Parents of poor, at-risk students tend to get a pretty bad rep. I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about parents of students who attend struggling schools is that they don’t care about their children’s education and/or don’t want to be involved in it. Sure, there are some parents like this – but the vast majority of the parents with whom I interacted were deeply committed to their children and wanted them to do well in school. More often, it’s not that parents choose not to be involved but can’t be involved, either because of timing (many work in the evenings while their kids are trying to do homework) or a barrier of language or education (I spoke with many parents who felt uncomfortable at school because they were not proficient in English or did not have the education that teachers and administrators do). That’s why it’s sad that two recent stories about active parents do not have more positive news to report.
The first is old news at this point. An Ohio mom sparked a story about “the Rosa Parks of education” after she served nine days in jail on a felony charge for falsifying records to get her children into a better school system. I’ve read pieces that call Kelley Williams-Bolar a hero and pieces that call her a deserved felon. And, as someone starting law school next year, I’m not going to say that she deserves a full pardon – she did break the law. But I find her story inspirational. I wonder how many other parents might be doing the same thing she did in order to get better schools for their kids. (I do know of students in the Prince George’s County school system who were technically DC residents but used old records to stay in the slightly better system.)
More recent news comes from Los Angeles, where on Tuesday the Compton Unified School District voted unanimously against a petition submitted by the parents at McKinley Elementary School that would have allowed them to turn their school over to a charter operator. A new state law gives parents “the power to petition for major reforms of low-performing schools, including shutting them down, changing staff and programs, and turning the campus over to a charter operator. … Under the law, valid signatures representing parents of half the school’s students are required to trigger the reforms.” (See the whole article in the L.A. Times.) When I saw an article on this new law a few weeks ago, I thought: wow, this is awesome – I can’t wait to see what comes of it! What a pity to see that the first attempt to make changes under its provisions has failed.
The L.A. Times article suggests that a variety of errors in the petition resulted in its being deemed “materially non-qualifying” and “returned as insufficient”. I don’t know what the requirements are, but I would hope that a) they are clearly posted (and explained) somewhere and that b) there is a process now that provides support to the parent group so that they can improve and resubmit the petition. I fear that this will serve as a deterrent to others who might have been inclined to take similar action.