Randy Speck

Superintendent , Madison District Public Schools

This conversation is closed.

Is it right for parents to takeover schools? Should "parent trigger" laws give families the ability to take over and manage schools?

Throughout the United States, there is a movement for parents to take a more active role in their local schools. Actually, a more active role is an understatement. The "movement" is for parents to be able to take-over their local school under what is called a "parent trigger." This happens if their local school is deemed to be low performing, as described by each individual state.

Parents have a right to be involved...any quality school will have strong parent and family involvement. But should parents be able to come in and manage the school?

Closing Statement from Randy Speck

What a fantastic conversation and thanks to the TED community for participating. I also want to thank Ben Austin from Parent Revolution for getting involved in the discussion. Your insight was helpful to me, as a school leader.

The reality is, parents should be involved in their schools. They should have a say in the direction of their child's education. How that is accomplished may be a never-ending debate. As a school leader, I want my parents to be active in helping kids read and with their homework, but do to academic level of the family, that may not be an option. I want parents to be in attendance at parent-teacher conferences, football and basketball games, choral and dance recitals and any other activity that involves their child. However, I am also aware that working multiple jobs and shifts may make attending school events difficult, if not impossible. So how do we do this?

Unfortunately, my answer is little bit of "I don't know." But I do know it has to be a "we" that is involved. I don't believe legislatures can solve this issue. I don't believe for charter management companies can solve this problem. The main question becomes when and how are we going to make education in the United States a priority? When are we going to admit that students learn differently, therefore they should be assessed differently. That the neighborhoods you live in and the amount of resources (like food) that you have really do play a role in student achievement. Until we acknowledge...really acknowledge that socio-economics plays a factor, we may never be able to get passed basic debates.

Thank you again TED for being such a great place for people to safely communicate and share.

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    Oct 8 2012: Generally speaking, this is not a sound idea, any more than for those without expertise in medicine to take over the medical clinic, for those without expertise in scientific research to run the research lab, or for those without legal expertise to structure the legal case for the courtroom.

    I think further politicizing education at the school level distracts students and teachers from what their primary focus should be.

    Student learning needs to be the focus of the school building.
    That said, it is important for parents and the general public to understand better what is going on in terms of the curriculum and pedagogical approach in schools. I am repeatedly astonished at what those outside schools assume or suspect is going on inside them that is completely false or out of date. One is that modern schools are focused on memorization and rote learning. But there are so many miscomceptions.
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      Oct 8 2012: Some of this is being popularized by the new movie "Won't Back Down." I live in a state where this is being debated ins the State Legislature and there is a lot of concern going forward.
      • Oct 8 2012: In Hollywood it's mathematics majors volunteering to teach inner city kids calculus, in real life it's fat, dumb teabaggers trying to push creationism into the biology curriculum at a suburban school.
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    Oct 11 2012: Randy, One of the things that many of the responders do not fully appreciate is the inter-relationship of the course syllabi. The prerequisates from one grade to another, the abality to manage the information flow, the feedback in many forms that allow you to proceed or remain on topic for a while longer, etc ...

    It is the culmination of all of these little things that make the student ready to progress to the next level.

    Parents would be involved in single unit isolated classes and thus direction would be limited. That is where educational professionals manage and merge the efforts to achieve the goals.

    I could teach science but the student may not be getting the terms and associations for the next level. I would teach to achieve the test but any application would be missing.

    Being smart also means to know when you are out of your element and to seek help.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Oct 12 2012: Bob,

      I think this is a good point. I've always thought that sometimes the prevailing thought is that "anyone can teach", just like many of us may believe we can coach or manage our favorite sports team after a loss. The reality is, anyone can't teach...anyone can't coach...and anyone can't lead and manage a school. A school/school system may be one of the most complex organizations to lead based on the population that is served. Students and their families, all with different and various needs, all wanting to be served right now. We may have close to 100% of our customers in our facilities on any given day, plus their representatives (parents/guardians). Turning around schools and leading them effectively is a complex, chaotic, sometimes strange, but unbelievably rewarding. More parent involvement in the process and being a part of the solution will be a key ingredient to keeping the school moving in the right direction.
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        Oct 12 2012: Randy, I had an irrate parent (who was convienced that "Jonnie" was divine) stated that he does his homework every night and that the teacher hates him and is flunking him out of spite. The parent, teacher, myself, and the "chosen one" all went through the teachers in basket, no homework, went to the locker, found lots of homework never turned in, and in his backpack more not turned in homework.

        Parent stomped off .... no appology .... Jonnie defient ..... and the world continued to turn.

        The moral here is that everything that Jonnie/Jane comes home and tells you may not be a fact.

        In this case parent involvement was a wonderful thing.

        I wonder if a volunteer at the front office to sort out these things and act as a independent source for both the parents and teachers would be of any benefit. Kind of like a complaints department. After a brief "look into the situation" the volunteer could draft a letter to both the school and the parents with a "here is what I found" report. This needs administrative action OR not founded. Either way there is doccumentation. Thus the old saying if it ain't documented ... it never happened.

        Just a thought.

  • Oct 9 2012: Seems like that could send a mixed message to the kids. We have to train our teachers and then trust them to do their jobs.

    I tried to supplement what they learned in class with learning experiences like trips to museums, scouting projects, family experiences, computer work and extra work when I thought it was necessary. However, I remember getting feedback from my kids on occasion saying 'that isn't what we learned in class', so I tried not to step over that line. If I thought it was a misunderstanding, I e-mailed the teacher for clarification. Getting involved in coaching, PTA, Event support, etc. is positive parent support.

    Parents managing the school? No way. At best it is some sort of part-time job that will turn into 30 adults wanting to argue opinions. As I recall, some of the parent issues were bigger than the kid issues. All the arguing, emotions and posturing will also send a bad message to the kids. I can see them losing confidence in their teachers, not wanting to go to school and acting out because of something an adult said. It would be sad to see them pay the price for such an adult inspired action.

    What is the metric for low performing? Is it some SOL? Should it not be the difference between what they know at the beginning of a term and what they know at the end? Perhaps there should be two tests, one at the beginning and on at the end of a school year to check on school performance.

    Perhaps there should be more parent involvement in supplementing lessons at home, as recommended by the teachers, rather than some sort of academic revolution led by irate parents to arrogant to realize the real problem might be at home.

    The choice to publish school performance results should be weighed carefully by school administrations. If is to be used as a measure to rate teacher performance, then I think it should be kept internal with more defined metrics. I see no value in putting a test score label on a public school for a child.
  • Oct 9 2012: Far more comforting for parents to believe that the reason their child doesn't have straight A's is the fault of the commy teachers union than it is to believe that their child isn't a perfect genius. My mother is an administrator at a high school and constantly has stories about parents who are quick to lay problems of the child on the school. Granted many of the grievances parents have are justified, but the gripe shouldn't be with the teacher it should really be with the realities of public education. I was fortunate enough to attend a private school after spending some years at a large high school and the differences were vast. I had my mind probed, my teachers cared about me, they had more leeway with the curriculum and i was able to learn about interesting things that left a lasting positive impact on me.

    Something about this movement scares me, i looked at "parent trigger" and it sounds analogous to a corporate takeover of some sort. Instituting a merit pay system sounds like a good idea on the surface, but how are they computing what is worth merit? If its based on test scores then this is an AWFUL idea. This is no way to get the kids to think this is just training for obedience and rewarding the teacher for running the class like a battalion commander. Instituting a voucher system is just a quick road to a caste system where the kids who's parents don't have as much interest/money are left in schools that are insufferably bad, leading to drop outs and all the other travesties that come about as a result.
    • Oct 9 2012: Nice post. Public education in the US sucks because it's funded with (very) local taxes, so a school in an affluent suburb has a much greater budget per student than a school in an inner city "ghetto". Other countries do better, don't go broke, and have teachers and teacher unions as well, so we know those are not the problem, although the American "discussion" about teachers annoys me very much (they're either underpaid saints or overpaid leechers, depending on who you ask), while the truth is American teachers get paid about the same as their European colleagues, while it is the school system and its funding itself that is lacking in America.
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      Oct 9 2012: Robert

      Thank you for contributing and I have wondered about several of the items in which you mentioned. What determines low performing? How does the transition take place? Should parent groups be required to hire professionals to lead the school, school finances?

      Great thoughts and questions...thanks for participating.
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    Oct 8 2012: There is no reason to justify an invitation to parents to come and manage schools. There are people with the competence and experience to do that. The fact that the school management as it is has not turned out to be 100 percent efficient does not mean a sudden change would bring perfection.

    It is unfortunate that teachers are usually blamed for the inadequacies of learners. But people are quick to forget that the success of the system depends on learners and parents as much as it depends on the teachers.

    THere are pupils who are weighed down emotionally and psychologically with problems at home who are sent to school and teachers are expected to perform wonders;
    There are lazy learners whose declining grades has nothing to do with the teacher's work.
    No doubt there are a few bad teachers.
    I think parental involvement should focus on providing a good and healthy home environment for the overall development of the child; and also regular communication with teachers and the school authority; support and attendance of PTA (Parent /Teachers Assosiation) meetings; and attendance of school events; helping with the pupil's homework is also good.

    Let those who are trained to manage the school focus on making the school conducive for learning.
  • Oct 14 2012: I believe that many children's problems in education are in the supposed adult masquerading as a parent. Could we try teaching conflict resolution, normalizing differences, and general acceptance of others in kindergarden through elementary. This might solve much of the bullying and the isolation [real or imagined]. Then when the hormones hit start a comprehensive program on parenting through to graduation. We unfortunately don't come into this world with a preset parenting program, we are taught by mostly faulty if not damaging parenting. When we abolished physical disipline we didn't replace it with workable alternatives and are now treated to examples of toddlers in full control of the entire family in any shopping mall in north america. Our teachers and law enforcement people are responding to lack of real parenting with eventually giving in to "why should I care" or the use of excessive force.
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      Oct 15 2012: "Could we try teaching conflict resolution, normalizing differences, and general acceptance of others in kindergarden through elementary"

      This is very much a priority in modern schooling, at least in the United States, over at least a decade and probably two or three in many places.

      This may be particularly true in metropolitan areas with diverse populations.
  • Oct 9 2012: Parents are already in control. Parents elect the school boards.

    I cannot imagine any other mechanism that would provide the parents more control and provide for quality education. Many of the problems with schools are due to parents paying little attention to the school board. If you want change, get involved in the school board elections and go to the school board meetings.

    Parents also have the option of home schooling.
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    Oct 9 2012: Lets continue with Ben Austins input. Desert trails article in the LA Weekly (WWW.Desert Trails Elem LA CA -- see: Parents trigger's second try) The school is like a chain link jail with brambles and broken glass ... Almost all black and latino .... Larry lewis (Former Principal, " Could not hold teachers accountable due to protective union contracts ... union teacher bullied non-union teachers for going beyond union guides to help students ... read the rest for your self.

    If we took all of the failed/under achieving school and look for a common core we would find that the majority would be inner city type of schools that would be described much the same as Desert Trails Elementry. The legislature has determined that the scores from high stakes testing should be the factor to label these schools. They apply the label but what have they done to provide a solution. The combination of unions and legislation are the deadly combination that doom these schools.

    So the question is how to resolve the problem of inner city type of schools .. These fights do much to empower the student against the system. That in my opinion is the exact wrong way to go. This is another ... it ain't my fault ... when in fact we must find a way to join the parents and the system to a "yes we can" attitude.

    Get the state, feds, and unions out of the way and let educators have a opportunity to engage students and provide the opportunity to learn that they deserve.

    • Oct 9 2012: Or, you know, make sure inner city schools have the same budget per student as suburban schools, that might work...
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        Oct 9 2012: We have a power plant in our school district and we were well off. However, we are a poor state and have three metro areas and tons of little starving areas. The solution was to send all of the tax money to the state and then re-distrubute equally to all schools based on their size and needs. The money is now based on seat time and the average is about 10,000 per student in our area.

        Inner city schools traditionally have old facilities, additional costs of English as a Second Language, and a lot of intervention programs. These are funded by the taxes and grants.

        Additionally there are gang problems and tremendous peer problems to deal with.

        One of the major issues I see is now that they have tied the student scores with the teachers evals and you know the school is failing why would a teacher apply to be employeed there.

        Thanks for the reply.
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    Gail .

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    Oct 9 2012: It wasn't all that long ago that some school boards changed the curricula to require teaching creationism as science, while discarding evolution. Some parents sued and threw the communities into bankruptcy. So NO - not without limits. I want children to be educated, not indoctrinated.

    If you can have the agenda set, complete, and agreed upon, parents should have greater access to school class rooms. Parents should also have the opportunity to use the Internet to check in on the children's classes. But the problems with education, from my perspective, still traumatized by compulsory education that did great harm to me, is that the educational system itself is HORRIBLE - filled with teachers who may love teaching but do who not love learning. They are tyrants with a captive audience.

    I was so disrespected by teachers. (perhaps because I was a girl and it was the 50s-60s. I was never in trouble. I was too afraid to get into trouble.

    My suggestions: Start by requiring teachers to see themselves as servants of the student's learning potentials rather than masters over a bunch of uneducated children that they look down on, and perhaps then they will see how curious children are when they are not being demeaned by a bunch of arrogant teachers.

    If it takes parents to get that through to teachers, so be it.
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    Oct 9 2012: i think there is a fall betwwen invest and produce.
  • Oct 9 2012: I usually don't engage on comment strings about Parent Trigger, but I have so much respect (reverence??) for the Ted crowd that I wanted to weigh in and clear up some misconceptions. I invented Parent Trigger. I am executive director of a non-profit organization called Parent Revolution which invented, passed into law and is now implementing the Parent Trigger.

    My background is much more in progressive politics than it is in education reform. The idea behind Parent Trigger is rooted in power. I have worked in lots of different levels of government -- the Clinton White House, Deputy Mayor in Los Angeles, and I recently served on the California State Board of Education. But I have come to recognize the system as currently conceived resists change. And if our goal is to make our public education system serve the interests of our children, then we have to recognize that kids-first sounds innocuous, but is a radical proposition. Teachers unions and district bureaucracies of course care about kids, but parents have different incentive structures and a different sense of urgency.

    That's what Parent Trigger stands for: giving parents some power over the education of their own children.

    The parents of Desert Trails elementary are the only parents in America to win a Parent Trigger campaign. They are trapped in a horrible school that nobody at Ted would ever send their own kids to. And it's getting worse, not better. So the parents organized into a Parents Union. They tried to negotiate with their district for a reform union contract and other reforms with the district. The district rejected them. So the parents organized 70% of the parents to sign a Parent Trigger petition to convert their school into a non-profit charter school. The district and union struck back at the parents, bullying them, and even using their immigration status against them. Eventually the parents won in court.

    Parent Trigger isn't the whole solution. But Parents must have power.
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      Oct 9 2012: Ben,

      I appreciate you taking time to be involved in this discussion. My background in school leadership has mainly been in the non-public sector where parents are greatly involved and invested. My move into public education has been full of moments in which I am grateful for the work that our teachers and staff do everyday, sometimes with little to zero resources. My concern about Parent Trigger is the manner in which various states implement the law, if they do at all. Here in Michigan, the State Senate passed a version of parent trigger, but the House has yet to take it up. The methods in which a school can be deemed to be a "takeover" are arbitrary at best, which sends the wrong message. I have a lot of a great parents who are involved in our district, but I'm not sure they are "qualified" to lead schools.

      Does the system in which you have championed require parent groups to contract with a professional management company? I appreciate any response and information and again thank you for being a part of the discussion.
      • Oct 12 2012: Randy, Thanks for sparking such an engaged and interesting conversation. Like I said, I don't usually engage in comment threads about Parent Trigger, but I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this conversation, and I also LOVE Ted. In answer to your two questions:

        1. Parent Trigger is NOT about parents running schools. I am a pretty sophisticated parent, my daughter attends public school, and I would not want to run her school. Parent Trigger is about giving power to parents who are trapped in failing schools. Sometimes that power can manifest in the parents bringing in new staff and leadership, sometimes it can manifest in parents bringing in a high quality non-profit charter operator to transform their school, and sometimes it can manifest in parents having a seat at the table with the power players who make all the big decisions. Without Parent Trigger, when it's time for the big decisions to be made, teachers unions and district bureaucrats kick the parents out of the room and tell them to do a bakesale (especially low income and sometimes undocumented parents). But they can't do that with parent trigger. They have to listen, because if parents are organized, they have the power to basically fire the district. Parents can't do this alone -- they need partners. They need good administrators, good principals, and good teachers. But parents also need power because they have different interests and different incentive structures than everyone else.

        2. As for Michigan, I wrote an op ed in Detroit Free Press a few weeks ago opposing the Michigan Parent Trigger bill because it doesn't explicitly ban for-profit charter operators from participating in Parent Trigger transformations. Michigan is one of the few states that has a big for-profit charter community, and I don't think profit has any place in public education or parent empowerment.

        Thanks again for sparking such an edifying debate, and thanks to the Ted community for being so awesome!

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    Oct 9 2012: about this issue .we wont let parents in to mannage the school things .you know it is a system .and most of the parents sre not perfessional .they dont know how to teach.so it is a fault if we let parents in

    while we are not all schools .we need to do other thing which we can not do in schools ,so i think we should let parents come .and meet we may work together to talk about how to teach students well and learn more about the students .and have a exactly project with the student .that is what we parents teachers should do .

    i think we just think too much about school .school can make us more intellegent .and we can learn most of what we need in our life ,
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      Oct 9 2012: Indeed, by what logic do we assume that parents are better teachers than professional teachers?

      There are dumb and smart parents just like there are dumb and smart teachers who know what they are doing.

      If they go by that solution, I feel like the kids might as well just go home-schooling.
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        Oct 9 2012: The possible belief is that because "they are the parents", the investment in which they would bring into school leadership would be greater.
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          Oct 9 2012: But there are also the negligent parents, the uneducated parents, and the parents who are too busy with work to really spend time with kids.

          And I'd say that a good majority of parents fit the description above.
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    Oct 9 2012: Welcome back Randy. Its been a while. You brought my point to the table with your first response to Fritzie. The involvement of the state and federal lawmakers in the education business. Administrators are often placed in a no win situation due to mandates when the parents want to know the whys and demand changes that are not possible. The state does this through legislation and the feds do it by holding the grants and money guns to the schools head. More demands and less funding are the rule of the day. Common Core Curriculum, STEM requirements, new evaluation demands, and a host of other mandates leaves little choice in the direction we will and must go. Schools have prioritized the classes and the arts will suffer the most. The course syllabus is driven by the textbook developers and the test writers will devise tests based on what the text presents. High stakes testing is the current flavor of the day. At what point have I mentioned the Administrator or the teacher in the process.

    I understand and appreciate the parents concerns. I do a lot of volunteer work and often feel like the proverbal red headed step child. The teachers do not have the time or resources to attend to all of the hoops that are required to jump through and just for good measure the state raises the hoop and makes it smaller. The point is that there is frustration at every level. This is not fully understood by the community. The face of the education system is the Super. He smiles and does his best to resolve the issue that is beyond his level. To be honest I think the teachers lounge needs padded walls and a full time psych to treat them and send them back into the game.

    We do need to develop a better relationship with the community and a means of conveying the issues and limitations. Should parents take over ... no. But they do need to be better informed.

    Again .... welcome back.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Oct 9 2012: Thanks Bob...it's good to be back. I have a lot of well-meaning and heavily invested parents in my district. However, it is hard enough for me to keep up with al of the changes that are taking place in education, both locally and nationally. Schools and school districts have to be better at creating opportunities for parents to be involved...not necessarily in the classroom, but certainly within the schools, or better yet, educating parents on ow they can be involved in helping their kids with homework.

      Parents need to/have to be involved...having a successful school is tough enough. Without parental involvement, it is almost impossible. Information about how to be involved in their child's education may be the key to closing the parent-involvement gap.
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    Oct 8 2012: There is another issue not raised so far in this thread. That is, which parents would be at the helm and how would that affect the services offered to ALL students?

    I believe from your profile that you are a superintendent of schools. When you were vetted for that position, I am guessing a very central issue in your selection was that you were convincingly committed to attend with vigor to the educational needs not just of children whose parents have significant resources and time to advocate for their children's needs but also of those who may have less articulate, influential, or outspoken private champions.

    That is an important requirement, I think, for those at the helm and is not guaranteed when parents take over school decisionmaking.
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      Oct 8 2012: I completely agree which leads to an important point in all of this. Schools, like other professions are to be led by professionals. Having a local PTO begin running the school may not be the best educationally for ALL students.
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        Oct 8 2012: School administrators need to challenge the misconception that only people NOT involved in the teaching profession believe in student learning as the mission of schools and student-centered pedagogies as the primary vehicle.

        An astounding number of people outside the field hold fast to the false belief that teachers and educational administrators are not student-focused and don't enjoy learning themselves.

        The implicit models to which people outside the field frequently subscribe as to why schools are not serving all students well tend to be based on such questionable explanations. The solutions, then, appear easy from the outside and as if it is only stubbornness or complacency of the professionals that stand in the way.
  • Oct 8 2012: "Parents have a right to be involved...any quality school will have strong parent and family involvement. But should parents be able to come in and manage the school?"

    They have a right to be involved and this could even be beneficial but there should be limits, otherwise a handful of creationist tebabagger parents can ruin the education of all the children in the school. Children should be taught facts, not opinion.