At present, people in Illinois can’t get a majority of parents whose kids attend a “failing” public school to sign petitions and force it to turn into a charter, but that could change if legislation introduced in the General Assembly passes.
The bill, which doesn’t have a name yet except for “SCH CD-REFORM-PARENT PETITION” or simply HB3295, was introduced by Representative Darlene Senger, Republican of Naperville (at right). It was first read in the House on Feb. 26 and assigned to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on March 11.
If it becomes law, the Illinois School Code would change, allowing parents to force one of four “reform” measures on a “low-performing” school:
- Reopen the school as a charter school
- Change the school leadership
- Close the school and reassign students to another school in the district
- Change the governance structure, like making administrators report to a turnaround commission
Basically, when a local school board gets a copy of a petition signed by the parents of at least 51 percent of the students in a school, the board has to implement the reform measures requested in the petition.
The new legislation is crystal clear as to what makes a school “low-performing”: Either, 40 percent of its students didn’t meet grade-level standards on both math and language arts on the ISAT (or whatever test the state uses to measure those subjects); or, 65 percent of its students didn’t meet grade-level standards on one of those two subjects.
If this low performance, as measured and determined strictly by the state’s standardized tests, continues for at least two consecutive years, the school qualifies for a parent-trigger petition under this bill.
In order to get off the “low-performing” list, a school must bring its percentages of students meeting grade-level standards in both math and language arts up to the statewide average. The 40 and 65 percent numbers get the school on the list initially, but after those two years, the statewide average is used to determine whether or not a school stays on the list.
The quick, storied rise of the parent-trigger laws
The movie Won’t Back Down, starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, glorified parent-trigger laws last year. The movie wasn’t very good and tanked at the box office, but not surprisingly, people found it inspirational: Rotten Tomatoes has a “user” score of 61% and a “critic” score of 32%.
People are inspired when a dyslexic, working-class mom stands up and fights for her daughter, who needs special help in reading. People are inspired when the underdog wins, as in David and Goliath. The little mom fights the big, nasty school board and the protective, uncaring teachers’ unions. Great story!
The problem is that it’s all fiction. Untrue. Probably couldn’t happen. We weren’t the only ones to point this out. Furthermore, the film misled people into believing the laws empowered ordinary people when, in fact, they take authority away from the officials elected by the people.
As of this writing, which occurred after Representative Senger introduced the legislation, only one school in the US has ever been taken over as a result of a parent-trigger petition. And it wasn’t pretty. We invite you to watch another movie, a four-minute video, which documents the story of parents who decided they wanted “choice” in running their public school in Adelanto, Calif.
There, the group “Parent Revolution” convinced a majority of parents to sign a reform petition, but those people later tried to rescind their signatures on the grounds they had been coerced. A judge threw out their attempt to rescind their signatures, and the reform measures were instituted.
“We’re very concerned that private takeover is seen as this magic solution, and all it is is an attack on public schools,” one parent said in the video. “Lawmakers need to understand that there is no easy fix. … There are good programs out there that just need to be funded. You need to dedicate yourself to the program and give it time.”
At least Naperville is safe. For now.
In its current form, the bill will only affect “other people’s” schools, like those in the Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Teachers’ Union opposes the bill, by the way. But it spares all the schools in affluent suburbs.
Thank God, right? Representative Senger’s district in the far-west suburbs is safe from the parent-trigger bill she introduced. No school in Naperville is anywhere near as “low-performing” as the bill requires, so introducing the legislation shouldn’t do any appreciable damage to her reelection chances.
However, the percentages in the bill are arbitrary and capricious. Lawmakers could very easily turn around any time and adjust them to something that might allow private takeover of schools in the suburbs. To make matters worse, the Illinois State Board of Education announced that scores on the ISATs were expected to go down this year, as a higher percentage of those scores comes from items that align to the Common Core, which schools in the state just began incorporating this school year.
Once the basic parent-trigger law is on the books, we believe, lobbyists for big money will find a way to invade schools in rural areas and in the suburbs, just as they have taken over schools in large urban areas.
And if you thought the movie Won’t Back Down was a dog at the box office, that’s nothin’ compared to the destruction private takeover has cast on our public schools: take away the money first, then take over the governance of the school, then take some more money, and so on, and so on, until all the public schools in the district are run into the ground.
If that happens, monopoly will reign, probably over vehement objections from the elected school board, whose authority to decide what happens in our public schools will have been stripped away by a bunch of coerced parents! “These are dark times.”—J.K. Rowling.