In California, a law allowing parents to force significant management changes on failing schools—from replacing principals all the way up to transforming them into charter programs—has been used a couple of times in the Los Angeles area, and the threat of possible use has brought about additional reforms.
But never underestimate the magic of bureaucracy. There are rules in the state law to determine when parents may vote for changes. One of them is that the feds have to declare the school failing. So what does the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) do? It gets a waiver from the federal government restarting the clock that determines whether a school's performance is substandard. As a result, LAUSD claims it is immune from parent-triggered efforts for a year. It's not that schools have gotten any better. It's because of a piece of paper giving Los Angeles schools permission to suck. From the Los Angeles Times:
In a letter from a district lawyer to former state Sen. Gloria Romero obtained by The Times on Thursday, officials said the school system is not subject to the "parent trigger" law because it obtained a waiver last year from federal educational requirements that are linked to it. Instead, L.A. Unified has joined with eight other California school districts to create their own changes and systems to monitor progress, the letter said.
Romero, who authored the 2010 law, said she was stunned by the district's position, which was laid out in a letter Wednesday from Kathleen Collins, L.A. Unified's chief administrative law and litigation counsel.
"I am livid about this," Romero said. "I believe it violates the spirit and intent of parent empowerment."
But Supt. John Deasy said the district still supports the law, and that low-performing schools would once more be subject to parent petitions for change at the end of the year. The federal waiver obtained, he said, simply restarted the two-year time period schools need to be academically substandard before they are eligible for a trigger overhaul.
"I wholeheartedly support the legislation and look forward to working again with eligible schools," Deasy said.
Collins wrote that the district "remains committed to addressing any issues and concerns from parents and community."
Until they get another waiver next year!
Read my interview with Romero from 2013 here.