Unions Take Aim at Parent-Trigger Law

They're afraid of losing their power.

SACRAMENTO — When you throw a rock at a pack of wild dogs, how do you know which one you hit? It’s the one that’s yelping. That old country saying offers insight into modern-day politics. You can always tell if a law might make an actual policy difference by the interest groups that are complaining — and by the intensity of their yelps.

Every session, and for as long as I can remember, legislators propose education “reforms” designed presumably to improve the state’s bureaucratic public-school system, especially for students in schools where test scores are low. Every legislative effort causes a few grumbles. But it’s the rarest measure that causes a commotion.

Most reforms are like rocks that land in an empty field. They don’t anger anyone because they don’t challenge any vested interests. But in 2010, Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero of East Los Angeles introduced the Parent Empowerment Act, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Better known as the “parent trigger” law, it allows parents of students attending schools that continually fall below state and federal testing standards to force district officials to make significant changes. If 51 percent of parents sign the requisite petitions, parents can insist on a new principal or turn the school into a charter.

The law has only been applied a handful of times. But such efforts have been opposed politically and in the courts by the state’s teachers’ unions, which still are furious about it three years later. Newspapers report that United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the city’s main teachers’ union, voted to recruit a legislator to carry a bill that would “reform” the law.

Even supporters admit that changes may be useful to clarify some of the procedures for triggering school change, but they argue that anything championed by UTLA will be designed to undermine its usefulness. “There are a lot of failing schools in California and a lot of trigger candidates,” said Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. “Unions lose their power. It shifts it back to the parents.”

It’s not the small number of schools likely to be directly affected that explains the continued upset, he added, but the competitive pressure it places on every low-scoring public school. “All of a sudden schools have to do a good job,” he told me. “It’s competition. Now we have to get our act together.”

Even though the trigger’s advocates include reform-minded Democrats, the state Legislature’s recent leftward shift would mean that such a law would probably never pass today. Given the power of the California Teachers Association in the Assembly, trigger foes will have an easy time finding a member willing to try to muzzle it with a “trigger lock.”

Critics of the law, including academics and progressive writers, depict the trigger as a corporate-funded attack on unions. Indeed, a number of conservative-oriented foundations have funded the movement. But the anti-trigger rhetoric is astounding.

“Parent trigger is quite possibly the most ludicrous corruption of public governance and accountability on the education ‘reformy’ education policy table,” wrote Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker in a blog. He believes it’s wrong to assume that newly reconfigured schools are better than the “public bureaucracies” they replace.

Yet for parents struggling to help their kids get a better education right now, it’s easy to understand their willingness to give any reasonable idea a try. What’s the alternative? Trigger foes mainly argue for more money and higher teacher salaries and other status-quo reforms (i.e., more bilingual education, better teacher-to-student ratios).

Frankly, the trigger seems like a convoluted attempt to fix a convoluted system. But at least it identifies the main item lacking in the public schools today: competitive pressure. This reform may not fix most of California’s schools, but it has zeroed in on some of the right targets. We know by their yelping.

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  • UnCivilServant||

    I was hoping it included a firing squad for the booted administrators.

    What sort of bogus trigger is this?

  • playa manhattan||

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    This really is amusing. The wheels haven't even started to come off yet. This has the potential to be the most satisfying political show in history.

    Grab some popcorn and enjoy!

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    Critics of the law, including academics and progressive writers, depict the trigger as a corporate-funded attack on unions.

    They say that as if it were a bad thing.

    But union funded attacks on corporations are fine and dandy?

  • sarcasmic||

    But union funded attacks on corporations are fine and dandy?

    Well, yeah. I mean, the unions are us. Government is us. Corporations are them.

    By definition anything a corporation does is bad because they care only for profits, and anything a union or government does is good because they care only for the people.

    People before profits.

    Don't you know anything?

  • Jquip||

    Well sure. They're all incorporated in the same way. But only one is rapacious about profits. In the other, the workers embezzle it all.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Why does their logo look like a rap group's?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Because they're a group dedicated to taking money people don't want to give? Thug life, yo.

  • larry hammond||

    Every time I hear about political fights regarding education I have the same thought. School Choice. It solves all of them. You don't like how your school handles religion, science, discipline, core education requirements, testing, dress-code or anything really make a change. It could be to use your power of actually paying to force change within the school or move to another school if you decide it isn't going to work out. I don't understand how libs minds think that choice of a school is somehow evil. Of course I don't really understand how libs justify most of their positions and even the ones I agree with them on I feel like we came to hold that opinoin using completely different reasoning. btw...yes I think poor kids should get an education too, but if you just give them a voucher for 75% of what public schools pay to educate now they would be better off and save shit-tons of money to boot.

  • grey||

    The ultimate in school choice is no public schools and I believe it would be a huge success.

  • larry hammond||

    It couldn't be worse than the what we have now. Plus it could start with just one state, city or even district. Doesn't have to be a one size federal cluster f*%k.

  • JWW||

    So let me get this straight, unions are supposed to allow the members (teachers) to work together to negotiate for their best interests, but parents are not supposed to be allowed to work together for their best interests.

    Got it - hypocrisy.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    But the teachers have *everyone's* interest at heart, and they aren't dum like those minority parents.

  • grey||

    Teacher's are doing it for the children, while parents are doing it for...well...umm...

    So maybe the teacher's aren't doing it for the children?

  • GLK||

    All Unions are Socialist microcosms. They can't exist otherwise which is why, in a country like America they shouldn't exist at all.

  • blcartwright||

    I'm not generally a fan of unions but I believe they have a place in private business where labor and management can be on opposite sides of the bargaining table, each arguing for their own interests. The public (consumers) have the freedom to choose which establishments to take their business to.

    There should be no unions in the public sector, because there is no adversarial relationship - labor and management are on the same side, conspiring to fund politicians who will steer tax dollars their way, from tax payers who have a constrained choice of where to do their business.

  • Sevo||

    blcartwright|11.15.13 @ 5:30PM|#
    "I'm not generally a fan of unions but I believe they have a place in private business where labor and management can be on opposite sides of the bargaining table, each arguing for their own interests. The public (consumers) have the freedom to choose which establishments to take their business to."

    I'm not sure they can exist as successful organizations without gov't 'favors' more or less condoning thuggery by the unions.

  • grey||

    I find it amusing when progressives use the word 'accountability' in a sentence, it's so bizare, like seeing a turkey fly.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf3mgmEdfwg

  • Acosmist||

    If stupid kids are dragging your scores down, you can boot them out with the Charter Scam.

    Well, that's nice. And who is supposed to pay for the special ed students now that you kicked them out? Everyone else? Oh.

    OK.

  • Sevo||

    Acosmist|11.15.13 @ 6:56PM|#
    "If stupid kids are dragging your scores down, you can boot them out with the Charter Scam.
    Well, that's nice. And who is supposed to pay for the special ed students now that you kicked them out? Everyone else? Oh.
    OK."

    When imbeciles post stupidity, you can call them on it.

  • thinksubstance||

    “It’s competition. Now we have to get our act together.”

    As a teacher, I have no problem with schools competing with each other for students. The problem I see whenever this discussion comes up, is that everybody blames the teachers. Please understand that there is 3% of the schools student population that don't want to be there. Thus every teacher has to deal with these students on a daily basis, which takes them away from teaching the 97%. Nothing is done. Now the schools are having in house suspensions (to show everybody that suspensions are down) A smoke and mirror job. When will the parents and students of the 3% ever be held accountable? When will the 97% be protected? As soon as this happens then let the competition begin!

  • Sevo||

    You've got a problem with your argument. In fact more than one.
    First, you claim everyone is blaming the teachers. Well, if the teachers claim the ability to instruct, when that doesn't happen, who do we blame? If you 'can't do anything about it' why are we paying you?
    Secondly, that LA rating program that got buried by the teachers' unions a couple of years back seemed to do a pretty good job of comparing apples; some teachers made apple sauce, others got compost. Why can't we fire those people who shouldn't be there?
    As for your 3% claim, every job in the world has some 'unfixable' portion of requirements, and we (at least most of us) manage to do the work such that we get paid and promoted (by those who can even fire us); why can't teachers?

  • Harun||

    3% of my customers are complete jerks, but guess what? I still have to deal with them.

  • Edwin||

    it is your fault, if you really cared about the kids you'd enact reforms and do somehting different, and at the very least you'd let us try a different system, and certainly you'd let the VOTERS decide by VOTING.
    It is your fault and I hope you suffer and die. Go fuck yourself

  • sheila124||

    my best friend's ex-wife makes $74 an hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for five months but last month her pay was $21054 just working on the laptop for a few hours. explanation..........................

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