Yolie Flores is President & CEO of Communities for Teaching Excellence, and a former LAUSD school board member. I asked her a few questions regarding the first successful use of California's parent trigger law in Adelanto, CA.
On Performance: Do you think the primary impact of California's law will be through actual parent takeovers, or through increased responsiveness from districts that anticipate potential takeovers?
Yolie Flores: I think most parents want to see their school district be responsive to them and address their concerns. They are eager for solutions and a commitment from school officials to improve their children's schools. But far too many either get ignored or get excuses and nothing changes. Many are voting with their feet and going to charter schools, but now they have another option. I believe the law will help them get the responses they want from their district, but will absolutely use the parent trigger for a takeover as a last resort if they don't get the immediate response they deserve. The Adelanto case is a perfect example of this...
On Performance: One of the challenges of improving rural schools is attracting sufficient numbers of highly qualified applicants for new jobs. Do you anticipate any challenges in filling the vacancies that are created when a school is taken over, and what proportion of current staff do you think will end up staying on?
Yolie Flores: I don't know the current staff at Desert Trails Elementary. I don't know what percent will stay on. Ben Austin has said that it's an open secret that Desert Trails is where the district sends many of its least effective teachers. If that's true, that's just wrong. But it's also not surprising. There's research proving that schools whose students are mostly low-income and/or students of color get stuck with less effective teachers. That's why we absolutely need policies in place that make sure strong teachers are distributed equitably.
On Performance: Parents Across America reports that many parents who signed the petition in Adelanto are not in favor of turning Desert Trails into a charter, and that charter operators, preferring to start new schools, may be reluctant to take over an existing school. Do you foresee Desert Trails actually becoming a charter, or simply serving as a legal test case?
Yolie Flores: It's up to the parents whether a charter is brought in. That's the beauty of the parent trigger. Parents will decide what's best for their children. I'd hope that whatever they want, they'll get. What we need to do, however, is to arm parents with honest and accurate information about their choices and, in particular, the track record of an operator so that they make the best decisions that will give their children the quality education they deserve. Just like in traditional schools, there are good charters and bad charters. We want parents to discern between these and then decide for themselves what is best. Indeed, the last thing we want is for parents to go from one failing school to another failing school.
On Performance: Charters seem to be much more common in urban areas, where students have a number of schools within driving distance. In rural areas, what do you see as the role of charters, and how do you see them being perceived in small communities?
Yolie Flores: Their role must be the same - to provide a high quality education to the children of that community. If they are the only school in the area and there are transportation issues, the school must help parents resolve this issue. The point here is to make access to a quality school easier, not more difficult.
On Performance: There seems to be quite a bit of controversy over the issue of trickery, perhaps on both sides. How can future attempts to use the parent trigger law proceed with more transparency?
Yolie Flores: Whenever conventional power structures are challenged, it gets nasty. I think it'll continue to be an uphill battle for parents who use the parent trigger law. They'll have to endure all kinds of lies and manipulation and behind-the-scenes politics. They need to be prepared for that. Fortunately, there are groups like Parent Revolution to help them fight forces that they can't always fight on their own, or groups like Communities for Teaching Excellence that will arm parents with honest information so that they are well informed of the issues and their options. With time, the tricks and the lies will be exposed and that behavior will no longer be tolerated.
On Performance: Do you think the law is being used as intended?
Yolie Flores: It's only been used twice, as far as I know. And in both cases, yes. It's a last resort, when districts refuse to agree to basic policy changes for the benefit of children. We (Communities for Teaching Excellence) helped the Adelanto parents offer some very balanced, reasonable policy recommendations to the district. These were things like better teacher evaluations, which are being adopted all over the country. The district dismissed those ideas. So, the parents took the next step.
And that's the beauty of this example: The PARENTS took the next step. THEY reached out to Parent Revolution and THEY initiated the process afforded to them in the law. As such, the law worked perfectly. When no one was willing to listen, when the district was unresponsive, they took matters into their own hands.
On Performance: What are your ultimate hopes for the law's reach and implementation?
Yolie Flores: First and foremost, I hope the law finally helps districts and unions understand that parents are the ultimate customer and most important stakeholder and that they MUST respond to them when they demand better schools for their children. For too long, the needs and rights of parents and their children have been systematically ignored. The public school system has failed too many generations of children—especially poor and minority children—for way too long without any real consequences. I hope the law sends a signal that these days are over. I also hope it prompts proactive collaboration between communities and school leaders. We've seen that yield promising results in cities like Pittsburgh, Memphis, Hillsborough, New Haven. Those districts and unions weren't motivated by the threat of a parent trigger, but in places like Adelanto, if that's what it takes, then so it goes.
I am interested in hearing more about the Adelanto case, especially from within the school district. Feel free to comment or email me if you have a perspective to share.