Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

On Charters and Triggers

This week the L.A. School Board passed a resolution giving parents the ability to "trigger" a change in management if 51% of them sign a petition. Hmmm. What an appropriate term.

At first glance, it sounds like democracy in practice. Parents should have a say in their child's education, and if something isn't working, then they should have a voice to change it. Then, questions start popping up as I think of some events that have recently occurred at LA Academy:

  • Quorums not met at school governance councils because parents sign up and then drop out
  • A parent yelling at the principal because she enforced the LAUSD no cell phones on campus policy with her child
  • Second, third, and fourth reminder letters for parents with failing students who have not attended a single parent meeting with their child's teachers this year
Of course, many parents are conscientious and participate in school activities. But by and large, our parents largely deliver their children on our doorstep and leave their education in our hands. They either don't have the time or desire to participate in anything more than that. Things may be different in other public schools, but that's the way things are in South L.A., something we are working hard to change.

This implies schools have a HUGE responsibility to do right by parents. Most do the best they can. Teachers hold "donut chats" and host potlucks, paying for food out of their own pocket to entice parents to the meetings. But unlike charters, we cannot mandate parental participation. With this new "trigger" policy, you are leaving decisions about education to parents who have previously not been involved (therefore may not fully understand) the way a school functions.

Just on Friday, a parent of a student transfer insisted upon placing her child in Honors classes. She came with no records, test scores, or report cards, and upon checking with his old school, his grades were dismally woeful and test scores indicated a need for remedial classes. Yet she wanted him in advanced classes. This parent had heard somewhere (erroneously) that only the Honors classes were of any worth at this school. So no matter what, her child was going to be in those classes. It will take a long conference on Monday to disabuse her of this notion.

Now, parents such as this one and the cell phone parent, and countless others, can be approached by professional organizers in their homes, and be asked to sign a petition in order to "change the way things are"*. This does not make sense. If a parent trigger was to be instituted, I would think it would only be given to those parents who have committed themselves to participate in their child's education, even if at minimum it is by attending the two parent conferences a year. Ideally, it would be afforded to those who have attended the Student Orientation, Back to School Night, Team potlucks, the Recognition Ceremonies, and the individual parent conferences requested by teachers. Instead, the LA School Board continues supporting an outside system, the charter school system, that in this educator's opinion is leading our parents out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Transferring management of schools to charter school operators, who by and large are private companies (even if they have non-profit status) is basically giving up on public education. If Arne Duncan, President Obama, and all the gazillionaires out their put there focus and effort into improving the public education system that accepts ALL students, you would see a marked improvement immediately. Give each public school the $10 million in outside funding that Green Dot sought for Locke, and you would see scores actually go up. But instead, you fail fragile schools by firing their teachers, not coming through with qualified replacements, and when things don't go well you label them as "failures." We don't buy it.

image from cybershooters. org

*Let's not even get into the allegations made at the school board meeting that Garfield HS parents were actually paid to sign that school's petition.


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