Diane Ravitch, please stop distorting the origins of the parent trigger


by Gloria Romero

Diane Ravitch, are you listening?

This is former state Sen. Gloria Romero calling.

I am the author of California’s first Parent Trigger law, the first parent trigger law in the nation. Since I first wrote that law, some 15 other states have seen some version of the law introduced in their states.
I wanted to reach out to you since we have never met, and I look forward to meeting you so we can one day talk directly with each other. Woman to woman.

In one of your recent blog posts on Education Week, you wrote that the parent trigger came from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). On the blogosphere, I now read many claims that ALEC wrote the law. This is completely false, and I ask you to correct this.

Please, stop saying that some organization I had never met until just this year gave me the idea and somehow, miraculously, turned it into law without me not knowing about it. ALEC happens to like the law and encourages other states to write similar laws. That is true. But that does not mean it developed either the idea or the law. That’s preposterous!  Quite frankly, it’s also a bit sexist and ethnocentric to assert my work actually came from someone else – that somehow the Latina senator from East Los Angeles couldn’t think on my own, or figure out how to write a bill and turn it into law.

To be fair, you are not alone in failing to acknowledge my role, or the role of other strong individuals (mostly women of color) in getting the bill passed. I always recognize Ben Austin from Parent Revolution for suggesting the idea. Unfortunately, the materials Parent Revolution distributes make it sound as if parents cascaded on the state Capitol and forced this into law. It seldom concedes in its materials that someone actually had to write a bill and argue and negotiate for its enactment. While it sounds romantic to say parents demanded this and descended on the Capitol to force this into law, that is too much Hollywood.  In fact, we did have parents in Sacramento. But many of them were from organizations that were not affiliated with Parent Revolution, and they are seldom acknowledged.

One day I will write the full story of how the Parent Empowerment Act (its official title) became law. In the meantime, let it suffice to say that both you and Parent Revolution and anyone else who writes about the law should know that once the idea was discussed with me, I chose to expand and develop it in a bill. I developed a strategy. I worked with my legislative staff to write language. I assembled a “rag tag” army of civil rights activists who understood that this was our moment to enact the change in which I so strongly believed. And I never saw an ALEC representative.

One of my top allies was Alice Huffman, executive director of the California NAACP. This law would not have passed had she not been at my side every step of the way, for she became the powerful and eloquent voice of our vision as a civil rights fight. Another key ally was Dr. Margaret Fortune, a trustee of the California State University System and president and CEO of the Fortune charter school network. She is another strong African-American woman who articulated our fight as a civil rights fight.

Sen. Bob Huff, my Republican vice chair on the Senate Education Committee, joined hands with me in making this bipartisan. Senate President Darrell Steinberg worked alongside me to muscle this bill through both chambers. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and I negotiated the final details on New Years’ Eve 2009 – but only after several civil rights pastors and Parent Revolution’s Shirley Ford picketed her office, demanding that she step up to the plate to deliver for kids of color. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s legislative representative, Paul Navarro, was a key link between the Legislature and the executive branch. And then there was President Obama himself who, ultimately, gave me the “yes we can” belief when he called upon our nation’s public education system and its leaders to “race to the top” on behalf of our children.

Finally, my mother, who passed away soon after seeing me elected to the California Legislature, was with me in spirit and drive and determination. Diane, my mother had a sixth-grade education. My father – a railroad worker who took me to union meetings with him – always urged me to understand that one person makes a difference, and that when the people sign a petition (something that actually happened once in my neighborhood and politicized me) the world can change.

You and I obviously disagree on the significance of the parent trigger law. That’s okay. This is a democracy, and we shouldn’t always be expected to agree. As with any law, it is imperfect. And attempted applications of the law in California have been sloppy and ill conceived. Believe me, I have forcefully communicated my dissatisfaction with the sloppiness of the organizing efforts, and how this has led to some blaming of the law itself. But what you see as a mob, I see as empowerment – democracy in action and right from the First Amendment. The right for Americans to petition their government – particularly when their government is refusing to stand up and do the right thing for the people they represent – is at the heart of parent trigger.

Diane, I’m a product of public education, from kindergarten through Ph.D. I believe in the power of education. I understood the dreams of my mother, and the recognition that it is education that lifts us out of poverty and is the gate of entry to the American Dream. I never forgot where I came from, including that I was “counseled” in high school not to attend college. Too many kids like me from “the other side of town” experienced and continue to experience the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Hollywood makes nice movies about standing and delivering on behalf of kids, who are caught simply by virtue of zip code in chronically failing schools. But even then, generation after generation of children are sent back to those same schools with the same bureaucrats running them, simply to fail yet again. I proudly represented East Los Angeles. Garfield High School was in my district – that iconic school that Hollywood later immortalized in ”Stand and Deliver,” starring Eddie Olmos as Jaime Escalante. (I knew him too, and know great teachers matter.) But once the movie left the theaters, the demand for change dissipated. I wanted to revive it. We need to revive it.

Remember, my generation learned lessons not only from the non-violent boycott of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also from the by-any-means-necessary view of Malcolm X. Therefore, I also believe in the urgency of now, the power of the boycott (yes, I knew Cesar Chavez too), and the courage it takes to declare that we shall overcome by any means necessary. I know firsthand that separate is not equal. I have personally experienced what it means for kids like me when teachers and principals don’t believe in us, and tell us that our educational futures do not include a path to college.

So we may never agree on the law itself. But I ask you to be honest about its origins. And about the hard work and integrity of the people, mostly women of color, who understood what this meant for our children and our communities. Please do not disrespect me, a Latina from the Eastside, by falsifying the idea of the bill, and how I took an idea, shaped it into legislation, and gave life to it by forming a coalition that took on the number one political force in California – and succeeded!

Diane, I understand you travel frequently. We have a saying in Spanish: mi casa es su casa. My house is your house. I welcome you to California, and I would look forward to meeting you and engaging in conversation and debate about our ideas – and how we make them real – woman to woman. As a university professor by training, I recognize that too often, women get left out of how history is written. We should never allow ourselves to perpetuate that silencing of women’s history and great women in historical movements.

So, Diane, maybe you just didn’t know the truth. Now you do.

Muchisimas gracias. Many thanks.

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BY Special to NextSteps


A BIG thank you to Former California Senator Gloria Romero for being an AUTHENTIC children/parent champion by introducing such a POWERFUL 2009 “Parent Empowerment Act”, which is commonly known, as the so-called parent trigger law. This Parent Empowerment Act gives parents the legal power to improve their child’s education experience when ALL else fails!

In Connecticut, with your support in 2010 along with Parent revolution, our parent empowerment law is in the form of School Governance Councils. This law gives parents legislative redress through School Governance Councils, allowing them to make recommendations for a school improvement model that supports turning around a systemically low-performing school. Connecticut parents were fought hard and brutal by the Status Quo but we made law in 90 days!!! Feb 2010 -May 2010. Parents ONLY want whats best for their children and we will fight to the very end for a great education for our children after all their future qualty of life depends on it!

In addition, former Senator Romero also blessed the Connecticut Parents Union with her presence in December by riding the CTPU Parent Express Bus and engaging families of all ethnicity. 🙂

Connecticut parents felt so honored that a lawmaker from California cared about their child’s education and overall well being in Connecticut.

In closing, ” Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual). Ayn Rand

Thank you Senator Romero for being a champion of change!

Gwen Samuel, Parent and Founder
CT Parents Union

Dear Senator Romero,

This is eloquently written and informative. I am glad to see that you give credit to my friend Ben Austin for his role in suggesting the idea behind the Parent Trigger, and agree with you that the law has so far been implemented in a rather disappointing manner. But you’re right, people in communities like Compton and Adelanto deserve a far more equal opportunity to get a good education for their kids than our traditional public school districts, too often operating on autopilot and immersed in low expectations, have been capable of giving them. That’s why all Americans, especially those in underserved communities whose people have long been subject to discrimination, deserve more choices for their children’s futures, and I thank you for your continuing role in making this possible.

Now that her ties to fringe right-wing groups are being exposed, the reactionary former State Senator is trying to revise history. Fact is that the corporate charter trigger is an ALEC template law. Quibbling over whether Ms. Romero penned her version first or not is not unlike saying that George Wallace didn’t create Jim Crow. The chronology of the vile trigger laws is unimportant, what is important is how they undermine democratic processes and serves only to grow market share for the lucrative charter-voucher industries.

For all her mendacious blustering about segregationist ideas like ‘choice’ coming from women of color, the truth is that Ms. Romero’s true inspiration comes from her employer and allies, all of whom are wealthy white males, like Whitney Tilson of DFER and Terry Moe of The Hoover Institution.

Much of this is documented in the essay: “Peas in a pod: Koret Foundation, The Hoover Institution, and Democrats for Education Reform.”

I’ll give you credit Ms. Romero, your packaging of the corporate agenda under the guise of “civil rights” seemingly goes over well with the John Birch Society crowd you pander to. Those of us that selflessly volunteer for social justice in those very same communities you claim, see right though your lies and obfuscations.

Angry Mama

Mr. Skeels,

And we know that you have the interests of students and their families at the fore because…???

What interests do YOU represent?

And if you are “selflessly” volunteering for social justice that means you rely on the kindness of someone….life costs money. You can of course disagree with Ms. Romero — but you don’t get to take the high road. Do you really believe that parents shouldn’t have the right to determine what type of school they have?

At any rate, as a public school educated teacher who is also a mother of soon-to-be public school student, I’m frustrated and confused by people who seem to believe it’s wrong to want a high quality education for our children and our country. Even if you disagree with the method of getting that high quality education, I think we can agree that we have a big enough problem that everyone can choose their best solution and support that. If you don’t think the parent trigger is it, figure out your solution and support that. But name calling and self-hyping doesn’t give any kids or families improved educational opportunities.

Anonymous cowardly critic.

We know Ms. Romero’s only interest is her quarter million dollar a year salary she gets paid by her employer to shill for the highly lucrative charter-voucher industry. Her motives are crystal clear, and there’s no need to take the high road, since there’s no lower road that Romero’s profiteering and poverty pimping.

Romero and her ilk have pushed hard to starve public schools of resources so that can brand them as “failing” and replace them with schools that put public money into private hands. Trigger laws do precisely just that. Rather than triggering efforts to fully fund and improve public schools, they trigger the community’s money going into the pockets of unelected private entities.

Are you suggesting that the only way for children to receive a high quality education is by privatizing the system and pumping profits into the pockets of Romero’s funders? Perhaps a cursory look at the charter-voucher industry would do you some good.

Public education is a contract between the community and parents. Parental choice must always be within that context, since parents alone don’t pay for the costs alone. We all fund public education to help the children in the community. Schools belong to the entire community, not to 51% of the parent who currently have students enrolled there. Romero and her junta of privatizers concern for “parental rights” ends as soon as the corporate entity takes over the school.

I do believe all children deserve a quality education. That means fully funding our public schools and working to engage the entire community in improving them. Handing them over to private corporations — which trigger laws are designed to do — make those goals impossible

Not sure what self-hyping means, but I do know that Romero viciously attacked and maligned the distinguished Professor Ravitch. Romero’s mendaciousness and grandstanding deserved a response.

Doug Tuthill

Mr. Skeels, thank-you for your comments, but I must respectfully disagree with your recent assertions about Mr. Coons. You wrote that Ms. Romero’s “piece doesn’t appear in a forum considered remotely progressive or even liberal for that matter. Indeed, the American Center for School Choice is a fringe-right organization headed up by John Birch Society types like the infamous John E. Coons.”

For several decades, Mr. Coons was one of our country’s leading liberals. He was active in numerous social movements, including the civil rights movement. Mr. Coons marched with Dr. King at Selma, and also provided Dr. King and others in the movement with legal advice.

After reading your assertion Mr. Skeels, I called Mr. Coons and asked him if he had ever been associated with the John Birch Society, or adhered to its principles. He said no. I also checked with another liberal activist who has known and worked with Mr. Coons for several decades, and he confirmed that Mr. Coons is the antithesis of “John Birch Society types.”

We all know how important public education is to our democracy, which is why emotions often run so high when discussing various education reform issues, such as parental empowerment and school choice. Nonetheless, on this blog we believe dialogue should be conducted with civility and respect. We also don’t think name calling, ad hominem arguments or false assertions are appropriate.

Mr. Skeels, we hope that if you comment on our blog in the future, you will respect our preference for civility and accuracy.

Skeels’ tactic here is as demagogic as opposing railroads on the grounds that Mussolini had decent trains. Guilt by association. Typical nastiness from someone who seems too stupid to offer anything else.

Susie Hayes

Bravo Mr. Robert Skeels. The Public Education System has not deserted us……. We have deserted the Public Education System.

Time to correct Romero’s correction.

The Parent Empowerment Act was conceived on behalf of charter school operators by the AstroTurf organization Parent Revolution, which was founded by charter operator Steve Barr (not by parents). Romero did indeed sponsor the legislation that solidified it into law, shortly before leaving politics and taking a job with the education reform sector, which is funded by billionaires and closely linked with far-right, free-market anti-public-education forces.*

The purpose of the Parent Trigger was to turn public schools over to private charter operators. The first Parent Trigger attempt (which has now collapsed in failure) demonstrated that: Parent Revolution planned the entire operation, including choosing the charter operator, before choosing which school to target and before a single parent at the targeted school (McKinley Elementary in Compton) ever heard about it.

Even with vast financial firepower behind it, the Parent Trigger has never been used successfully. The attempt at McKinley Elementary in Compton failed entirely, and the second one, at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, is now in chaos, with parents pitted against other parents. (The “reformers’ ” line is to blame this on the union, but the parents would be divided over this even if there were no union involved.)

Meanwhile, now it has become clear that charter operators actually don’t want to take over troubled existing schools, where they are under pressure to admit all the students and their practices are in the a spotlight. Realistically, the Parent Trigger will fizzle soon, since its supposed beneficiary (the charter sector) is now saying “thanks, but no thanks.” Parent Revolution is keeping the charade going as long as it can, while the funding holds out.

*Yes, I know Democrats for Education Reform has “Democrat” in the name. Founder Whitney Tilson has said publicly that this was a ploy to obscure the right-wing goals of the organization.

ted lewis

The writer credits Ben Austin with the idea of a parent trigger, and states that ALEX likes the law and encourages other states to write similar laws. Diane Ravitch’s blog was correct and warrants no correction. ALEX’s sponsorship of the spread of this legislation is far more significant than the precise author. And, although I don’t know the writer of this piece, I suspect she has sold out to some well funded astro turf group that is paid for by billionaires but has scant real connection to any community.

Hi Gloria. My name is Martha. I am a teacher who has served the South Central L.A. community for years, and a Latina hailing from East L.A. You want to address Diane Ravitch woman to woman, well this goes out to you mujer a mujer.

Your parent trigger law is divisive, is being used to weaken and de-stabilize public schools, and does not empower parents. If anything it disenchants them.

I’ve kept up with the development of the parent trigger as a teacher who works closely with parents. I once even thought there might be a place for such a law. But when I saw how it has been misused by the Parent Revolution by tricking parents into signing petitions that they believed were for other purposes, I saw this law was the politics as usual of ALEC and DFER. Politics that do nothing to address the real issues at urban schools: wealth disparity, poverty, crime, violence. Public school don’t need a trigger; they need a long term investment and leaders who lead by example, not with threats and coercions.

You lost your street cred awhile ago. “Dime con quien andas y yo te dire quien eres.” Tell me who you are with and I will tell you who you are. Your company speaks volumes.

THANK YOU for your response…right on point.

The only thing the Parent Empowerment Act triggers is chaos and misguided rage. Ultimately school districts retain the power to decide what happens to schools, not parents. It is school districts’ lack of equitable funding that’s hurting our students and robbing them of a quality education, not teachers.

The parent trigger law is successful at what it was intended to do- create division at schools in order to keep parents distracted while American public schools are put on the auction block.

Sen. Romero-

On behalf of parents in Rochester and Buffalo, NY–thank you. When we decided we wanted control over our failing schools, we had no idea that we were inviting the wrath of the teachers union. It has been an ugly journey of personal attacks, lies and conspiracy theories. Attacking activists is the norm and not the exception when parents dare to call for Parent Trigger. This is an unspoken factor in the status quo that we must begin acknowledging if we are serious about changing the trajectory for our children. Thank you for your courage to endure what most would hide from.

I would like to thank Ms. Romero for taking the time to provide such an eloquent and gracious response to an unproductive and unnecessary attack. I like Ms. Romero and a woman of color and I am also a product of urban public education. My K-12 education began in 1975 and ended in 1987. The teahers who taught me after the civil rights movement era the most caring, dedicated, and competent individuals I have ever met. They are with me in spirit and memory even at 42 years of age. It is because of them and the influence of my father that I chose to enter the teaching field. As a student teacher I had both a surburban and an urban teaching experience. I was shocked by the difference in both teacher and student behavior in my urban experience. I became a provisonally certified teacher in 1999. I worked as a substitute and in year long assignments in some of the most challenging schools in Rochester, NY. I found myself demoralized by the lack of classroom management, low expectations, and motivation exhibited by my fellow teachers. When I was offered the chance to meet with union reps and be observed I complied, but by that time I knew that I could not participate in the farce that public education in NYS had become. I relinquished my teaching certificate in 2004 and have never regretted doing so. I have a deep faith and belief in the children in inner city neighborhoods. They don’t need fur coats, trips to Disneyland, or private tutors. They do need to feel that there is a home to school connection. They do need to feel as though they are more than a paycheck and a means for others to enjoy life in suburbia. Their parents need to feel as though they have a meaningful position and a direct influence on their children’s education. The condescenion, disparagement, and outright intimidation tactics that are utilized by teacher cliques cannot be tolerated. I believe that this field that is predominately staffed by women has been caught in the crosshairs between male dominated unions and an increasingly frustrated populace. I have a great deal of empathy for teachers who want to do a good job, but are not provided with the training necessary to do so. I understand that teaching is a challenging endeavor. However, these challenges were not created by DFER, ALEC, or Ms. Romero. It would be in everyone’s best interests to look at teacher preparation programs, teacher/prinicpal accountability, and consistent and meaningful parental involvement as a means to address our nationwide education dilemmas. Ms. Romero through her writing only solidifies my belief that she is genuinely and sincerely an advocate for true education reform. Instead of mean-spirited attacks which are sometimes found in Ms. Ravitch’s blog as well as in some of the comments, Ms. Romero offered communication opportunities, genuine appreciation for those who supported her efforts, and a glimpse into her own motivations. The Parent Empowerment Act is not a trick or a trigger. In the truest sense it a call to action.

I cannot tell you how offensive it is to read someone defend her indefensible position by repeatedly pulling out the race card and the gender card. If you did support this awful law, hang your head in shame. Political opportunism at its worse.

Ravitch isn’t necessarily being sexist or ethnocentric, that is probably right. It’s just her usual dishonest demonization. She’s gotten too used to preaching to a crowd that is too stupid and gullible to question her wild-eyed conspiracy-mongering.

And precisely what of her cogent analysis do you term conspiracy? Or are you too intellectually lazy to even attempt to defend the indefensible position of the profit minded privatizers?

It is a documented fact that Charter Trigger laws are ALEC template laws. No conspiracy there.

Jim Capatelli

JD, do you care to specify? Show us actual examples of your claims about Ms. Ravitch. Or are you just one of these paid shills, hiding behind an online identity, slandering Diane Ravitch personally, hoping you can discredit her with ad hominem attacks?

Can you show us anything you have that backs up your viciousness? Show us, please? Or are you just a coward who likes to spread malicious nonsense in an attempt to shift the topic?

“A Latina from the Eastside?” When, pray tell, did Barstow become part of East Los Angeles?

Just another 115 mile lie Ms. Romero?

Jim Capatelli

It’s truly shameful, Ms. Romero, to see you stooping to this level. I think of deception and desperation when a person has to hide behind “the flag” or “God” or “America” or…their ethnicity, when challenged on their politics or policy.

I think you’re wrong about the origins of “Parent Trigger”; ALEC’s bill was on their website prior to the introduction of your bill in the state legislature.

But in either event, I wouldn’t be bragging about something this awful. I’d be ashamed of it. It’s a bill designed to destroy the neighborhood school, the surrounding community of students and parents, and create havoc in our system of public education.

Whether you thought of this vile “Trigger” idea, or whether you copied it from ALEC or friends and lobbyists of ALEC is irrelevant. The important point is what it demonstrates about you, and the degree to which you’ve sold your values for a few pieces of silver.

It’s sad when a person becomes a tool of those who have money. Look in the mirror and you’ll see what I’m describing.

Doug Tuthill

Mr. Capatelli, JD and Mr. Skeels–We welcome and value your participation on our blog, but will you please, please honor our commitment to respect and civility. Please don’t call people stupid or question their intelligence. And please don’t make assertions about people’s motivations. We face big problems–poverty, hopelessness, despair, ignorance, violence–we don’t have the luxury of spending time and energy engaged in personal attacks.

Please keep your comments focused on ideas and not on the people espousing those ideas. Thanks.

George Buzzetti

Romero is an astroturf fake democrat. Democrats are not supposed to destroy public education, however, from the Prez. on down they are now as they are bought and sold by the same people like Pritzker who got Obama all the way there. Obama was a destroyer in Chicago from at least 1995 if you are not an ideologue and know what you are talking about and that is rare in education. Skeels is correct in all he says. I know him. Romero is astroturf. She is a tool of the wealthy. Parent Trigger comes from LAUSD by the way. Romero did present the legislation but as in the case of Schiff-Bustamente did not do the work. ALEC has had this on their agenda for a long time. Schiff-Bustamente is a result of the L.A. Times article called “In a Book Bind.” I gave the Times the documents from the LAUSD budgets going back at the time 10 years. In those budgets the budgeted but did not spend $2.5 billlion over the 10 years. Wonder why there were no books. That resulted in an extra $1.5 billion over 3 years. I thank the legislators but the fact is that they did not discover or expose the information. Same for Romero. This is what legislators do. If you want to see Romero uncut at a press conference go to George1la where you can also see Rhee uncut the last time she was in L.A. last year. Get a grip why talk about that which you do not know. This is typical with the educrats. I am willing to bet that hardly one of you commenting has ever read the Parent Trigger law and rules and regulations. Go to the Parent Revolution website and hit the Parent Trigger section and go to the blue highlighted “rules and regulations” and you will find everything. There is also nothing on the Florida Parent Trigger law. I have all of it and they do not? Ask yourself a question “Why?” What game are they really playing. Did you know that on 24th Street Elementary’s charter MOU it states “We love you parents” and in the next sentence it says “An no way will parents be on the Board of Directors.” Is this what “Parent Empowerment” is? None of you do your homework. It is so obvious. Skeels does his homework. Want to argue the point anymore? Make my day.

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