Parents are the first educators of their children and, although many may neglect this duty, most are likely to want the best for them and encourage their learning. Los Angeles mother, Amabilia Villeda, would be one of those. She has had three children attend the 24th Street Elementary school but is now backing a move by other parents of students there to take control of the school away from the district authority, because of its poor performance.
This is possible under a 2010 California law known as the “parent trigger”, whereby parents can petition for change if they gather signatures of parents representing half the school’s students. They can fire teachers, oust administrators or turn the school over to private management.
Mrs Villeda told Reuters that when one of her children, now in eighth grade, went to a new school the teachers there “started calling me because my daughter wasn’t performing and couldn’t read anything”. The fact that this Hispanic woman had to use a translator to talk to the media indicates that her children could not get much help with reading at home, making it more difficult to make progress at school; nevertheless, children can be quite quick at picking up a second language and a school should be able to make some difference.
24th Street Elementary is not the first California school to experience the “parent trigger”. Last year parents at Adelanto, a rural community, with the help of Los Angeles based Parent Revolution, won a California Supreme Court case to have their petition accepted. Earlier this month they decided to turn struggling Desert Trails Elementary into a privately managed charter school.
Is this the best way to go about improving schools? An academic cautions that takeovers won’t necessarily fix problems such as poor funding and overcrowding, and that it’s better for parents to collaborate with teachers. This begs the question of whether money and class sizes are the real problems in a school, or whether it’s something else, like poor leadership. The teachers unions, of course, are dead against it. Maybe their members are facing a tough job teaching an immigrant population; or maybe they spend too much energy lobbying for better pay and conditions when something else needs attention.
At any rate, this is an interesting development (copied by several other states) and it will be worth watching out for the results.