The parents of Desert Trails Elementary want what all parents want: a great school for their children. Over the past few years they started a PTA chapter at their school, they joined the official school committees, they volunteered, and they spent extra time helping with homework. They did everything the system tells parents to do, and still, they find themselves today trapped in a school ranked the worst elementary school in their entire district and in the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state.
So last June they decided to organize on behalf of their children. They formed their own Parents Union chapter, engaged their community, and organized for seven months to collect historic Parent Trigger signatures representing 70 percent of the parents in an effort to transform their failing school. But with their new power, the parents sought collaboration, not confrontation.
Their first proposal after announcing their supermajority wasn’t an outside charter school operator or an unprecedented departure from the status quo. It was rooted in a modest union contract modification to create a framework for accountability based on reform contracts that National Education Association affiliates have signed in districts across America, including in the LAUSD. Even more recently, parents introduced an innovative new Partnership School model that calls for parents, teachers, and district officials to share power and collaborate on a kids-first agenda.
The Desert Trails Parent Union seeks collaboration because they know we can’t have great schools without great teachers. The parents understand that a kids-first agenda is good for parents and kids, but also good for good teachers. It’s good for kids if teachers are paid a lot more money. It’s even good for kids if we raise taxes to do it, as CTA and CFT are rightly calling for on the November ballot. It’s good for kids if teachers are respected, empowered, and not micromanaged by a bureaucrat who’s never met their kids or set foot in their classroom. It’s even good for kids if teachers are unionized and have basic workplace protections. But it’s also good for kids if teachers – as well as all other grown-ups, including parents – are held accountable for student performance. Parents have strong disagreements with the California Teachers Association about the issue of accountability. But we also broadly agree on a whole host of other critical issues.
Instead of collaboration, harassment
Unfortunately, in its final opportunity to collaborate with parents, the district denied parents their constitutional right to petition based on an illegal “rescission” process riddled with lies, harassment, and forgery. The defenders of the status quo have proven themselves willing to cross moral, ethical, even legal and constitutional boundaries in a desperate attempt to defend an indefensible status quo.
Ultimately, parents got what they expected: adults willing to do whatever it took to retain power at the expense of kids. We have no idea who forged CTA’s “rescission” petitions. That is for the courts to figure out. But we do know for an incontrovertible fact that someone forged the rescission petitions without the parents’ knowledge in a rescission campaign instigated by CTA. We also know that the parents of Desert Trails have been denied their constitutional right to transform their failing school using the Parent Trigger. .
But the fate of Desert Trails is no longer in the hands of the status quo.
The district last week chose to yet again reject the parents’ offer of partnership, choosing confrontation over collaboration and forcing parents into the courts to defend their rights and fight for their children. On Thursday, parents filed a lawsuit to preserve their constitutional right to petition the government under the Parent Trigger law, and their children’s constitutional right to a decent and equitable education under the California Constitution.
The parents have a high-powered pro bono legal team from Kirkland & Ellis that is committed to representing them entirely for free. The district, on the other hand, has chosen to spend the parents’ own taxpayer dollars that should be invested in children and teachers and instead pay high-priced lawyers to defend an indefensible status quo in a case that they are certain to lose.
Parents support teachers’ right to unionize; they simply want teachers unions to support that same right for them. It will be impossible to form partnerships if parents must endure lies, harassment, forgeries, and violations of their constitutional rights every time they organize on behalf of their children.
Parents will no longer be silenced, because this isn’t about them, it’s about the future of their children. But if CTA and other teachers unions can accept that parents now have the same power as they do to unionize and act collectively, then they will find that parents unions and teachers unions have much in common when it comes to a kids-first agenda.
Ultimately, everyone on all sides of this issue must ask themselves a fundamental question: Would you be satisfied sending your own child to a school where two-thirds of the kids can’t read or do math at grade level? Would you be satisfied sending your own child to the lowest-performing school in your district that is ranked in the bottom 10 percent of the state every single year? If the answer is no, how can you ask another parent to send their child instead? If everyone can start from that same simple premise, then wherever we end up on this journey will be the right destination for our children.
Ben Austin serves as Executive Director of the nonprofit Parent Revolution. He served as Deputy Mayor under Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and held a variety of roles in the Clinton White House. A former member of the California State Board of Education, he has helped craft education reforms based on parental choice.