Chicago Trib’s sneaky push for Hollywood version of parent empowerment





wisting the truth.

Today’s Chicago Tribune editorial loudly quotes an Adelanto, California parent saying “We can’t back down,” in the fight to pull a “parent trigger” to close their school and bring in a charter operator to run it. The movement in question has been embroiled in a legal fight, where a judge recently ruled that the parent trigger petitions should stand.

Amazingly, the editorial writer fails to mention that “Won’t Back Down” is the title of a soon-to-be-released Hollywood fantasy based on the parent trigger controversy.

“Won’t Back Down” is the major motion picture version of “Waiting for Superman,” and is produced by the same group, Walden Media, owned by billionaire right winger, Philip Anschutz. Both films carry out the twin corporate reform goals of unfairly attacking teachers and unreasonably hyping charter schools.

The upcoming movie, like the Tribune, seeks to convince the public that the parent trigger is a parent-led movement rather than just one of many legislative proposals promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and heavily funded by wealthy education hobbyists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Waltons.

“Here’s some big news you may have missed.”

That’s how the Trib editorial opens, and it’s probably true that most people were unaware of what happened at Adelanto. The Trib never reported it. Released in their op-ed piece, the “news” consisted only of the Trib’s charter-worshiping slant on things (something they like to do when it comes to school reform news).

Had they actually put a reporter on the story, some of the following facts might have come out (please read PAA co-founder Caroline Grannan’s blog post and fact sheet on the “Won’t Back Down” movie trailer for more):

  • Bait and switch? Parent Revolution, an organization created by the Green Dot charter school management company, actually started the first parent trigger effort in Compton, California. That effort failed when parents figured out what the charter operators were up to. Parent Revolution trained the organizers of the Adelanto push, who actually passed two parent trigger petitions. One was for a list of reforms with no change in leadership, the other was to turn the school over to a charter company. In a move that the Adelanto school board president called “bait and switch,” parents were told that the second petition would only be used as leverage for the reforms, but only the charter petition was submitted to the school board.

Note that the Tribune editorial is titled, “A parent revolution,” but fails to note  that it’s the name of the charter-backed organization behind these petition drives.

  • This is parent empowerment? The judge’s ruling appears to contradict language in the “Final Statement of Reasons” on California’s parent trigger law that states, “Nothing in these regulations precludes a parent/guardian from withdrawing his/her signature from a petition at any time,” according to the Victorville Daily Press, the local daily newspaper.
  • Parent majority charter boards? The Adelanto charter petition includes a provision that the majority of the charter board members be parents. Good luck getting any charter operator to agree to that, Adelanto parents! PURE did a survey of Chicago charter schools in 2008 and found that less than 5% of their members were parents.
  • Parents don’t prefer charters: Contrary to what the Trib and their beloved “waiting lists” might suggest, parents really don’t prefer charter schools. Victorville Daily Press reporter Natasha Lindstrom, who has covered the Adelanto story from the beginning, was tweeting updates the day of the ruling. “Many (parents) told me they didn’t want a charter. Both sides of Parent Trigger like the current principal, who only took (the) helm in October,” Lindstrom tweeted.

A 2010 Phi Delta Kappa poll found that 54 percent of Americans think the best thing to do about low-performing schools is to keep the school open with the same staff and give it more support. Only 17 percent wanted to close the school and reopen it with a new principal, and just 13 percent wanted to replace it with a charter school.

Even the founder of Parent Revolution, Ben Austin, stated recently that parents at most of the schools his organization is working with are not interested in turning their school into a charter school, but rather want to focus on improving their existing schools

None of this means that parents are satisfied with their children’s schools or feel that they need no improvement. In fact, parents persistently bring demands to Board of Education meetings and capital budget hearings only to have their pleas fall on deaf ears. When a school is up for turn-around and school officials finally meet with parents, they boast about the new resources the school will receive only to be asked why the school could not get those resources before the turnaround.

Parents get it. And what parents in Adelanto and Chicago and across America really want is a real voice and real empowerment, the kind that happens in the highly successful model right under the Trib’s nose- Chicago’s local school councils (LSCs).

As PAA wrote in our position paper, “The Empowerment Parents Want: The LSC Model for School Reform,” “The LSC model is a vastly superior ‘choice’ for empowering parents when included in a comprehensive set of research-based 
reforms including equitable and sufficient funding, pre-K programs, full-day Kindergarten, small classes,
 strong, experienced teachers, a well-rounded 
curriculum and evaluation systems that go beyond test scores.”

And we won’t back down in our efforts to bring this model of real parent empowerment to parents across the nation.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.