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Los Angeles Interim Superintendent Clears Way For Use of Parent-Trigger Law

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The parents of children enrolled in failing Los Angeles schools will be able to petition for sweeping management and academic changes after all.

In an about-face, Ramon C. Cortines, the newly-named interim superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, told the Los Angeles Times this week that he supports "giving parents a choice," which includes allowing them to use the so-called parent-trigger law. California's Parent Empowerment Act allows parents whose children attend chronically low-performing schools to petition their district for educational changes, including hiring new staff or converting the school into a charter.

But just three months ago, then-Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy put the brakes on all parent-trigger efforts by citing a federal waiver the district received from the U.S. Department of Education. Parent Revolution, a parent-advocacy group that has helped organize parents to use the parent-trigger law, threatened to sue the district over the ban.

However, Deasy's resignation in October—which followed criticism from board members and the teachers' union for issues including the district's bungled $1.3 billion iPad program—cleared the way for parent-trigger advocates to lobby Cortines to lift the ban.

Ben Austin, founder of Parent Revolution, told the LA School Report that Cortines' decision shows that the superintendent wants to "work collaboratively with parents and parent unions." Austin said that he met with Cortines earlier this month.

Los Angeles' district-parent cooperation efforts could be put to the test soon. The Times reports that Parent Revolution is working with parents at five schools, mostly in Los Angeles, who may or may not choose to use the parent-trigger law to spark school improvement efforts. How the district will identify which schools are parent-trigger-eligible could be complicated since California suspended most of its testing and accountability program last year as it ushers in the new Common Core State Standards-aligned assessment system.

It's likely that the parent-trigger will be a central part of discussions at the Parent Power Convention hosted by Parent Revolution in Los Angeles Saturday. According to a press release, the convention will bring members of Parents Union chapters together with parent and community advocates to develop a "common set of principals and vision" to ensure all students have access to great public schools. Parent Unions are parent-led membership groups dedicated to improving their school.

Meanwhile, California's first parent-trigger school is getting mixed reviews. Recent student test-score results seem to show signs of academic growth at Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto. California Standards Test science scores of 5th graders released last month show impressive gains; however it's unclear how many of the students who took the test attended the school before it was transformed into a charter. Reading comprehension test results released Friday by Parent Revolution also show Desert Trails students are making up academic ground and are approaching grade level. Unlike the science assessment, the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test was administered to Desert Trails students after its charter conversion in 2013 and again this year. 

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But test scores don't always tell the whole story.

According the news website Capital & Main, former Desert Trails teachers claim the school was being run unprofessionally and unethically during the 2013-2014 school year. A group of eight teachers submitted a 15-page complaint about the school to the Adelanto Elementary School District, which issued the school's charter.

 Among the charges alleged in the Oct. 16 story is that:

  • Teachers without the proper credentials were instructing students;
  • The staff and teacher turnover rate was exceedingly high;
  • The school was severely underfunded; and
  • Some parents of students with learning disabilities were discouraged from seeking special education services.

Debbie Tarver, the school's executive director, admitted that the school's budget was "stretched thin," but she mostly disputed the teachers' claims in the story. The district told Capital & Main that it has directed the school to address the teachers' complaints.

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