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L.A. Unified Gives Power to Parents to Force School Turnarounds

In what may be a first-of-its-kind reform, the nation's second-largest school district is about to empower parents to force the overhaul of their children's chronically underperforming schools.

In regulations crafted by Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines and his team to guide the district's new school choice policy, parents with children in a school that has been in California's "program improvement" status for three or more years can "trigger" the process to open the school up to outside managers if a simple majority of them sign a petition.

Talk about a public option!

What may be even more remarkable is that prospective parents, or those whose children are eligible to attend the failing school by virtue of living in its attendance zone, can also trigger this action by the same means: collecting signatures that total 50 percent plus one of the parents with children who attend the feeder campuses for the troubled school.

Sounds interesting, innovative, and fraught with controversy, doesn't it?

Ben Austin, the executive director of the Parent Revolution, calls the provision a "new, 21st-century paradigm for education reform."

But will the parental power be real? Austin says absolutely. "This is not a recommendation; this is not advisory," he said. "If parents use the trigger, the district has to start the process of finding and selecting a new operator for the school."

We've said before here at District Dossier that Los Angeles has been one of the more sluggish urban districts when it comes to adopting dramatic reforms for improving schools. But the district's school choice policy, which opens up 250 existing and new schools to outside managers over the next few years, could be the end of that.

Stay tuned to edweek.org later in the week for a fully reported story on this new rule.

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