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January 30, 2015

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Nevadans weigh ‘parent trigger’ idea, empowering parents to reform failing schools


Kerry Hayes, Walden Media

Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Emily Alyn Lind are portrayed in “Won’t Back Down,” which spotlights “parent trigger” laws that allow parents to take over and change a school.

Won't Back Down trailer

Fed-up parents who wish to turn around their child's failing school may soon be able to pressure school boards to action, according to a new policy being considered by Nevada lawmakers and touted by an upcoming Hollywood movie.

The nonprofit Parent Revolution — which has lobbied for the passage of the controversial "parent trigger" law in several states — has submitted a bill draft request to state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.

The proposed bill would allow parents and teachers to petition school district officials to execute one of several federal recipes for school improvement, including replacing the principal and half the staff, closing the school or converting it into a charter school.

This push to implement the "parent trigger" law in Nevada will likely be bolstered by the film "Won't Back Down," premiering Sept. 28. The movie, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, was prescreened to education reform advocates in Las Vegas on Monday night.

"Won't Back Down" chronicles two parents' efforts to take over their children's low-performing school in an impoverished Pittsburgh neighborhood. The movie, in particular, highlights the struggles and obstacles parents face in applying the "parent trigger" law, mainly the school district bureaucracy and push-back from the local teachers union.

"This is a great launching pad for a spirited discussion about our shared responsibility in making sure all of our kids have the high quality education they deserve," said Lea Crusey, Nevada director of StudentsFirst, a nonprofit education group that is sponsoring screenings of "Won't Back Down" across the country.

The film is inspired by true events that occurred in California, the first state to sign the "parent trigger" law into action in 2010. This policy, which proponents argue empowers parents to advocate for their children's education, has been gaining in popularity across the country.

Mississippi, Texas and Ohio have enacted "parent trigger" legislation, similar to California's. Connecticut, Indiana and Louisiana have passed weaker versions of California's law, according to StudentsFirst.

Furthermore, 15 other states — including Nevada — are now considering authorizing a "parent trigger" policy, according to StudentsFirst.

"If there's an appetite for this, why not?" said Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas. She attended the movie screening and sat on a panel discussion afterward. "Parents are the best advocates for their children," she said.

Allison Serafin, who is running for the state school board, echoed Diaz's comments.

"Ultimately, we have to do what's best for students," Serafin said. "All options need to be on the table. Period."

Nevada, which was recently ranked dead last in the nation for education, would be ripe for the "parent trigger" policy, said Ryan Donohue, deputy national advocacy director of Parent Revolution.

"If any state needs it, Nevada is one of them," Donohue said. "We want to empower parents to get them involved in the political process and force school districts to listen to what parents want."

The "parent trigger" policy also has received support from many city mayors, including Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman. Goodman, who attended the movie screening, co-sponsored a resolution supporting the policy at the U.S. Conference of Mayors this summer. The resolution passed unanimously.

So far, most of the education "reforms" implemented in the Clark County School District have been top-down changes, Donohue said. For example, the School District applied the federal "turnaround" model at three low-performing high schools, including Donohue's alma mater Chaparral High School.

Last year, the district replaced Chaparral's principal, more than half of its staff and instituted a bevy of changes in curriculum, scheduling, student mentoring and teacher training. At the end of the year, Chaparral saw a boost in attendance, positive student behavior, graduation rates and test scores.

The School District, encouraged by millions in federal stimulus dollars, enacted this "turnaround" from the top down. If a "parent trigger" law were to be passed in Nevada, parents could spur the district from the bottom up to take action to improve their school, Donohue said.

Stimulating that parental involvement may be difficult in some of Las Vegas' most disadvantaged neighborhoods, said Chaparral Principal Dave Wilson, who attended the movie screening. Parents may be too busy working to make ends meet that advocating for their child's education falls by the wayside, Wilson said, pointing to lackluster attendance at Chaparral's open house.

"I want parents to be involved," Wilson said. "If you can get parents to be involved, you can work miracles."

Education reform movies, such as "Won't Back Down," may help encourage parents to get involved in education, Clark County teacher Christine Simo said. The movie may spark public action over other education reform efforts, such as ending seniority-based teacher layoffs, she said.

"We've got to say enough is enough," Simo said. "There are way too many failing schools in Las Vegas. We have to do something. Everyone has to come together and raise our voices."

Critics of "Won't Back Down" have argued the movie presents an overly simplistic view of "failing" schools, blames ineffective teachers and antagonizes teachers unions. Others argue movies such as "Won't Back Down" and "Waiting for Superman" favor charter school operators, which have a mixed record of success.

Still, Shirley Ford, a community advocate with Parent Revolution, remained adamant in the power of films such as "Won't Back Down" in advocating for school changes. Ford was among the first parents in Los Angeles to use the "parent trigger" law to transform one of the city's lowest-performing high schools into a college preparatory school.

"Change has to come from the parents," Ford said. "We don't have time to wait around for bureaucrats. We need immediate action now."

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  1. I wonder how critics of the movie feel about the Chicago teachers' strike, where teachers have walked out on their students and apparently want to bankrupt the city. This week two national newsmagazines (Newsweek and Businessweek) had on their covers another important educational topic--the mounting student loan debt bubble that has surpassed $1 trillion, and the NY Times had another installment in its "Degrees of Debt" series. This latest installment was about the HUGE business of student loan collection. Is the mission of public schools to prepare our kids for college? If it is then I hope that mission includes some serious debates with students and their parents on whether or not college is worth the debt.

  2. Parents always kinow more about their kids than any school administrator or teacher. If the school can't cut the mustard then the parents have every right to take it over. I would trust parents any day over some overpaid and lazy school administrator.

  3. This can definitely be done and with a high rate of success when all parents are involved, especially fathers with the intimidating voices and eyes. A man that many children do not have in their own households. School would be more fun for the kids buy teaching in an environment where teachers are not afraid to teach their way and teachers "Cherished" and "Respected". I would look forward and would love to work with schools who are taken back by the parents. It's about time!

  4. Sorry to burst anyone's ballon but this bill is DOA. The NSEA is too strong for our wimpy,in-their-pocket Dem legislaturers to pass. I doubt it would ever make it out of commitee.

  5. It all starts AT HOME. Parents are a child's first teacher.

    One thing sadly lacking in an underperforming child's life, is consistent support from functional parents. Parents lay the foundation, the groundwork, for our schools to further cultivate young minds. When parents are involved with their children, these children thrive and grow into fine young adults.

    Now, with all this fever to place blame, stop and take stock in the neighborhood family culture where you live in. Schools simply reflect the neighborhoods that they are in. Are schools ran in a manner that is sensitive and responsive to the involvement of their neighborhoods? Look to your experiences with your OWN neighborhood school. Are you familiar with the teachers and staff there? Do you attend public events as the Math, Science, and Literacy nights? Do you help your neighborhood school out by volunteering in some capacity? Do you support that school's PTA or PTO? It really doesn't matter if you have children there or is YOUR neighborhood's school!

    Readers who are drawn to this articles about the "parent trigger," probably have NOT had any exposure to the hidden political agenda of Michelle Rhea's Students First, the fact that Governor Brian Sandoval had welcomed her to Nevada as soon as he took office. Please take some time to investigate her online, for the effects she has had on school districts and the education of children throughout the USA. You can make more informed decisions as to whether or not this particular agenda is what you really want for your neighborhood and children.

    Children bring their family to school everyday. Schools/educators interact with the home culture, manners and lifeskills, goals, and motivation a child has or not, based on their life at HOME.

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. Part 1 of 2:
    For those readers who haven't had the opportunity to gather information on WHO is running our schools, below is a review of key educational game-changers for you to consider. There are policies and people who have incredible influence on your and my child's education in this country. As proactive parents and/or concerned citizens, we can effect change by being informed and by having on-going conversations about getting the best of education out of our public educational system.

    Race to the Top is a COMPETITION for funding, specifically for screened money earmarked by BILLIONAIRES while Americans have fallen asleep allowing others to control their children's education. No Child Left Behind, authored by Diane Ratevitch, who denounced it later and claimed it to be a terrible mistake. Too late now, since the hands of the innept and the greedy have taken hold without so much an outcry from the taxpaying public all along the way.

    Please read: Joanne Barkin's article, "Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools," found in the Winter 2011 Dissent magazine.

    Education in the United States of America is under the influence of corporate billionaires. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are promoted by these Billionaires as well as these Billionaires are also receiptiants benefitting from publishing, testing products, analysis,classroom software and educational products targeting teaching to these tests, and their other related industries, etc. Can you now conclude that the very wealthy, powerful, elite billionaires of the USA, are are unfairly influencing public education? Much has been said about the undue influences here in Nevada(and they aren't from your neighborhood families and parents) in the education of your children.
    Please read on with

    This responds to (Governor Sandoval's Educational consultant) Michelle Rhea and the anti-public education movie, Waiting for Superman, this article in Dissent sets the facts straight about WHO is really controlling public education...and it ain't the public!
    Continued with next post---

    Blessings and Peace,

  7. Part 2 of 2 continued----
    In the 2011 Winter Dissent article, Joanne Barkin writes, "All children should have access to a good public school. And public schools should be run by officials who answer to the voters. Gates, Broad, and Walton answer to no one. Tax payers still fund more than 99 percent of the cost of K--12 education. Private foundations should not be setting public policy for them. "

    See the YOUTUBE interview:

    As negotiations between CCSD and the Clark County Teachers have gone into impasse, you should know that in Nevada, Teachers CAN NOT STRIKE. Many are and have for quite a few years now, work more than one job. As any human being, they want to work for a decent pay and benefits to support themselves and their families, you won't hear stories or demands for great wealth. They are a pretty humble bunch, as a rule, they aren't lawyers or politicians, so it is one reason why they hire Union reps to keep track of laws and policies that represent their interests, and negotiate when need be. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Teachers WELCOME parents and neighborhood community members to be involved at their schools. Where there is involvement, there is amazing success. Schools belong to the community where they are located. What we are discovering, is that the more bureaucracy there is, the less involved the parents and neighborhood community are with THEIR school. This can be addressed without harsh changes to neighborhood schools (as turning them into charter schools). There needs to be a "meeting of the minds" between neighborhood families and their school's administration to find a workable middle ground towards the community wishes and what mandates are imposed on all schools by our government. With government demonstrating it's lack of moral compass and good thinking(modeling obstruction, rather than compromise), it would be extremely refreshing and even a miracle to see "GOOD THINKING" take place. My prayers are believing there are still a few good thoughts left and people willing to act for the "good of all".

    Blessings and Peace,

  8. This entire "parent trigger" model is NOT a parent empowering model nor is it a solution. It is a get rich quick scheme by private corporations trying to sell uninformed low information parents on the idea that they can buy a silver bullet solution for a complex multiple part problem.

    It's being pushed by an entire industry of private corporations that are experts in public relations and packaging (and making profits no matter the human cost).

    If this type of thing actually worked they wouldn't need to create a box office budget "feel good" film about it in order to sell it to people. Just like most of the pharmaceuticals being sold on T.V. the side effects are worse than the symptoms of the problem.

    Welcome to the vulture capitalism model of education. Load the district up with debt while filling private pockets with corrupt money then leave the citizens to sort out the socialized debt.

  9. Parents should not control the schools. Parents are not paying for it. Tax payers are on the hook and we deserve the control. If parents want more of a voice, they should PAY for private schools.

  10. Remember that Students First is the national organization headed by Michelle Rhee, the failed head of Washington DC school.

    Allison Serafin is the former executive director for Nevada for Teach For America. She is currently working as a "consultant" for Superintendent Jones. She raised over 60K in the primary campaign for State Board of Education. Her 5 opponents raised less than 20K combined. Where is her funding coming from? As a consultant for CCSD she was paid $124304.49 from June 2011-March 2012. The contract is on-going.

    This is a link to Transparent Nevada which shows the payments to Allison Serafin.

  11. A small step in the right direction. We NEED to provide a stipend to parents who home school or charter school their kids particularly when they do so for issues of safety, culture, academic environment. Public K-12 has been failing our kids for generations. We're going to lose another generation if we don't get on this. More money for CCSD is NOT the answer.

  12. First, the taxpayers should have a strong voice in seeing to it that schools perform at an acceptable level. After all, we are paying for it. This includes those who rent, the property taxes are part of the rent they pay.

    That said, the ultimate trigger is at the ballot box. If members of the school board won't listen to the people then vote them out and put ones in who will.

  13. I agree with the bill and the movement, with one minor change: A parent can only earn the right to "trigger" policy changes if he or she has either volunteered in the school in question on a regular basis, been an active member of the PTA or similar organization or has been a regular presence at the school in some other way. Also (unlike Rhee and Serafin and other "reformers") his or her child has to be currently enrolled in the school they wish to change.

    Otherwise it's more sideline griping without having taken any real steps to improve what's already there.

  14. I am an involved parent. I see what is happening in my kids schools as I have 1 in elementary, 1 in middle, and 1 in high school. The needs and culture at each level are far different and the number of involved parents dwindles as the kids get older.

    I don't like the idea of the parents who I never see having a voice to fundamentally change my neighborhood school. A trigger law would prompt expensive marketing campaigns with door to door fluffing of the uninvolved parents to get them to vote for the shiny new program.

    It is already hard enough to deal with the posturing and internal politics of parent organizations on different school campuses adding this dynamic of parents need to vote against each other will make it worse. My kids have attended some schools with fantastic inclusive PTA PTSO groups and others where one woman sets herself up as queen bee of the program and unless you want to blindly follow her vision you are out. As that StudentsFirst pays for RheeFellows in our schools both parents and teachers to push this agenda it will drive out further the parents who want to be involved. The extra money as anyone who has ever watched two competing parents marketing the same product just imagine when you have the PTA president paid to push an agenda.

    I hope all PTAs and PTSOs adopt by-laws now preventing their members from taking payment as a Students First Rhee fellow or any other lobbying organization. It will change the culture for our schools for the worst. Parents knowing one person is paid will just stop volunteering especially when they are also struggling financially.

    I would consider a trigger law IF it only applied to schools with a parent involvement rate of more than 60% of families actively engaged in school programs with over 85% of parents attending school conferences. This is what the Charters (read Imagine in the Valle standards) promise to require. Don't put a charter school in a community who can't reach that standard.

    Also such activation of a school take place WITHOUT paid corporate lobbyists on the school campus whose goal is to financially enrich themselves to get a contract for a corporation. Play on the same playing field as the parents and educators who can't pay off staff and a select few parents.

  15. Parents can already make their school top notch but it takes involvement and responsibility on their part.

    Get your kids to school on time, prepared, fed and their studies complete. Teach them to be respectful in class and not disrupt the class. Make them be on time for each class. Teach them to do their work in class.

    If each and every parent in Clark County did that it would not cost a single dime more and we would have the best schools in the country.

    It is really that easy but most people don't want to take responsibility for their own actions or be responsible for their own children.

    Start being part of your child's life and education and stop using the schools as government baby sitters.

  16. wizardofOz,

    You have been asked before and you never respond.

    Who paid for your K-12 education and your parents and their parents?

    There are many like you that don't want to pay once they have theirs.

  17. Vegaslee--Let me answer your question about who paid for wizard's education or who paid for my K-12 education and my community college classes--it's quite possible that I am STILL paying for those. Education is financed with school bonds, that have payback periods of 30 years or more. When they mature, the state can roll them over--i.e. pay for the bonds by issuing new bonds. So when I pay my big property tax bill, my big state income tax bill, or sales taxes, or the new Amazon and Ebay taxes in my state some of that money is likely going to pay interest on education bonds that were issued decades ago to pay teachers who taught me or to pay pensions of my teachers who are now retired. And incidentally, with bankruptcies in places like San Bernardino, it's going to cost schools more to borrow money with education bonds.

  18. @manfromuncle. Wrong again. School bonds pay Capital Costs, ie construction, not day to day operation costs. Those costs are out of the General fund.

    @Wizard of Oz. Yes the court said that education is not a "fundamental right, but what you left out was the rest of the comments. To refresh your memory, here they are. "(b) The discrimination contained in the Texas statute cannot be considered rational unless it furthers some substantial goal of the State. Although undocumented resident aliens cannot be treated as a "suspect class," and although education is not a "fundamental right," so as to require the State to justify the statutory classification by showing that it serves a compelling governmental interest, nevertheless the Texas statute imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status. These children can neither affect their parents' conduct nor their own undocumented status. [457 U.S. 202, 203] The deprivation of public education is not like the deprivation of some other governmental benefit. Public education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage; the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well-being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement. In determining the rationality of the Texas statute, its costs to the Nation and to the innocent children may properly be considered. Pp. 216-224."

    So you may not want to use this cite to support your claim that education is not a fundamental right. This is the decision that says that public schools must educate every student who shows up at eh door.

  19. Thanks Tanker1975 for answering both of them.

    Gets tiring dealing with folks that don't have a clue.

  20. Tanker: ALL children pay the price and reap the benefits of their parents. Stealing from American taxpayers to pay for illegal kids K-12 is UNSUSTAINABLE in the new-world economy. The court decisions do NOT require us to keep the illegal kids here. They can be expelled or deported with or without their parents. We cannot sustain a nation with invasions of this magnitude.

  21. LVEducator,

    Tell me, do you support the various movements that many are decrying as trying to disenfranchise some groups of voters? What you propose is no different and belongs in the same trashcan.

    It is vital to our country that schools, and more specifically teachers, step up and do everything possible to give our children the best education possible, NO MATTER WHAT THE HOME ENVIRONMENT!

    Yes, parents can and should be active in this process, but when they are not, it does not excuse the education system from performing its duty. The job of producing educated, productive and responsible members of society is simply to important to shrug off because of adverse circumstances.

    Teachers, suck it up and DO YOUR JOB!

  22. I should point out that I believe the vast majority of teachers already do everything they can. My criticism is aimed at those who place the blame for their failure to perform on parents and the system itself. There are at least two who routinely post on this site whose attitude towards the job I find disgusting and think should be fired as unfit.

  23. What needs to be done is have these parents is just not get bullied at the local PTA/PTO. Schools are supposed to be local and it is there so these kids are going to learn about the world and a trade. Take high school for example, it is being wasted as a social experience than one that should train children for a career.

  24. Commenter Jjreedreed pointed out, "Except that this FAILS to empower parents!!! The so-called "parent trigger" law is a bill drafted originally by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) to give corporate interests leeway to swoop in and make private money off of our kids' educations with public tax dollars! Beware the hype!!! Follow the money trail..."

    For those who have the belief that teachers are NOT doing their job and part, kindly make a trip and visit a local school (especially on the East side of Las Vegas) and see the difference between the ending benchmark assessments from May 2012 to that of the present September 2012. Many children do NOT bother practicing learned skills over the summer break. Reading should be the easiest, with public access to the local libraries.

    Great conversations going on here!
    Blessings and Peace,