Monday, October 10, 2011

A Real Parent Revolution

 Diane Ravitch weighs in on the "Parent Trigger",
It is another one of those deceptive schemes that comes packaged with an alluring name, but whose true purpose is to undermine public education....
In early 2010, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California, the state legislature passed the "Parent Empowerment Act." This law is commonly known as the Parent Trigger. It allows a majority of parents in a low-performing school to sign a petition that leads to various sanctions for the school: firing all or some of the staff, turning the school over to charter management, or closing the school. These are similar to the options in the U.S. Department of Education's School Improvement Grant program. All of them are punitive, none is supportive of changing the school for the better, and none has a shred of evidence to show that it will improve the school. Neither the Parent Trigger nor the federal SIG program offers any constructive alternatives to unhappy parents, only ways to punish the school for low scores.

 A controversy erupted earlier this year when the charter-school affiliated group "Parent Revolution" tried to shit down a school in Compton, gathering parent signatures.  The charter school movement, like the voucher movement before it, seeks to transcend the public education system, yet ultimately undermines it.  Schools are a socialist enterprise, in that they are built on the belief that every citizen deserves a good education, funded by the state.  Citizens with access to wealth and privilege, human and social capital, have never had to worry about educating their children.  It is the poor and ignorant who must receive this social help from the rest of us. 

And so, these reforms miss the real problem: "Bad" schools overwhelmingly align with poverty, not with bad teaching or administration.

I'm sure you've heard this line before.  But it is still true.  Just because we don't have a good solution to poverty doesn't mean we don't try.  But nor does it mean that we can pretend it isn't the major factor in the education gap, and one which teachers are given little in the way of resources to attend to.

The bottom line is that one thing could make these parents' school better: them.  If their community was capable of raising its children right, then their student's achievement would be through the roof. 

Now, this sounds terrible, right?  The truth is painful.  But you know what is more painful?  Being unwilling to face the truth and to face it head on.

This community is busting its ass, for low pay, crappy work, suffering more than anyone else.  It is poorly educated, and lacks access to the social capital necessary to pull itself out.  Its problems are compounded geographically, as the entire neighborhood is populated with people lacking in social and human capital.  Its kids are likewise shoved into schools filled with others just like them.  Teachers - often those with the least experience and lowest on the totem-pole, having not had a chance to transfer to an easier population - are being asked to teach the same classroom numbers as more affluent neighborhood schools, whose kids' combined human and social capital is exponentially greater. 

So instead of truly targeting these communities for intervention that takes their challenges into account, giving them access to services that other neighborhoods don't need or take for granted, providing support that they need, we ignore all of this and tell ourselves - and them - that it's all the teacher's fault.  We simply pretend that these huge social problems don't exist.  We pretend that we can have entire sectors of the economy built upon the backs of the working poor, who then get funneled into geographically isolated and capital-incapacitating neighborhoods,  and expect our meager poor schools - affording little more (if even) than the same resources than wealthy schools - to close the gap.

This is the real tragedy, and one that education "reformers" continue to ignore, even after their many failures to make even a dent in the problem, and who ultimately are doing these communities a disservice by not addressing real needs, giving cover to those who still won't face the enormity of the social problem eating away at our core.  A real revolution in education would be to finally take our social responsibility seriously, and reach out helping and supportive hands to these parents, not offer them imaginary hopes based on little more than resentment and victimhood.


  1. I concur.. 100%.

    But I have to wonder one thing, would not the parents find help and support from the teachers themselves, if they sought such help and support?

  2. Oh, I'm sure they would. In my experience working with disadvantaged populations, this is really the exception. Whether it is because they are unfamiliar with the education system, lack the time, don't know how to facilitate their child's academic success, or simply have severe problems of their own - I've had few parents reach out for help.

    I tend to think it's mostly a knowledge or cultural problem (not ethnically, but in the limited "culture of poverty sense"). There's a ton of research on family environments in disadvantaged populations. They tend to be uneducated themselves, and unable to offer the kind of rich environment that supports cognitive, vocabulary, knowledge development that is a bedrock for academic success.

    This is a deficit that is really hard to overcome. I think we've still a long way to go to understanding how to offer support to these families form a policy standpoint. It simply can't be left up to teachers alone.