The Compton Unified School District looked like an ideal target to an organization created to help parents force dramatic reforms at poorly performing schools.
For many years, the troubled school system of 26,000 students south of downtown Los Angeles has had campuses with low test scores, distracted management, a poor reputation and, its critics say, hostility to change. It also has parents dissatisfied enough with their children's education to take on the local bureaucracy.
On Tuesday, those factors came together as 85 adults and children arrived at Compton's district headquarters to present a petition signed by 62% of parents at McKinley Elementary, one of the state's worst-performing schools. The petition requires the district to turn management of McKinley over to a charter school company. Charters are independently operated public schools.
Organizers say the effort is the first to use California's new "parent-trigger" law, under which a majority of parents can force a school to shut down, replace its staff or convert to a charter.
Compton Unified has no recourse under California law, state officials said, even though McKinley's test scores have risen significantly the last two years and steadily over the last six. The school's two-year 77-point rise on the state's Academic Performance Index is among the highest in California.
Critics have characterized the parent trigger as an overly blunt, sometimes counterproductive instrument. But the effect, say supporters, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is to put children and parents ahead of employees and interest groups.
"Giving power to the parents — this is what this is all about," Schwarzenegger said in a conference call Tuesday with reporters. The governor applauded the McKinley effort and described as "unacceptable" the education some children in the state receive. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also praised the developments in Compton.
At district headquarters, parents chanted "Yes, we can!" as Karen Frison, acting superintendent of Compton schools, accepted the petition. Telling the group she would "do what is required by law," she declined to answer questions. (Her predecessor was recently fired over allegedly improper use of district credit cards.)
We have blogged previously about the charter school effort up in Compton and Los Angeles and with specific respect to Locke High School (home to our favorite American League slugger, Eddie Murray, while growing up) and the opposition they faced by the teachers' union and the bureaucracy.
Here is a sampling of what we wrote when Locke went charter:
This is nothing short of astounding. If the L.A. political structure, the very picture of statist conformist thinking can commit to this bold maneuver there is no telling what future possibilities are in store. Then again, maybe this speaks to the abject wretchedness of the L.A. schools that the school board essentially threw up its hands as if saying, “well, nothing else has worked”. A victory, no matter.
We also would like to note (again) how the Republicans are letting a golden opportunity slip away by not getting out in front of this growing movement. We are advised non-stop by political players and pundits that the party needs to quit being so white and that it needs to reach out to minorities. OK. Sure. But when the strategy is revealed as to how “we” Republicans are to go about doing it, it inevitably leads to embracing amnesty for illegal aliens. That’s the big idea?
To be fair to our Republican friends, it has dawned on us that it's kind of tough to be a vanguard in this movement when you don't have any boots on the ground, or perhaps, more accurately, you are not even a presence in the area.
Our desire to see the G.O.P. lead the way in the school choice/charter/voucher movement fight is blunted by the fact that these battles are taking place most significantly in the heavily-unionized areas of the north-east, rust belt and Los Angeles that are dominated by Democratic politics. It's blue on blue violence and we are pleased to see the less-statist side of this battle is prevailing.
Absent a ground game, perhaps the Republicans can take this national by having the House, in the next session, introduce legislation that would restart the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program for students in the nation's capital and which was allowed to die on the vine by the current Congress.
The G.O.P.-led Congress is going to have an awful lot on their plate come next January but this would be simply the right thing to do politically, pragmatically and morally.