to no avail, Flores said Palm Lane parents acknowledge that students attending an Anaheim elementary school less than 2 miles away are thriving.

Along with Flores, former state Sen. Gloria Romero has been advising Palm Lane parents in their efforts. Romero, who authored the parent-trigger law, founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment last year to help support parents seeking to use the law to improve their schools. Her nonprofit contracted with Flores, a former organizer with the parent-trigger advocacy group Parent Revolution, to educate parents about the law and train them to gather the necessary petition signatures.

Sen. Bob Huff, the parent-trigger law’s co-sponsor, joined Romero to witness parents submitting the petition to an Anaheim City School District receptionist Wednesday morning. Huff asked Romero to attend a meeting with Palm Lane parents last July to inform them about the parent-trigger law and she has been involved in the effort ever since.

Romero said understanding the law and complying with the technical legal requirements to enact the parent trigger can be complicated. She said her nonprofit will serve as an ally for parents seeking to turn around their troubled schools.

“It’s not an easy law to use,” Romero said. “When parents understand the law they can use it. It doesn’t take a whole lot of convincing.”

Romero added that parents seeking to use the parent-trigger law also require support to face those opposed to their efforts.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has been contacted twice (by Huff and Romero on separate occasions) regarding allegations that school district officials were intimidating and harassing Palm Lane parents as they sought signatures for the petitions.

Anaheim City School District Superintendent Linda Wagner denied those allegations in a telephone interview Wednesday, describing the information the district provided parents about the parent-trigger law and petition drive as “neutral.” However, she did note that district officials did warn parents that they had received reports that some parents were being promised iPads in exchange for their signatures. Flores flatly denies that signatures were being traded for iPads and added that he doesn’t even own one. (Read a letter Wagner wrote on Dec. 10 to Palm Lane parents here: Parent Letter – Palm Lane.)

Wagner said Palm Lane parents made it clear to her that they wanted changes at their school when she assumed the superintendent’s post in 2013. Since that time, she said the principal has been replaced and 10 new teachers have joined the staff. She added that $10,000 in technology has been purchased for the school as well.

Whether or not the parent-trigger effort moves forward at Palm Lane, Wagner said: “We see this parent energy as an opportunity and we’re looking forward to working with them.”

But Palm Lane parent Cecilia Ochoa characterized parents’ interactions with the district as adversarial before and throughout the petition drive process. Ochoa, the mother of a second-grader and fifth-grader at Palm Lane, has long championed change at the school during meetings with staff and board members as the principal and teacher turnover rate started to mount, Flores said.

In a telephone interview, Ochoa said through a translator that given the Anaheim City School District’s history of ignoring, humiliating, and laughing at Palm Lane parents, she would not be surprised if administrators tried to reject the “will of the parents.” Still, she believes that the parents will ultimately prevail.

“All I want is a better future and a better education for my kids,” Ochoa said.

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  1. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    Not mentioned, that I noticed, is that "Alfonso Flores, chief executive officer of the Hesperia, Calif.-based consulting firm Excellent Educational Solutions," active in the above mentioned hostile takeover, is prominently mentioned as an operative of Gates/Walton funded Parent Revolution and was deep in the weeds at the Adelanto charter school coup of last year. If there is any connection between his current operation and Gates/Walton, or any of the other usual suspects, is not … Read More

    Not mentioned, that I noticed, is that “Alfonso Flores, chief executive officer of the Hesperia, Calif.-based consulting firm Excellent Educational Solutions,” active in the above mentioned hostile takeover, is prominently mentioned as an operative of Gates/Walton funded Parent Revolution and was deep in the weeds at the Adelanto charter school coup of last year. If there is any connection between his current operation and Gates/Walton, or any of the other usual suspects, is not currently known to me; however, one of my mottos is, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and spends like a duck, it’s not likely to be an aardvark. Words to live by.

    For more details on the Adelanto shenanigans, if it’s an interest, see my post under the “Teacher Survey” [sic] story on this site.

  2. el 2 years ago2 years ago

    If the principal has already been replaced since 2013 and there are 10 new teachers, it seems to me that is already essentially following one of the options. There isn't even a single test score data point since then. Perhaps the new principal is terrible; I don't know. I don't live there and there's no comment from the parents that suggests any comment on that transition at all. But, it does seem to me a transition is … Read More

    If the principal has already been replaced since 2013 and there are 10 new teachers, it seems to me that is already essentially following one of the options. There isn’t even a single test score data point since then.

    Perhaps the new principal is terrible; I don’t know. I don’t live there and there’s no comment from the parents that suggests any comment on that transition at all.

    But, it does seem to me a transition is in process, and so that transition needs to be evaluated and either given time to work unless it is an obvious failure. The main complaint here is “a long history of poor student achievement” which is a completely legitimate concern. There isn’t anything specific about why the current changes, in place less than a school year, aren’t addressing that, or what more they want done.

    What I hate about the parent trigger law is the way it creates a bland and nonspecific change obligation without any further control or say over what those changes will actually be. I think it actually ties the hands of the parents in some ways, because once their petition is implemented they actually have less leverage over the school operators than they did before.

    Rather than turn the school over to a nameless and faceless operation that promises “better,” I’d rather see the parents get together and make very specific requests for changes they want – like more tutoring, or a new principal, or smaller class sizes, or a different math program, or more science, or whatever it is that is directly missing. Basically, the LCAP process but at a school level, where very specific problems can be identified

    If the new principal and teachers aren’t working out, it’s fine to do the same process again, but it’s unlikely to meet with more success unless some specific reasons why a different new principal and different new teachers will be better can be articulated.

    Replies

    • Caroline Grannan 2 years ago2 years ago

      Interesting points about the principal and staff, El. I know of two cases quite a few years ago in my own school district in which principals suddenly left their positions by mutual agreement in situations where I have inside knowledge. In both cases, there had been clear-cut wrongdoing by the principal. The departures, without public disclosure of the wrongdoing, were, again, by mutual agreement. Since the reasons aren't publicly known, to this day there is … Read More

      Interesting points about the principal and staff, El.

      I know of two cases quite a few years ago in my own school district in which principals suddenly left their positions by mutual agreement in situations where I have inside knowledge. In both cases, there had been clear-cut wrongdoing by the principal. The departures, without public disclosure of the wrongdoing, were, again, by mutual agreement. Since the reasons aren’t publicly known, to this day there is outrage about the sudden departures — that is, uninformed people believe the principals were unjustly wronged by the brutal school district. You’d think they’d wonder why those wronged principals never said a word in protest of their supposedly unjust removal (one was moved to another school and then left for a post in another district after a year; the other immediately left the district for a post in a nearby district). Anyway, just noting that because it sounds like the principal’s apparently unexplained removal at the Anaheim school helped inflame the crisis.

      It’s a shame that the press everywhere (EdSource and in Orange County) is doing nothing but rewriting press releases on this story.

  3. Gary Ravani 2 years ago2 years ago

    Not to put too fine a rhetorical point on it, but it is amazing how much abuse has been done to the word "reform." In education concepts that, for over a decade, have resulted in no improvement in outcomes keep getting trotted out and presented to the uniformed as if they were the newest "silver bullet" for the schools. And, in a sense, they are. Silver bullets worked great for the Long Ranger; however, the … Read More

    Not to put too fine a rhetorical point on it, but it is amazing how much abuse has been done to the word “reform.” In education concepts that, for over a decade, have resulted in no improvement in outcomes keep getting trotted out and presented to the uniformed as if they were the newest “silver bullet” for the schools. And, in a sense, they are. Silver bullets worked great for the Long Ranger; however, the Long ranger was make-believe.

    There is not a shred of evidence that charter schools offer the promise of improved educational achievement in most cases. The empirical data indicates charters might perform better than ether regular public school counterpart in 20% of the cases. In the remaining 80% of cases, half the time there is no difference in achievement and half will show lower achievement. Nevertheless, charter advocates keep pushing the uninformed to: This Way to the Egress. There’s one born every minute as the man said.

    There are reforms for schools that actually do work. They are not “silver bullets,” they are not overnight transformations, there are no charters, there are no mass firings of teacher, nor any other kind of gratuitous suffering involved. The latter, it appears, is a major turn-off for some of the self-styled “reformers.” Another turn-off is the lack of opportunity for private sector management companies to harvest public dollars. This is how a CEO of a “non-profit” entrepreneurial educational investment outfit ended up bringing down nearly 3/4 of a million dollars year before going off to work for Arne Duncan in DC.

    I wrote an article about “School Reforms That Actually Work” that was printed in the Washington Post. (Thanks to widely read education blogger Larry Ferlazzo for picking it as one of the “Best Education Articles for 2014” by the way.)

    Here is the summary paragraph of the article and, below, as well as the the link for those who are interested. Right up front, it can be assumed that there are those who don’t care about reforms that work, only reforms that punish or improve the bottom line. But here goes:

    “Reform strategies outlined in this post are models of reform demonstrated to work. These models emphasize the importance of school leadership that can organize teachers, parents, and communities around a consensus-based goal. All emphasize that key supports must be in place for teachers and students. Such reform does not scapegoat teachers or demonize their unions. All provide evidence that it is time to stop banging our heads against the wall of false reform and begin implementing reform that works.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/08/05/school-reforms-that-actually-work/

    Replies

    • Don 2 years ago2 years ago

      Gary, when you say that charter schools on average don't perform any better than TPSs, your point is based on high stakes test data and instructional practices revolving around the testing regimen which you yourself claim to be of fraudulent value. What matters is that there is a demand for the things that charters have to offer. You can argue whether charters are better, but you can't argue about their popularity. My younger son … Read More

      Gary, when you say that charter schools on average don’t perform any better than TPSs, your point is based on high stakes test data and instructional practices revolving around the testing regimen which you yourself claim to be of fraudulent value. What matters is that there is a demand for the things that charters have to offer. You can argue whether charters are better, but you can’t argue about their popularity. My younger son attends a charter. Why? Not because I didn’t like the public middle school his older brother went to, but because the younger one needs smaller class sizes and more personal attention to have a chance to succeed – things the tradition public school just couldn’t offer in this locality. Charters can find local niches to fill because traditional school have a one-size-fits-all approach.

  4. CarolineSF 2 years ago2 years ago

    Diane Ravitch: The story of the parent trigger, an education fad that failed PRev has fallen drastically short of its own projected impact. PRev created the “parent trigger,” whereby a 50%+1 majority of parents at a school can sign a petition forcing “transformation” of the school, or forcing it to close. The parent trigger was originally projected to turn many “failing” public schools into charter schools. In reality, since its founding in 2009, it has turned … Read More

    Diane Ravitch: The story of the parent trigger, an education fad that failed

    PRev has fallen drastically short of its own projected impact. PRev created the “parent trigger,” whereby a 50%+1 majority of parents at a school can sign a petition forcing “transformation” of the school, or forcing it to close. The parent trigger was originally projected to turn many “failing” public schools into charter schools. In reality, since its founding in 2009, it has turned just one public school into a charter, inflicting ugly divisiveness on the community in the process and resulting in wildly conflicting reports about the charter’s effectiveness.

    Parent Revolution continues to tout itself as a success. It has won ample favorable press coverage from the beginning, and has persuaded legislatures in several states to pass laws allowing the parent trigger, though there are no reports since of parent triggers actually taking place in those states. PRev lists a string of high-ticket funders, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (of Enron), the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Its funders seem unlikely to maintain their enthusiasm as the lack of actual results becomes increasingly evident.

    (I’m posting the link on a separate comment form, as posting links delays posts. Google the headline above if interested before it shows up.)