As long as the controversial education reform policy known as the parent trigger has been around, so have allegations that on-the-ground parents who support the initiative, often in poor communities of color, have been deceived into a carrying a policy that’s backed by high-powered corporate interests. Not so, says Doreen Diaz, a parent who is in the midst of using the policy to overturn her kids’ failing schools in Adelanto, California. And now, Diaz, writing in a blog post for the Examiner, wants American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten to apologize for suggesting otherwise.
It all began during NBC’s education reform extravaganza Education Nation last month, during which the Hollywood version of the parent trigger fight, “Won’t Back Down,” was screened. In a discussion between Diaz and Weingarten, Weingarten said she supported the energy and passion of Diaz and the other parents in the Desert Trails Parent Union. But after the screening, Weingarten criticized the policy they’re using to achieve their reforms.
Diaz hit back at the president in a blog post:
In her memo, [Weingarten] wrote: “Many [of the Desert Trails] parents report feeling deceived by the for-profit charter-backed organizers who came in to gather petitions. They actually sued to take their signatures back when they found out they were being used to give their school away to a charter company.”
Randi Weingarten knows better. The parents of Desert Trails launched our effort. We were the ones who collected those signatures, not some imaginary for-profit company. We also specifically rejected for-profit transformation proposals. The charter was our last option when the school district refused to hear our concerns. We’re offended she would insinuate we are manipulated by outside interests, when our only interest is our children.
I’ve seen firsthand from my reporting work—there really is nothing quite like the passion and righteous anger of parents whose kids go to underfunded, poor performing schools but who’ve been left out of the school reform process and often made to feel unwelcome when they do try to get involved. Parents, much more than policymakers and advocates, know the injustice of an education system that isn’t serving their kids’ needs. All the same, the fight around the parent trigger in particular highlights the larger, complicated dynamics at play. For one, people all across the school reform political spectrum say with fervent passion that they put children’s interests first. It is a rallying cry repeated by people of such differing ideologies that the statement has become nearly meaningless. The lines in the fight are not drawn between those who care about students and those who do not.
Increasingly, the lines are drawn between those who staunchly defend neighborhood public schools as public institutions, to those who advocate for reform by any means, even if it means that private entities take a larger in running U.S. public schools. That fight is evident with the public debate over the parent trigger, a law which allows parents to demand the overhaul of their kids’ school—from firing the principal and staff to calling in a charter school to replace the existing neighborhood one—if a majority of parents sign a petition in support. In the case of the parent trigger, those forming the vanguard of the parent trigger movement include ex-Washington D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee and powerful backers like ALEC, the conservative legislative advocacy group, which is linked to the same people who helped make the film “Won’t Back Down” possible. The film itself has become an organizing tool for backers of the parent trigger, and also drawn criticism because it was funded by people who have also supported groups linked with ALEC. At a certain point, the circle turns in on itself.
The final lines of Diaz’s blog post should remind readers that the story is never so simple. They read:
Doreen Diaz is the president of the Desert Trails Parent Union and a former president of the Desert Trails PTA.
Editor’s note: The movie “Won’t Back Down” was produced by a company owned by Philip A. Anschutz. He also owns Clarity Media Group, the parent company of The Washington Examiner.