Education / 2013

Transforming Los Angeles Schools Using the Parent Trigger Law

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Parent Revolution

Parent Revolution’s unique mission is to empower parents to transform their children’s underperforming schools through community organizing.

Our success comes not through traditional top-down reform strategies, but by empowering parents to drive change in their own communities. Our organizing work has sustained a growing body of empowered parents that hold school systems accountable for providing children with the high quality education they deserve.

In 2010 we passed California’s historic Parent Trigger law. It gives a majority of parents with children trapped in a failing public school the right to transform it.

This year, our Desert Trails Elementary Parents Union Chapter is transforming their failing school in Adelanto, CA. Despite fierce opposition from their school district, they became the first parents in America to successfully implement the Parent Trigger law.

Our theory of change is working.

Our idea is to identify low performing schools within the L.A. Unified School District where we will organize parents into Parents Union Chapters to transform failing schools using the Parent Trigger Law.

Parents Union Chapters are the building block of our growing parent empowerment movement. They are structured parent organizations that choose to formally affiliate with us through a MOU. Once a chapter is formed, we help parents evaluate the weaknesses within their schools and then organize to transform them using the Parent Trigger law - either as bargaining power or formally implementing one of its turnaround options.

By empowering a growing body of LA parents, we will positively impact the key factor that causes poor educational achievement - schools that fail to enthusiastically instill strong adult accountability policies. Our efforts will change schools that fall far short of adopting “kids first” educational agendas – policies and procedures that stress a commitment to unwavering achievement and cultures of academic success.

Our project will help spur failing schools to enter a sustained era of reform - where informed, empowered and active parents exert meaningful powerful over the educational destiny of their children.

As the LA2050 study concludes, far too many parents with kids in LAUSD have no choice but to enroll their children in underperforming schools. In fact, approximately 220 LAUSD schools are eligible to be transformed under the Parent Trigger law. Many thousands of Los Angeles’ parents are trapped into enrolling their children in neighborhood schools that fail to adequately educate their children.

Our current LAUSD Parent Trigger campaign is proving this point. This grant will help us to pursue a course that can improve the educational outcomes of thousands of deserving students. We will use our parent organizing skills to turn many failing LA schools into vibrant laboratories of learning.

We are off to a tremendous start - just see what parents are now doing at LAUSD’s 24th Street Elementary School.

24th Street Elementary is one of the worst in LAUSD - and has been for many years. It’s in the bottom 2% of district elementary schools. It also has the second highest suspension rate (8%) of any elementary school in LAUSD – a testament to its culture of low academic expectations.

We helped 24th Street parents organize and learn how to wield their power within the Parent Trigger law in ways most likely to improve student outcomes. We also guided them through an education policy training program that helped them analyze school policies and practices and translate their understanding into actionable information to transform their school.

In January, the 24th Street Parents Union made history - it launched the first Parent Trigger campaign at an LAUSD school. A total of 69% of school parents signed the petition.

LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy publicly praised the 24th Street Parents Union saying, "I would love to have this kind of parent involvement at every school.” In February the LAUSD Board unanimously approved the parents’ petition. It was unprecedented – and offers great hope for continued cooperation with LAUSD.

Here are some of the headlines: “For the First Time, a Parent Trigger Without a Hitch” “L.A. School Board Approves Parent Trigger at 24th Street Elementary” 24th Street parents have received four proposals from organizations seeking to transform troubled their troubled school starting this August.

One is a partnership between LAUSD and a charter school that neighbors 24th Street Elementary. This sends another important signal that LAUSD is poised to continue cooperating with our Parent Trigger law campaigns.

We’re optimistic that a new era of reform for LAUSD can begin. We will spark an “outbreak of idealism” that can motivate other parents to put stock in the Parent Trigger law as a means to transform many other low-performing LAUSD schools.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

LAUSD: Public School Choice

In 2009 our first major success was passing LAUSD’s historic Public School Choice resolution. It opened up hundreds of failing and newly constructed campuses for bidding by quality charter school operators, teachers, and other non-profits.

We ran a grassroots campaign that generated over 4,000 supportive postcards from parents and then organized 3,000 parents for a rally on the day of the vote.

When we passed LAUSD’s Public School Choice policy we gave birth to the parent empowerment movement.

The Parent Trigger Law

In January 2010 we passed California’s Parent Trigger law – a concept far more powerful than Public School Choice. The law empowers a majority of parents at failing schools to transform them.

The Parent Trigger law has reframed the public debate on the role organized and empowered parents can play in public school reform.

Compton’s McKinley Elementary School Campaign

In December 2010 we helped parents at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, CA become the first to successfully use the Parent Trigger law by submitting signatures of over 61% of their school’s parents.

Parents Union Chapters and Policy Training

Parents Union Chapters are dedicated to improving educational outcomes at local schools through organizing and activism. A major project we undertake with each chapter is to provide parents comprehensive education policy training to help them formally evaluate the strengths and weaknesses within their schools.

“Parent Power Express” Bus Tour

In September 2011, our “Parent Power Express” bus tour made stops at our Los Angeles area chapters before ending in Sacramento. The tour showcased the incredible, important organizing work Parents Union Chapters are doing to transform their children’s under-performing schools through the Parent Trigger law. It was a hugely successful media campaign that promoted the continued expansion of growing parent empowerment movement. It proved that the work we started in L.A is on the cutting edge of the most dynamic school transformation movements in the country. Parent Trigger Law Regulations In 2011, we completed a campaign to pass final State Board of Education Parent Trigger law regulations. We mobilized a powerful grassroots movement and generated supportive editorials from almost every major newspaper in California. Desert Trails Elementary School In January 2012, parents launched the nation’s 2nd Parent Trigger campaign. In January 2013 the Adelanto School Board finally complied with two court orders. This is the first time in the United States a school board voted to approve Parent Trigger implementation.
LAUSD’s 24th Street Elementary School In January the 24th Street Elementary Parents Union Chapter launched the first Parent Trigger campaign at an LAUSD school. 69% of school parents signed the petition. In February, on a 7- 0 vote, the Board of Education unanimously approved the parents’ petition.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We often partner with other exceptional organizations so our work is informed by the latest research and evidence-based policy prescriptions. Though we have not entered into any formal agreements to collaborate with any groups on this project, we share closely aligned beliefs regarding education reform with each of these:

The Education Trust West works with the conviction that the single most important school- based factor in improving student academic performance is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.

Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) E4E works to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the decisions that affect teachers and their students.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Our strong belief in metrics-driven decisions requires us to conduct constant self-reflection, assessment, and evaluation of our work. Our organizing team uses a customized build of, a very sophisticated customer relationship management database, to track our organizing metrics on a daily and weekly basis to meet our milestones and outcomes.

They are constantly held accountable for their progress toward agreed upon goals, with strong oversight provided by our Organizing Director and management team. Additionally, organizers document their activities on a daily and weekly basis to ensure that future campaigns are guided by the successes, challenges, and lessons learned during this project.

Also, our first Parent Trigger campaign in Compton, California resulted in perhaps our greatest learning experience and directly contributed to the implementation of our current organizing and evaluation models. In that campaign we selected one particular school to focus on, lead the petition signing campaign and also selected one charter school as a preferred option for the parent’s consideration.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

For far too long, meaningful power in regards to education policy has essentially rested in the hands of distant school district management and teachers unions. This has led to policies that far too often make little or no sense for children trapped in Los Angeles’ failing schools.

We believe that fundamentally altering that power structure by introducing parents as real power players in a strategic way is the best way towards transformative policy change in public education, and each one of our strategies and tactics are geared towards accomplishing that endgame.

As we build a cadre of strong parent chapters across Los Angeles fighting for reforms at their children’s low-performing schools, we will simultaneously begin focusing on translating those chapters into a city-wide movement for kids-first reforms in adult and school accountability, teacher effectiveness, college readiness, and other important areas.

The first step in that process is to build strong horizontal relationships between our different chapters based on shared experiences and similar roadblocks they encounter in their Parent Trigger campaign efforts.

We are certain that as our Parents Union Chapters launch in-district Parent Trigger efforts at their individual schools, other chapters across Los Angeles will consistently come up against similar roadblocks that are out of the hands of their local administrators or even their school district – state rules that force layoffs based only on seniority or that prohibit meaningful accountability by immediately granting teachers tenure after only two years.</p<

We will be actively and constantly seizing on these opportunities to channel parents’ frustrations up to district-wide and statewide advocacy efforts, which will serve as a key facilitator of our parent empowerment movement building efforts.

All the while, however, we work to build horizontal relationships between the different chapters to create advocacy alliances based on common problems they are encountering at their schools. We thus very intentionally will use these chapters to build a local movement to advocate for key policy reforms on the district level always providing the type of sophisticated advocacy tools that are crucial for success by supplementing this grassroots movement with our organization’s proven skill sets in media, politics, and law.

This philosophy guides our approach, which uses the Parent Trigger in partnership with sophisticated community organizing techniques to build a powerful, parent-based, movement for education policy that puts kids first.

Thousands of children that are trapped in Los Angeles’ low-performing schools will become lifetime beneficiaries of this approach to education reform.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Parent Power Demonstration Districts

If we and others that are vitally interested in parent empowerment as a means to transform failing public schools are successful, we will see an LA2050 where all Los Angles area school districts have been transformed into “Parent Power Demonstration Districts” that have ongoing, parent-led campaigns for kids first education policy change.

These “Parent Power Demonstration Districts” would be jurisdictions where parent empowerment organizing could produce transformative, district-wide change that is openly embraced by such districts. All students will then have access to a great public education if we successfully organize at both the school and district levels.

However, there is one immense challenge - parents must overcome powerful interests that have yet to accept the legitimate role they can productively play in transforming failing schools.

To obtain district-wide collective power, parents must receive district-wide leadership development opportunities, timely district-wide information and develop mechanisms to influence policymakers. Meeting these needs requires empowering parents with information and effective tools.

Some solutions could include:

• Developing a Parent Organizing & Leadership Training Academy
• Publishing “Parent Power Demonstration District” rankings & data • Establishing intra-district Parent Union reform networks and alliances • Engaging with and influence elected education & political leaders