Editorial

California should restore the trigger allowing parents to force change at low-performing schools

For the first time in 15 years, California has no real accountability system for schools. The state's Academic Performance Index, which judged student progress mainly by test scores, was washed away in the switch to Common Core standards, and the shape of whatever will replace it is fuzzy. The federal government's rigid and unrealistic Adequate Yearly Progress measurement is also nearly dead, along with the won't-be-missed No Child Left Behind Act.

The dismantling of the API and AYP has also had a strange effect on California's parent trigger law, a reform that was pioneered in this state in 2010 but that has been faltering here of late. The law allows parents at low-performing schools to force change, such as a switch to charter status or new campus leadership, if a majority of them sign a petition. But under the law, the trigger can be invoked only at schools that have fallen short of an 800 API and missed their AYP targets. With those measurements gone or rendered meaningless, is the trigger dead?

That's what school districts would apparently like to believe. Twice in the last year, trigger petitions have been rejected on the grounds that the API scores date from several years ago. And in the more recent case, at 20th Street Elementary School, officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District added that the school had met its federal AYP target. (Former Supt. John Deasy made a similar argument in 2014, but his decision was overturned by his successor, Ramon C. Cortines.) While it is possible to look at it that way, the reality is that during the transition period when Common Core was being introduced, the state got permission to reduce AYP to a meaningless number that mostly reflects insignificant factors like attendance and test participation.

The rejection of the 20th Street effort is especially frustrating because this is the second parent petition there. The first one, last year, was never submitted because parents were assured that the district would take strong measures to improve the school. Those measures fell short in their eyes, leading to the second petition. Had the parents been hard-nosed from the start, they'd have transformed the school by now.

But the district also has a point — the API is outdated. The AYP doesn't measure anything useful and is about to disappear altogether.

And where is the state in all this? Why hasn't the California Board of Education adopted interim regulations guiding parents and schools considering using parent trigger through this foggy period? Why hasn't the Legislature laid down the law, at least temporarily?

As flawed as the trigger law is, it provides a mechanism for the most disenfranchised families to force school officials to listen to them. Yes, it's a new era in accountability and that will take some time to iron out. But in the meantime, parents in the lowest-performing schools are tired of waiting for the latest grand policy from on high.

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