Deasy, Austin join Vergara suit sponsor, Students Matter

LA Unified Supt. John Deasy testifying at the Vergara trial

Former LA Unified Supt. John Deasy testifying at the Vergara trial

The non-profit behind the Vergara lawsuit, Students Matter, is adding two former LA Unified lightning rods to their ranks. Ex-Superintendent John Deasy and founder of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin, are joining the advocacy group.

Students Matter successfully sued the state of California and its public school teachers unions, overturning five laws governing tenure, seniority and dismissal that the student plaintiffs argued kept ineffective teachers in their classrooms. The state and the unions have appealed, vowing to defend the statutes challenged in the case.

It’s the second job-related announcement this month for Deasy, who will be serving on the Students Matter advisory board. He was recently named a consultant for The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems as a “superintendent-in-residence.” Austin will serve as head of policy development and advocacy for Students Matter, leading the organization’s “Courtroom to Classroom” campaign.

“By hiring Ben Austin and adding Dr. John E. Deasy ’s expertise to our board, Students Matter is expanding its commitment to fighting for political change that focuses on the needs of our kids,” David Welch, the group’s founder and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur said in a press release today.

Austin stepped down last month as executive director of Parent Revolution, a group he founded six years ago to aid parents pushing for change in their children’s poorly-performing schools.  Under his leadership, the organization played a role in creating California’s parent trigger law and, later, helping three area schools use it. Three other schools used the threat of it to force changes.

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Austin stepping down as head of Parent Revolution

Parent Revolution’s Gabe Rose and Ben Austin

Parent Revolution’s Gabe Rose (left) and Ben Austin

Ben Austin is stepping down as executive director of Parent Revolution, a group he founded six years ago to aid parents pushing for change in their children’s poorly-performing schools.

Parent Revolution played a role in creating California’s parent trigger law and, later, helping three area schools use it. Three other schools used the threat of it to force changes.

“Over the past six years, we have invented an idea, passed it into law, implemented it, built an organization and scaled a movement,” Austin said in a statement. “In the wake of the successful Parent Power Convention and the recent agreement with the LAUSD to work collaboratively on Parent Trigger, we are at an inflection point. We have normalized the idea of parent power and institutionalized Parent Trigger laws into our legal and political framework.”

He added, “It’s now about long term movement and institution building. It’s time to let new leadership and new energy take the reigns and help shape this next chapter.”

Parent Revolution said Alison Laslett, Pasrent Revolution’s Chief Operating Officer, will serve as interim executive director while the board searches for a permanent replacement.

California became the first state to pass a parent trigger law, in 2010; since then, at least six other states have followed suit.

Despite its victories, Parent Revolution has endured withering criticism from teacher unions and others who charge that schools are using parent trigger to skirt employment protections for public school teachers. The group has also been attacked for its sources of funding, including the Gates Foundation, and for doing the bidding of charter school operators.

Cortines lifts LAUSD ban on Parent Trigger enacted by Deasy

parent triggerThe head of Parent Revolution said today that LA Unified has reversed course, lifting the ban on using the “Parent Trigger” law this year to overhaul failing district schools.

“As one of Superintendent Cortines’s first moves, it’s a sign that the district will be respectful of the law,” Ben Austin, founder of the group that helps parents organize and enact the take-over of a failing campus, told LA School Report.

“It indicates that Cortines wants to work collaboratively with parents and parent unions,” he added.

The state Parent Trigger law allows parents to make changes at their children’s school if a majority of parents sign a petition demanding improvements. So far, it has been used for only a handful of schools in California.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines and Deputy Superintendent Michelle King met with Austin last week to discuss the moratorium. In an interview with LA School Report a day later, Cortines confirmed the district’s change in policy.

“I believe in parent choice, and I mean parent choice. There is no ban,” Cortines said, adding that he had already notified the author of the law, former Senator Gloria Romero, about his position.

However, several district officials said they know of no such change. When asked about it last week General Counsel David Holmquist said he had been unaware of Cortines’s decision.

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Outside group challenging LAUSD’s view of ‘Parent Trigger’

Gloria Romero, CA State Senator

Gloria Romero


Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents petition for change at poor-performing schools, is disputing an LA Unified legal opinion that says the state law that gives parents that right is invalid this year.

The conflict came to light in an LA Times story this morning, citing an opinion from a district lawyer sent to Gloria Romero, the former California lawmaker who wrote the 2010 “Parent Trigger” law.

Romero, who founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment last year, said in an interview this morning she felt “angry and betrayed” by a legal decision that was reached last fall by the district but not shared with her until she learned about it three weeks ago.

“I’m not saying LAUSD is wrong on the legal interpretation; I just don’t know, and that’s why I’m seeking another legal interpretation from the state,” she said, “But LAUSD’s decision violates the spirit and intent of the law.”

“What I want to know,” she added, “is why did they keep this quiet all this time.”

The district’s opinion stems from a Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards — measures used to determine whether a school is failing.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said in an interview that the metrics used by LA Unified and the other districts granted the waiver still give parents the right to use the Parent Trigger law, so long as a school has been deemed in need of improvement for two consecutive years, ending with the 2014-2015 school year.

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Parent Revolution holding a forum to spread the ‘trigger’ word

Parent RevolutionEmboldened by the Vergara v. California ruling, which struck down state teacher tenure and seniority protections last week, Parent Revolution is trying to expand its reach.

The advocacy group, which pushes for Parent Trigger laws across the country, plans to hold a one-day “Parent Power Convention” in October, the first meeting of its kind. It’s timed to coincide with the countdown to the fall elections and “will incorporate vital discussions on the type of laws” the group seeks to enact.

In California, the parent trigger law creates a pathway for parents to make changes at their schools by collecting signatures of a majority of parents who want change. It has been used so far in only two schools, 24th Street Elementary in LA Unified and Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto.

“It should be clear that in the wake of the historic decision in Vergara, Parent Union leaders immediately grasped the opportunity and the responsibility to build upon their hard won seat at table around school site decisions into a seat at the table in Sacramento to advocate for the interests of all children in California,” Ben Austin, executive director for Parent Revolution, said in a statement.

Organizers expect candidates in the final days of their respective campaigns will be eager to gain the endorsement of Parent Union chapters, which they claim are a rising and expanding political constituency in California.

Few details about the event are available at this time, but a spokesperson confirmed it will “definitely be interactive.”

Candidates for board seat, CA education chief at USC forum

candidate forumYet another education-related candidate forum has been scheduled for Los Angeles, this one on Saturday at USC, and it’s unusual in that it will include back-to-back conversations with candidates for the open board seat for LA Unified’s District 1, then another with those running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The co-sponsors — Parent Revolution, the Los Angeles Urban League and Students for Education Reform — said today that five of the seven board candidates and two of the three people running for the state position will appear.

The board candidates who have agreed to appear are Genethia Hudley-Hayes, Alex Johnson, Rachel Johnson, Hattie McFrazier and George McKenna. Two others are not listed as participants — Omarosa Manigault and Sherlett Hendy-Newbill, but no reason was given.

“Parents across the city and state recognize they need to have the ability to protect their children’s right to both a quality education and opportunity for a successful future,” the organizers said in a news release. “Recent parent successes have come from parents initiating improvements, becoming real partners with educators and community leaders in charting a course of success for their children. Parents need public elected leaders who are truly invested in crafting paths to provide all children in the state with a great education.”

Marshall Tuck and Lydia Gutierrez, the two candidates challenging the incumbent state education chief, Tom Torlakson, are scheduled to appear, but not Torlakson.

See details of event here.

Two other District 1 candidate forums are scheduled for May 7 and May 14.


Commentary: An extraordinary effort for extraordinary need

Ben Austin

Ben Austin

LAUSD School Board Member Steve Zimmer’s recent commentary “Standing with Beatriz” hit the nail on the head on one key issue: for our children, the stakes are high.

Let me acknowledge first that Mr. Zimmer is a good person who is doing what he feels is best for the children of LAUSD. On this issue, however, we have a principled disagreement about what that is.

Mr. Zimmer portrays himself as a grassroots underdog taking on a phalanx of nefarious billionaires who aim to “privatize” public education. What he fails to mention, is that he was also supported by over one million dollars in campaign contributions from the biggest and most powerful special interest group in the state. That fact doesn’t make him right or wrong, but it does make him part of the system. It isn’t a coincidence that the same adult special interests that bankrolled his campaign are now bankrolling the opposition to Vergara.

Mr. Zimmer wrote about the “Vergara fiction,” that the status quo is broken. But this harsh reality is unfortunately not fiction for the children who lose their talented, dedicated and loving teachers to layoffs each year just because they were hired last. And it’s not fiction for the children who have been molested and for those who were literally forced to eat semen by a teacher who was paid $40,000 to retire, with full benefits!

Vergara shifts the focus from the interests of adults to where it should have been all along: children.

Putting children first must be the “north star” by which all decisions are made in our public education system. Ninety one percent of likely California voters support a children-first agenda, but far too often the interests of powerful adults trump the interests of children.

This is not a coincidence.

It’s because kids don’t have a political action committee, and kids don’t have lobbyists.

Beatriz Vergara and the millions of children attending California public schools can’t vote.

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Survey: parents want more change, power in schools

parent empowermentA new poll commissioned by Parent Revolution finds that two-thirds of California voters believe that the state education system needs either a “major” change or a “complete overhaul,” and by the same 2-1 margin they believe schools are currently focusing on the needs of adults rather than children.

The results were included in a poll of 807 likely November 2014 voters, conducted in English and Spanish by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research between Dec. 8 and 15. Parent Revolution is a group that works with parents to make changes in their children’s schools, in accordance with California’s Parent Empowerment Act, the state’s so-called ”parent trigger” law.

The overarching message from the poll is that most Californians want the state public school system reworked and that parents must be included in the process. Latinos polled consistently higher in support of the need for real parent empowerment and decision-making in their children’s community schools.

These were among the poll’s other findings:

  • 91 percent of California voters believe every decision about schools should be based on what’s best for the children in the classroom, not what is best for adults who work for the school. And 72 percent of Californians “strongly” agree with this statement.
  • 82 percent of all voters and 88 percent of Latinos believe that parents should have the ability to force school districts to re-organize a school that has been failing for four years in a row or more.
  • 76 percent of all voters and 82 percent of Latinos oppose weakening or repealing the Parent Empowerment Act.

Previous Posts: Parents using the ‘Trigger‘ law help get a pre-k for 24th streetUTLA voted to find a state lawmaker to change the parent trigger lawMorning Read: Parent Trigger School Opens a New Era.

‘Trigger’ Parents Help Return Pre-K to 24th St. Elementary

Twenty-Fourth Street School

Twenty-Fourth Street School

By the first of the new year, 24th Street Elementary School in West Adams will open a new pre-kindergarten program, a victory for parents concerned with how children were performing in grades beyond.

The change came about through California’s new Parent Empowerment Act, the so-called Parent Trigger Law, which lets parents implement changes that include replacing staff, adding programs, shutting down the school altogether and handing control over to a charter.

The law has been used in a small number of schools this year, drawing controversy in each case for its impact on union teachers and the parents of students who did not sign petitions seeking change.

Efforts for change at 24th Street began several years ago. Parent Maria Eloisa Alcala said the school was functioning poorly on a number of levels, with bathrooms that weren’t working properly, rats found in vents and, worse, low student achievement.

“Children at 24th were performing way below grade level,” said Alcala, who has two kids at the school. Children were testing badly, she adds, in both reading and math.

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Gloria Romero Leaving One Ed Reform Group to Start Another

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero is stepping down from her position as Director of California Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) to start a new organization, the Foundation for Parent Empowerment.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with DFER, but believe that it is time to move past party politics and focus my skills and organizing with parents who form the true base of any education reform movement,” she said in a statement.

In 2010, as a California State Senator, Romero authored the country’s first “parent trigger” law, which allows a majority of parents to replace a school’s leadership. But the fiercely independent Romero hasn’t always agreed with the tactics employed by Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has helped organize every parent trigger campaign in California to date.

Romero’s new organization will focus on empowering parents to affect change at their children’s schools.

“A myriad of federal and state laws exist which, when combined, offer parents greater opportunities to become more actively involved in helping their children pursue the American Dream via education,” she said.

Romero’s independence and unpredictability have earned her many enemies. Last year, she even broke with DFER’s national organization to support LA Unified and seven other California school districts in their quest for a No Child Left Behind waiver.

Nevertheless, DFER Executive Director Joe Williams lent a quote to Romero’s goodbye press release, saying, “We are extremely grateful for all the great work Gloria has done for children and families in California as an elected official in the California Legislature as well as her leadership of DFER in California.”

Previous posts: Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSDMayor Overreached Against Zimmer, Says ReformerHow Prop. 32 Could Affect LAUSD

Coalition Calls on Gov. Brown to Veto Testing Bill, AB 484

computer_testA coalition representing “tens of thousands” of parents, teachers and education reform organizations is petitioning Governor Jerry Brown to veto a bill letting California schools off the hook for testing students while the state transitions to a new curriculum and testing model.

Gov. Brown has expressed his support for AB 484 and has has until the end of the month to sign or veto it.

The bill, suspends annual multiple-choice tests, including the California Standards and Reporting tests, taken by students in the second grade through the junior year of high school. It replaces them with a new system called the Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP), a test developed to assess the new Common Core Standards that will take effect in 2014-15.

Until then, the bill would allow schools to take a pilot MAPP field test in either English or math, and not count the scores as an official measure of school progress.

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CA Has a Plan for Using Test Scores — Even With No Tests (Updated)

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

While a bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature would end statewide testing for a year – he’s expected to sign it – state officials plan to use older test results to assure that California receives its annual Title I allocations.

To comply with federal regulations that states must provide annual test results to qualify for the money, the California Department of Education has decided to use the higher of two scores — a school’s 2012-13 API results, which were issued last month, or a three year average of the most recent APIs.

“We knew that we needed something in the law that said what are we going to do, given the fact that we won’t have English language arts and math scores for one year,” Keric Ashley, Director of Analysis, Measurement, and Accountability Reporting Division for the department of education told LA School Report.

The bill would give California school districts time to acclimate to the new Common Core State Standards curriculum and the computer-based Smarter Balanced assessments that will be used in 2015.

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Haddon Parents Abandon Trigger, Still Get Changes

Haddon Elementary Parents

Haddon Elementary Parents

In California public education, you sometimes don’t have to pull the trigger.

Parents of students at Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima have ended their ‘parent trigger’ campaign to take over their school because they got what they wanted without it.

“I’m very happy that this resulted in some changes at the school,” Martha Martinez, the founder of the Haddon Parents union, said through a translator, “but I still want to be involved in being a part of the process moving forward.”

The parent trigger campaign had been going on for a couple years until it was paused in March. The following month, teachers at Haddon voted instead to become a Local Initiative School, which gives it various autonomies from LAUSD. According to Parent Revolution, a non-profit that helps plan and support signature-gathering efforts, the Haddon trigger campaign served as leverage to force the teachers into agreeing to various reforms.

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School Board’s Strange Parent Trigger About-Face

Superintendent John Deasy accepts the petition from parents of 24th St. Elementary

Superintendent John Deasy accepts the petition from parents of 24th St. Elementary

A couple of odds things happened towards the end of the School Board’s late-night meeting on Tuesday:

Around 8:00 pm, as seven weary Board members were debating a proposal put forth by Board member Steve Zimmer calling on the district and state to bring greater transparency to the parent trigger signature-gathering process, Superintendent John Deasy suggested that the Board might as well lobby Sacramento to repeal the law instead of just lobbying Sacramento to change it (as the original Zimmer resolution requested).

Tired and perhaps a bit confused, the a majority of the Board approved Deasy’s suggestion and adopted the amendment and passed the resolution by a vote of 4-3 — over the objections of its  author and Board members Vladovic and LaMotte. Board member Bennett Kayser joined Deasy allies Galatzan, Martinez, and Garcia in voting ‘yes’ on the amendment.

Then, more than an hour later — after most reporters and staff had left the meeting and just as Board President Garcia was about to adjourn the meeting — Board member Zimmer interjected and asked the Board to reverse course.

Two days later, it’s not exactly clear why Deasy proposed the Board endorse a repeal of the parent trigger, why a mix of trigger supporters and opponents agreed to it, or why trigger critics decided that it was better to go back to the original, somewhat softer language of the original Zimmer resolution.

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Marathon Board Meeting Signals Changes to Come

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 11.50.39 AM

Superintendent John Deasy, Board President Monica Garcia, and departing Board member Nury Martinez

As anyone following us on Twitter knows all too well, Tuesday’s School Board meeting was a marathon session that lasted well into the night — much of it accompanied by the sound of protesters drumming on the street outside.

Among several key decisions the Board arrived at during the lengthy session were votes to award a $30 million contract to Apple, close a charter school that had dodged a district audit, and add some local regulations to the controversial parent trigger process (but not call for the law’s repeal).

The last meeting of the 2012-2013 school year, it also marked the final appearance of Nury Martinez, who left the Board after four years to run for City Council.

School Board President Monica Garcia presented Martinez with a giant bell, and Board held a bizarre mid-meeting reception in her honor that included a soft jazz band and chicken salad sandwiches.

By 9 pm, when the meeting finally ended, the Board had also approved its 2013-14 budget and begun a furious (and likely to be long-running) debate on how to spend future revenue increases.

If last month’s Board meeting represented a series of hard-fought victories for Superintendent John Deasy and his allies on the Board, last night’s meeting included a couple of losses, with a hint of more to come when the Board changes composition and leadership next month.

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NYU Professor’s Non-Apology to Parent Revolution Head

dianeOver the recent Memorial Day weekend, NYU education historian Diane Ravitch penned a pair of angry blog posts about the parent trigger and Parent Revolution’s Ben Austin.

Among other things, Ravitch wrote that “There is a special place in Hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like [Weigand Avenue Elementary School principal] Irma Cobian.” She also called Austin “loathsome,” described him as the Walton Family’s “useful idiot.

While some applauded her writing, a handful of online commentators called Ravitch out for her language.  Parent Revolution sent out a series of press releases blasting Ravitch on the facts and on her tone. Austin himself wrote a deeply personal open letter to Ravitch describing difficult aspects of his own childhood as his motivation for wanting to help fix broken schools like Weigand Avenue Elementary.

On Friday, Ravitch apologized to Austin – sort of:  “I lost my temper,” she wrote, “and I have to explain why. I don’t like bullies. When I saw this woman targeted by your powerful organization, it looked like bullying.”

Ravitch also apologizes to Cobian, the principal, on behalf of Austin: “Maybe next time, he will think twice, get better information, and consider the consequences before he decides to take down another principal.”

Previous posts: Parent Revolution Reaches Out to UTLA TeachersParent Trigger: Times Debates Transparency, UrgencyTeachers Union Turning Back Against Parent Trigger

Parent Revolution Reaches Out to UTLA Teachers


Parent Revolution’s Gabe Rose, left, and Ben Austin, right

On Sunday afternoon, around 25 classroom teachers who have been elected to represent their schools met at UTLA headquarters to discuss the contentious parent trigger petition process that’s unfolded at Weigand Elementary — and the possibility of additional trigger petitions in the future.

Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has led the organizing efforts on all signature gathering campaigns, publicly requested permission to attend the Sunday meeting and was immediately denied.

However, the nonprofit handed out flyers on Friday inviting UTLA members to come to a separate meeting later this month — and at least some teachers are planning on attending, whether they support the parent trigger approach or not.

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Teachers Union Turning Back Against Parent Trigger

Pro- and anti-trigger protesters at Weigand Elementary (via LAT's Teresa Watanabe)

Pro- and anti-parent trigger protesters at Weigand Elementary (via LAT’s Teresa Watanabe)

In recent days, LAUSD teachers and union activists have been stepping up their attacks on the use of California’s parent trigger law and Parent Revolution, the nonprofit that has been coordinating parents’ efforts.

They held a Thursday press conference at Weigand Elementary, the school where parents and organizers recently petitioned to oust Principal Irma Cobian (but keep the teachers and remain a part of LAUSD).

Pro-trigger protesters were also there, as noted by the LA TimesTeresa Watanabe (see image above).

And the teachers union is holding a special meeting this Sunday for union representatives and others at schools that are “facing a possible takeover by ‘Parent Trigger.'”

One reason for the renewed opposition may be the concern about additional parent trigger petitions within LAUSD. A source within UTLA said there were at least 14 schools being “targeted” for future petitions. A Parent Revolution spokesman said that the group is in preliminary conversations with as many as 50 LAUSD schools.

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Commentary: Trimming the “Trigger”

While generally supportive of the “parent trigger” petition process to revamping low-performing schools, the LA Times editorial page is making a strong recommendation to improve at least one part of the process:

“Banning parents from the second round of decision-making simply because they chose a different option during the petition drive — the option of not changing the school — is unfair, and certainly unlikely to draw parents together and engage them in their newly managed schools,” according to the Times.  “It’s akin to telling people who voted for the losers in a primary that they can’t vote in the runoff election.”
You can read the full editorial here: Refining ‘parent trigger’

Board Preview: Multiple Protests, Packed Agenda

Teachers protest outside the School Board meeting in March of 2012

Just as record-breaking temperatures in Los Angeles are expected to subside by tomorrow, many of the heated LAUSD issues on the docket for tomorrow’s Board meeting may cool off into mere formalities by the time they come up for a vote.

But a packed Board agenda and multiple union rallies could still make for a dramatic day at the district’s Beaudry Avenue headquarters.

Both UTLA and the SEIU Local 99 have planned demonstrations. The latest “parent trigger” petition is up for approval, and Board member proposals on such difficult topics as lengthening the school year and reforming school discipline are all on the agenda.

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