“We’re living in a revolutionary moment,” says Ben Austin, executive director of the Parent Revolution, as we begin our interview for redefinED’s inaugural podcast. And the moment to which he refers has been marked by California’s “parent trigger,” a law that has upended the status quo at one Compton school in a way that few education measures can do with such sweep. A majority of parents at McKinley Elementary wanted a charter operator to come and take over their struggling school, just as the parent-trigger law allows, and what Austin and the Parent Revolution fought for, and the Compton Unified School District has done everything possible to make their job harder. The struggle will be left to the courts to resolve, but Austin does see success in the very nature of what the law has sanctioned.
The trigger has allowed parents to essentially organize and effectuate change at a bargaining table that has been the exclusive province of school boards and teachers unions. Whatever the outcome at McKinley, the law has transformed relations between school boards and the parents at their failing schools, said Austin, a former member of the California State Board of Education, who also served Los Angeles as a deputy mayor from 2000-2001 as well a variety of roles in the Clinton White House. “Already there are parents across California that are organizing to get to 51 percent with no intention of at least initially turning the signatures in,” he said. “They’re organizing to bargain. They’re organizing to basically say, ‘You haven’t listened to us for years, but now we have the power to fire you, so you have to listen to us.'”
We talked with Austin about the launch of the Parent Revolution and how its role as a parent union might manifest itself at the bargaining table. What else did we ask?
Why the parent trigger, and not a more collaborative approach? “It’s people with power that want a collaborative approach … Power and Money is the language that the other side understands, and if you’re not speaking that language, they’re not going to listen to you.”
Can the PTA fulfill the role as a parent union? “We’ve had good experiences with the PTA, and we’ve had bad experiences with the PTA. We believe there needs to be a lot more “P” in the PTA.”
Click here to listen to the rest of the conversation, which runs about 24 minutes.