When her school closed in early January, a friend of mine lost many familiar faces and gained a longer morning commute. Her mother told me: “I rallied for my daughter’s school. I called and shouted at them but they didn’t listen.”
Their story is not uncommon. Newspaper after newspaper has reported on schools closing throughout New York City; I’ve passed abandoned school buildings surrounded by construction units; I’ve watched close friends separate from one another, forced to make a new start.
Schools are being closed because they are failing to produce acceptable results. Yet while a change is necessary, it should include the people who are most invested in student success—parents.
I want all of the parents who have chanted “save our schools!” to learn about plans for a parent trigger law. The law would allow moms and dads to “take over” persistently failing schools if a majority of parents in a school signed a petition in support of that decision.
Next, parents would be able to choose from several reform options. They include converting the school into a charter school, firing the school administration or closing the school outright. The parent trigger law focuses on empowering parents with options.
So far, school closures have been more of a numbers game than a people game. According to former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, high schools citywide graduate 60 percent of students, while new high schools graduate 75 percent. Mayor Bloomberg has made repeated statements about schools “below the grade”—schools where the numbers are nowhere close to where they should be.
Within the last month, 26 underperforming schools across the city have been designated for turnaround, which involves closing the school at the end of the school year and reopening with half its teachers replaced. What counts as an underperforming school? One where at least two-thirds of its student body perform below grade level on the math and reading proficiency exams, is considered below the grade.
The Department of Education says this change is needed. And change is good when it lends to growth. But I can only see angry families who have to scramble to relocate their children. Meanwhile, by changing state policy, the possibility exists for real, positive change. Real choices exist. People can have a real voice when it comes to making important decisions about education.
Decisions about our schools, our education system and our city have got to be about people. Most families who have endured a school closure felt like city hearings fell on deaf ears. But this law would give parents options to transform schools, creating a new pipeline of empowered parent advocates. Even if parents don’t pull the trigger, they’ll be endowed with a real, usable bargaining power.
Parents can organize and band together with their trigger signatures to force a serious request in transforming their school. It’s a law that would put you and your family in control of your education. I want my friend’s mother, and every other family, to know that they can be heard.
What are your thoughts? Please post your comments below.
Priscilla W. Guo is a 2012 School Reform Blogging Fellow for NYCAN. She is a sophomore at Hunter College High School in New York City, where she participates in the debate team and Term Council. She also founded HUNICEF, a high school UNICEF club that educates, advocates and fundraises for children around the world.