The Sound & Fury about Public School Reform

Philanthropy News Digest has piece about parents in a California community invoking a “trigger” provision in state law that enables parents to convert a low-performing school to a charter school run by a for-profit company:

With support from Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, parents in Adelanto, California, a poor community on the edge of the Mojave Desert, have petitioned to turn the underperforming local public grade school, Desert Trails Elementary, into a charter school managed by a private company, Reuters reports.

The issue has come to a head thanks to a state law passed in 2010 that permits parents at the state’s worst performing public schools to organize, wrest control from their local school districts, and fire teachers and principals or convert their schools into charter institutions run by a for-profit company. According to Reuters, Desert Trails, where more than half the students are unable to pass state math or reading tests, has been struggling to meet state requirements for many years.

However, another group of parents in town, with support from both state and local teachers unions, is working to stop the so-called “trigger petition,” challenging the signatures as invalid and questioning the details of the proposed plan. “Where are their lesson plans?” asked former teacher Kimberly Smith, whose two children attend Desert Trails. “What is the curriculum?…How is it better?”

It is not at all clear how triggers or other gimmickry are really supposed to improve anything.  In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, educator Diane Ravitch surveyed the entire education reform movement.  Her conclusions?

The problems of American education are not unsolvable, but the remedies must be rooted in reality. Schools are crucial institutions in our society and teachers can make a huge difference in changing children’s lives, but schools and teachers alone cannot cure the ills of an unequal and stratified society. Every testing program—whether the SAT, the ACT, or state and national tests—demonstrates that low scores are strongly correlated to poverty. On the SAT, for example, students from the most affluent families have the highest scores, and children from the poorest families have the lowest scores. Children need better schools, and they also need health clinics, high-quality early childhood education, arts programs, after-school activities, safe neighborhoods, and basic economic security. To the extent that we reduce poverty, we will improve student achievement.

Not an easy thing to do, but it could actually address the problem.

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