A parent revolution for U.S. school reform
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page told a riveting story Wednesday about parents in Compton, California, who are trying to stage a revolution in their local school, one of the worst in the city. They’re wielding a new “parent trigger” law in the state to force out the administrators and bring in a charter school operator.
They’re learning that parents who put their children first are seen as the enemy by the education status quo. Teachers and school officials in Compton have launched a furious effort to block them from using the law to determine their kids’ future.
This is interesting because Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel championed just such a parent-trigger law during the campaign. Under his proposal, a majority of parents in a poorly performing school could shut down the school, bring in new administrators and teachers, and adopt a charter school or other new model.
“Giving parents this power would encourage them to play a larger role in their children’s education, and with greater power would come greater responsibility,” Emanuel said.
Judging by Compton, parents might get a bitter lesson in the real power of the education status quo.
One big difference between Chicago and Compton: If Emanuel’s idea became law here, the Chicago school board presumably wouldn’t stand in the way of a parent-powered shake-up of a school. That’s because the board is appointed by the mayor.
One of the most encouraging signs from Chicago’s mayoral election: Voters delivered a mandate to keep the pressure on for school reform. Two candidates ― Emanuel and Gery Chico ― offered shake-the-ground platforms for school reform. Together they claimed 79 percent of the vote. A frustrated Chicago Teachers Union couldn’t even bring itself to make an endorsement for mayor.
Emanuel has a lot of big decisions to make. None will be more important than his choice to run the school system. We’re confident he will find someone who is as impatient as he is for change in public education. And that the mayor-elect will stand by his CEO when the political heat comes. Because it will come, if the CEO does his job.
The new chief will complete a teacher evaluation system based on student growth, rewarding the best performers. The new chief will enlist parents to be more active and require principals to sign a performance contract, both part of Emanuel’s platform. The new chief will demand in a new labor agreement a longer school day and year.
The new chief also will have to close a $750 million budget gap.
Emanuel will have to become chief cheerleader in Springfield for a reform agenda. Reform doesn’t stop at Chicago’s city limits. Lawmakers in Springfield are considering dramatic changes statewide: freeing school districts to make layoffs based on performance, not seniority; making it easier to pay good teachers well and fire ineffective teachers; prohibiting teacher strikes.
None of that will be easy. As the parents are learning in Compton, you can make some powerful foes when you put kids first.
(Chicago Tribune, March 2)