The future of public education in the United States has become a struggle for the hearts and minds of parents and their communities.
While community-based organisations like Alliance for Quality Education (see below) continue to evolve and build on a proud tradition of “education organising” that puts the learning needs of children at the forefront of its activities, new players have entered the field with more ambiguous interests and intentions.
At a glance, Parent Revolution appears to be consistent with other efforts in community and education organising: “Our team works directly with parents at underperforming schools in Los Angeles and throughout California to help parents organize to transform their children’s under-performing schools using California’s historic Parent Trigger law.” (Parent Revolution website)
The trigger law gives parents the power to petition for dramatic changes at their school, including the option of converting the school into an independent or private charter school that continues to be funded by public money. The trigger law was written by Ben Austin, the founder and current Executive Director of Parent Revolution. He also happens to be the co-founder of Green Dot Charter Schools and his parent organisation has the backing of a range of corporate interests including the Bill and Melinda Gates and Walton Family
The Parent Revolution website asserts what usually would be considered a politically progressive means of parent and community engagement: “We use sophisticated and cutting edge community organising techniques to help parents organise, create Parents Union chapters, build power, analyse their school’s performance, and fight for kids-first reforms that will dramatically improve academic outcomes for their children.”
The promises are seductive and the intentions sound consistent with other education organising efforts, but Parent Revolution appears to have a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to some of California’s most vulnerable communities.
Lori Yuan, a parent who fought the Parent Trigger at Desert Trails School in Adelanto, summed-up the experience: “They call it Parent Trigger. It feels more like a drive-by.”
In New York, an aggressive charter movement continues to organise parents and communities. On just one day more than 10,000 teachers, parents and children from New York City’s charter schools crossed Brooklyn Bridge to protest against the policies of the front-running mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. He said he would charge rent to charter school operators who currently use space in public schools for free, and have a moratorium on forcing traditional public schools to be co-located with charters.