Parents Pull The Trigger To Take Over Compton School

Last week, 85 adults and children arrived at district headquarters in Compton, California, to present a petition requiring the district to turn over management of McKinley Elementary School to a charter school company.

The petition was signed by 62% of parents at the school, which is one of the state’s worst performing schools.

Parent Trigger Law

The parents are operating under the brand-new “parent trigger” law, the first of its kind in the country. Under the law, if at least 51 percent of parents at a school sign a petition, it “triggers” one of four actions, including takeover by a charter school.

Reactions to this new legislation have been mixed: union officials refer to it as a “lynch mob provision,” while supporters say it puts children and parents ahead of interest groups. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared, “Giving power to the parents – this is what this is all about,” in a conference call, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also praised the developments in Compton.

A Troubled School District

Why are these parents so frustrated? Compton Unified School District, a school system of 26,000 students south of downtown Los Angeles, has struggled for years. In October, as I wrote here, the district superintendent was fired, accused of using district credit cards for personal purchases.

Even in a troubled school district, McKinley looks particularly bad. The school is one of the lowest performing on state tests, with less than 25 percent of fifth-grade students at grade level in math and reading. That said, there has been some improvement in the last two years.

Understandably, this was not enough for many parents. But how did they know about this law, and get this petition organized?

Parent Revolution

Enter Ben Austin. He is a state Board of Education member and the chief executive of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit that lobbied for the parent-trigger law, and has been organizing parents in Compton.

His group spun off last year from Green Dot Public Schools, (a charter school company), and Green Dot founder Steve Barr heads the Parent Revolution Board.

Green Dot Charter Schools

From The Los Angeles Times:

Austin said his goal is not so much to create more charters as to improve public education using the lever of parental power. He and Barr were key figures behind the one other local example of a school converted to a charter through an outside organization: Locke High in South Los Angeles in 2008.

“The obvious connection between McKinley and Locke is Ben Austin and Green Dot and Steve Barr,” said Alexander Russo, an education blogger writing a book about Green Dot’s takeover of Locke. “And there’s also the sense that both situations involved people from their organizations doing something a school district seemed otherwise unable or unwilling to do.”

At Locke, Barr and his then-lieutenant Austin worked behind the scenes with allied teachers to gather signatures on a petition. There, they used an older law that allowed a school’s teachers to force a charter conversion. In the end, Green Dot retained few teachers.

At McKinley, with Austin’s new group, the goal also was to keep things quiet. Compton school board members and a district spokesperson said they knew little about the petition a day before its delivery.

A Charter School In Compton?

One reason could be that Compton has been hostile to charter schools and has never authorized one within its boundaries.

To take over McKinley, organizers recruited locally based Celerity Educational Group, a charter group that has no experience taking over a traditional school.

The operating methods of Parent Revolution may be questionable, but when you are a parent who sees your child failing at school, or not being challenged, what are you going to do? Are you going to stand by every day and do nothing?

What would you do?

Related Story

Chicago Parents File School Lawsuit, Los Angeles Parents Pull The “Trigger”

Creative Commons - donielle


Ernie Miller
william Miller6 years ago

dont know what to think

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago


Caroline G.
Caroline G.6 years ago

The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog gives a clearer view of the Parent Trigger brouhaha -- hint: It's a scam.

The reason the Washington Post is covering it is that Gov. Schwarzenegger placed a commentary supporting the Parent Trigger in the Post, so the blog is responding to the false picture in Schwarzenegger's commentary.

William R.
William R6 years ago

Its about time someone stoodup to these inefficent school boards who give away our tax money to thier friends for supplies and food for the kids. Take away thier power and maybe thier jobs and we will have fewer elected people running the system. People in these jobs should be hired according to thier qualifications not elected. Maybe then we would get back to better schooling for our children. Have a Merry Christmas everyone!!

Loo Samantha
Loo sam6 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

They ain't seen nothin' yet!

Kristi o.
Kristi O6 years ago

Before passing judgment on this I would like to know what parent involvement was like at this failing school. From my experience teaching at a difficult school where many students are below poverty level, the teachers are working so much harder than the students (and obviously) are. They go home to places where education is not valued or treated as important by their parent(s; hence they do not care about it themselves. We as a school are trying EVERYTHING research based and "proven" to make these kids care about education and learning and yet feel like we are beating our heads against the wall. We can only do so much within the 7-8 hours a day that kids are in school to undo what they are living the rest of the time at home. Instead of blaming the schools for not being able to cure all of society's ills (hello!) perhaps a better more realistic approach would be to look at the real issues...and to adopt and accept the reality based view, that poverty-stricken students will always struggle more than those who have more and who grow up with the value of education. We fight a battle every day and yet face blame while the parents do nothing at home to support education. Why should they, when it doesn't matter much to them? When will this country wake up and see that parental involvement is a crucial part of a successful education and needs to be addressed in very real ways, in order for real change to happen?

James D.
James D6 years ago

One would hope that the parents will stay engaged. I am sure that a cadre of parent teaching assistants in those classrooms would be appreciated and would also help parents know what is being taught, how and to what effect.

Kathleen B.
Kathleen B6 years ago

Nothing like a good old overthrow.

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

Good for the parents!
The American schools have been graduating kids with out them being well educated.
The schools have not been much better then kid seating services.
People who tried to make changes were fired, and the ones that kept the current conditions, stayed.
The teaching methods used do not help kids that have different learning ways. It is a static system.
My hope is that we change it's static ways and let teaching expand to include all the ways people learn.