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Don’t Forget The “Teacher” Trigger

Alexander Russo | September 14, 2012

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You might be surprised to find out that “Won’t Back Down” — a screening of which I snuck into the other night — isn’t actually the fictionalized story of Desert Trails, site of the real-life still-unfolding parent trigger attempt outside of Los Angeles, or the CA parent trigger law that allows parents to vote to revamp their schools.

It’s actually the fictionalized story of Locke High School, the struggling South Central LA school that in 2007-2008 was wrestled away from the Los Angeles public school system (and the teachers union) by a vote of teachers.

Green Dot founder Steve Barr always said there might be a movie about Locke. Now there is — sort of.

As you may recall, Locke was liberated/stolen from LAUSD by a teacher trigger — a majority vote by tenured teachers  — under a mechanism created several years ago in state law that had previously been adopted by a handful of Los Angeles schools (though most of them for other reasons than Locke’s dismal failure).

After Locke, the teacher trigger wasn’t used successfully again because of the controversy surrounding the takeover by Green Dot, the initial struggles faced at the school, and the reality that only about 40 percent of the tenured teachers who voted for the conversion ended up getting rehired at the school.

A similar process, called Public School Choice, was implemented by LAUSD shortly afterwards through which the district would identify struggling schools and request proposals for making them better (including converting them to charter schools).  There was no teacher or parent trigger required under PSC, but the mechanism gave parents and teachers an avenue to revamp their schools that had previously not existed.

That process was altered in December 2011 that excludes charters from the PSC process. By that time, however, Ben Austin had lost his race to become a member of the LAUSD board of education and begun expanding what was initially created by Green Dot and called a Parent Union (now Parent Revolution) into the barely-passed state law called the parent trigger.

Of course, it’s entirely self-serving of me to make the comparison to Locke, given my book about the Locke rescue effort. And, to be sure, “Won’t Back Down” maps the Locke story imperfectly (just as it does the Adelanto story).

But the similarities are striking and the issue of teacher empowerment has been missing from much of the discussion of the movie so far, and the historical connections between the teacher trigger and the parent trigger are undeniable and in my opinion worth noting.

Cross-posted from TWIE

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