Shoot out in Compton is the beginning of a gun fight that promises to rival anything the Wild West has ever seen.
Back in the 50s, like many kids, I was a huge fan of TV Westerns. I could not let a Gunsmoke, Have Gun-Will Travel or The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp go by unwatched. Good guys and bad guys in white hats and black hats filled my TV landscape on a daily basis.
Fast forward about 50 years and eureka! – a real life western drama is unfolding in Compton, a small city in Southeast Los Angeles County. In January of this year, California passed a “Parent Trigger” law which stipulates that under certain conditions, signatures of 50% +1 of a school’s parents could “trigger” a change in the governance of that school.
The law was designed to bypass union bosses, inept school boards and corruptocrats – all the usual black hats – and to provide parents with an opportunity to force desperately needed reform. (The unions find many aspects of the parent trigger law odious because it can — and in this case very well may — lead to a charter school. And charters are seldom friendly to unionization.)
Compton’s McKinley Elementary School, one of the worst performing schools in California, was due for a change. When enough signatures had been gathered, it became national news with the Wall Street Journal, LA Times and other newspapers covering the story. But when the status quo is challenged, you can bet that those invested in the status quo are not going to sit quietly by and take it.
The law got some unexpected publicity, when right after its passage, American Federation of Teachers President Marty Hittleman – a human gaffe machine – said,
“Under the parent trigger (or lynch mob provision) if 50% of the parents at a school or feeder schools of a low performing school sign a petition, the school board must hold a hearing to accept that petition or provide an alternative governance change, which could include closing the school, turning it into a charter school, or reconstituting the school.”
While he got the essence of the new law right, the “lynch mob provision” comment was an affront to parents everywhere. And it was particularly offensive because many of the unhappy parents across the state happen to be African-American.
Hittleman, never one to be burdened by sensitivity, caught flak from many, including a usual ally, the Reverend Al Sharpton. One of the more interesting angles to the new law is that it was authored by Ben Austin, a progressive lawyer in Los Angeles and now state school board member, and supported by conservative-libertarian think tanks across the country. Hence a truly bi-partisan issue has been born.
Even LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former black hat (United Teacher of Los Angeles organizer) has jumped into the fray on the side of the parents. Earlier last week, the mayor fired a shot at the union, “At every step of the way, when Los Angeles was coming together to effect real change in our public schools, UTLA was there to fight against the change and slow the pace of reform.” In a moment of uncharacteristic calm, UTLA President A.J. Duffy responded with a tepid “Pointing fingers and laying blame does not help improve our schools….” And this interchange was before the Compton situation came to light.
All appeared to be going well for the trigger pullers until Saturday when the LA Times in a second story reported that 60 or so parents wanted to withdraw their signatures because they were misinformed by signature gatherers as to what they were signing. “Some parents have complained that they were not shown the petition or that they signed it without a clear explanation of its purpose.”
However in yesterday’s LA Weekly blog, Patrick Range McDonald who has been all over this case since it began, said that says there is little if any substance to the later LA Times story.
In any event, there is a Compton Unified School District board meeting tonight. With angry parents, union heavies and other stakeholders sure to be in attendance, this could make Gunfight at the OK Corral look like I Love Lucy. Stay tuned.
About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.