In June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed “parent trigger” laws that allow parents to take control of low-performing public schools, fire teachers, oust administrators or turn the schools over to private management, bypassing elected school boards.
Obviously public education is troubled, but allowing parental coups against governing board members who are voted into office is nuts. There’s already a mechanisms to oust board members. It’s called an election. Ultimately underperforming schools can be placed in state receivership.
“I think (parent trigger legislation) is a slap in the face to the professionals who work hard to prepare themselves for the complexities of educating students,” says Alfredo Velasquez, Santa Cruz County Schools superintendent.
“You know the old saying still holds true: ‘It takes a village,’ meaning everybody has to be involved, parents, the business community, city and county government, other professionals. I understand the need for accountability, but privatization or a takeover of some sort is the not going to get us improved education. Yes, some of these people may have the corporate or business knowhow, but they are not trained to provide quality education.”
Would we allow patients’ families to dictate how surgeons should conduct an operation?
But sadly, parent trigger and similar proposals are fueled by those school districts that fail to take necessary actions such as ridding themselves of bad apples.
Tenure and unions have proven to be ominous obstacles for some districts. But that’s not necessarily the case at Nogales Unified School District No. 1. While NUSD is certainly not underperforming as a whole, historically, it’s been slow to vet bad teachers and principals, resulting in individual schools and/or grade levels tanking year after year.
Superintendent Steve Zimmerman says he won’t play that game.
Under a newly implemented letter-grade system, of the 10 NUSD schools, six scored As and four scored Bs for the 2011-12 school year. Three schools improved a letter grade from 2010-11.
Zimmerman is prone to using sports analogies. If a coach has four or five years posting a losing record, “that coach has got to go. I’m a believer that if a school is not improving at all and it has been given the opportunity to improve, the principal should be removed. Otherwise poor performance not only reflects on the principal, but on all of us – the school and the school district. I, for one, love going around telling folks we got six As and four Bs.
“But put yourself in the shoes of a parent who enrolled his son in the first grade at a school. Now after the fifth grade the school scores are still low. All you can do is turn around and say, ‘Thanks for nothing.’”
The key, Zimmerman says, is support from above. Principals require backing from their superintendent when nixing a contract for a poor teacher, just like the superintendent needs the support of the school board when a principal needs to be axed. The same holds true for him as superintendent, he says. “The people trust that the governing board will do the right thing. If the main guy is not doing the job, I have to go.”
In this manner, the system works within parameters established by education professionals and without interference from others who lack qualifications.
My wife and I met in college. I was witness to the long hours and hard work required of her by Northern Arizona University College of Education. Back then, it was known as the Center for Excellence in Education. It’s mission, “to prepare education professionals to create the schools of tomorrow.”
Now, with two master’s degrees under her belt, day in and day out she offers her knowledge and passion to local children, many of whom start out with the same disadvantage she had as monolingual, Spanish-speaking students.
It’s more than a job, it’s a calling Maru and the majority of her colleagues share, supplemented by four-years-plus post-secondary educational levels. It is those folks who can best come up with improvement plans. If parents, mayors and other politicians want to be part of the discussion, I’m sure they will welcome their participation. But only if they come to the table with open hearts and minds and not a political agenda or unreasonable quick fixes.
(Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)