Everybody loves the underdog except when it comes to education reform. More than a week after the Florida Senate rejected the parent trigger bill, the story line is now David v. Goliath, with David (played by established parent groups like the Florida PTA and Fund Education Now) squeaking out a victory over Goliath (starring Jeb Bush, Michelle Rhee, and the Republican-dominated Legislature.)
The truth is, titans clashed while David was en route to his second job.
The underdogs who are lost in this narrative are low-income and working-class parents. They have virtually no one in their corner as they deal with conditions in their schools that would spark outrage – and quick remedies – if they happened in more affluent schools.
To take teacher quality and equity as an example: High-poverty schools have the highest teacher turnover rates, the most rookie teachers, the most out-of-field teachers, the most teachers who failed certification exams, the fewest board certified, etc. We all know how destructive that is, year after year, kid after kid, generation after generation. And yet, it’s just kind of accepted.
Established parent groups have tended to focus on adequate funding for public schools, which is critical. But I don’t remember them pushing for meaningful differential pay that may help staunch the steady flow of teachers from inner cities to suburbs. I don’t remember them pushing to keep underperforming teachers from being routed to high-poverty, high-minority schools.
Now don’t get me wrong. The established parent groups have legitimate beefs and play an important role in the process. I’m glad they’re fighting.
But let’s also bring a little more precision to the media story line as it relates to the parent trigger. If you represent hundreds of thousands of parents – a fraction of whom can swamp a lawmaker’s phone lines at a snap – you’re not Rocky. And if you are working in close alliance on an issue with the state teachers union, elected school boards, superintendents and big-name Democrats, you’re not Jeremy Linn.
The bigger problem with the parent trigger story line is the suggestion that the established parent groups represent all parents — and that all parents won. They don’t. And they didn’t. The kind of schools for which the parent trigger was intended are those that tend to be located in the neighborhoods of our poorest parents and children. As I said before, I had mixed feelings about the trigger bill. But I didn’t see the trigger as a way to put a bullet to somebody’s head. I saw it as a way to send up an SOS flare. Who knows? Maybe a brief flash now and then would get everybody’s attention.
Maybe then we’d root for the parents who really have it tough.