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Parent trigger laws and teachers' unions


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Not exactly a shocker...unions hate them and use illegal and bullying tactics to suppress them and intimidate their supporters. And Obama and the Democratic party run from the issue so as not to piss off their union supporters.

With five weeks to go before election day, Hollywood has just released a drama starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal as gritty moms fighting injustice in a hardscrabble Pittsburgh neighborhood. It's a powerful story of hope and change deliberately timed to the election season. Why, then, might President Barack Obama be embarrassed if the movie comes up at Wednesday's debate?

Because "Won't Back Down" isn't about fighting a standard Tinseltown evil like corporate greed or environmental destruction. It's about the injustice of an American public-education system that locks poor kids into failing schools only because of their zip codes. The movie's heroes are parents who demand better; its villains are bureaucrats and teachers-union bosses who stand in their way.

And at the center of it all is "parent trigger," a real-life reform measure popular with voters but hated by unions—and strenuously avoided, so far, by President Obama.


"Won't Back Down" dramatizes the saga that has unfolded in California since 2010, when the state empowered parents to force change at persistently failing schools. Under the "parent trigger" mechanism, if 50% of a failing school's parents sign a petition, they can shut it down, shake up its administration, or invite a charter operator to take it over. Such accountability is anathema to the education establishment, which has tried to undermine parent trigger at every turn.

So it is in "Won't Back Down." Jamie Fitzpatrick (Ms. Gyllenhaal) is a single mom working days at a car dealership and nights tending bar. Her dyslexic 8-year-old can't read and gets bullied in class while the teacher sends text messages, shops for shoes online and refuses to stay a moment past 3 p.m., citing her union contract. Nona Alberts (Ms. Davis) is the teacher across the hall, once a star but now disturbed by her loss of idealism in an environment of low performance and low expectations. When the women join forces to launch a trigger-like campaign at the school, they encounter massive resistance.

First come Kafkaesque bureaucratic strictures. "Start to finish, process is three to five years, minimum," one bureaucrat tells them cheerily. They push on, and then comes the retribution. Jamie's daughter is prevented from leaving class to go to the bathroom, so she has "an accident" and escapes to a janitor's closet. Nona gets fired for having falsified her attendance logs—even though all teachers had to erase absences in order to pass unprepared students onto higher grades. Soon libelous flyers start circulating around town, courtesy of the local teachers union.

This storyline is a resort "to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes," wrote American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten in an indignant open letter. "The film contains several egregiously misleading scenes with the sole purpose of undermining people's confidence in public education, public school teachers and teachers unions." The dishonesty is "deeply unfortunate" but "unsurprising," she added, since "Won't Back Down" is produced by Walden Media, which is owned by conservative billionaire and education-reform champion Phil Anschutz.

Unfortunately for Ms. Weingarten's case, the Hollywood version of parent trigger is actually tame compared to the real thing. Where real parents have mounted trigger drives in impoverished Southern California communities, there have been no fairy tale endings.

What have we seen instead? A school board in Compton intimidates petition-signers so aggressively that a judge has to issue a restraining order to protect parents' basic First Amendment rights. Shadowy operatives appear at front doors in the town of Adelanto and threaten parents with deportation unless they rescind their petition signatures. An Adelanto school-board member brandishes handcuffs at a public hearing and dares police to "take me away" for defying a judge's order to honor parents' petitions.

This has been the real life of parent trigger—a contemptuous, sometimes lawless unionized bureaucracy fighting parent power with much might and little shame. "Won't Back Down" doesn't portray anything so aggressive, because it would hardly be believable. But if Ms. Weingarten thinks the movie exaggerates, she hasn't spent enough time watching her affiliates in California.

Consider the California Federation of Teachers. In 2010, its president called parent trigger a "lynch mob provision." That would be a lynch mob composed of people like Doreen Diaz, the real-life Jamie Fitzpatrick: a mom leading a parent-trigger drive because three years of work on the PTA yielded no changes in a school that has failed six years in a row, in which her fifth-grader reads at a second-grade level, and 70% of graduating sixth-graders aren't proficient in English or math.


In May, that same California union threatened to pull its support for the Obama re-election drive unless the campaign fired a spokeswoman who had worked for a pro-trigger group. Meanwhile the top Democratic Party official in Los Angeles County demanded that the trigger-supporting California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform "cease and desist" from identifying itself with "Democrats."

These threats didn't ultimately succeed, but they suggest a concerted effort to excommunicate anyone associated with parent trigger from polite progressive company. So did protesters' chants of "Shame, Shame, Maggie!" when Ms. Gyllenhaal arrived at the New York premiere of "Won't Back Down." When pro-trigger Democrats showed the movie in Charlotte during their party's convention last month, the Democratic National Committee's political director, Patrick Gaspard, made sure to announce that "the Democratic Party would not have any relationship at all with the screening and would not be involved, in any way, shape or form, with the promotion of the film."

Yet parent trigger has a pristine progressive pedigree. Conceived by liberal activist group Parent Revolution (headed by a former Clinton White House aide), California's law was sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Gloria Romero, a former labor activist. Early supporters included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and this summer the U.S. Conference of Mayors—representing every big city in America—endorsed it unanimously. In a PDK/Gallup poll in August, 70% of voters supported parent trigger.

Barack Obama, however, has been silent on the issue for years. Pro-trigger activists have asked for his endorsement, noting that California enacted the reform when competing for one of his Race to the Top grants. Certainly the parents of Adelanto could use the moral support. Or maybe Mr. Obama agrees with unions that parent trigger threatens public education, in which case he can make that view known.

Millions of parents will be watching Wednesday's debate. Mitt Romney, who has endorsed parent trigger, might ask the president to say finally what he thinks.


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So much for it being about the kids.

Obama should tout, not hide the fact that he eliminated the D.C. school voucher program.

A $1.3 trillion deficit his first year and a $1.3 trillion deficit this fiscal year, but had to literally cut the D.C program.

The GSA, which started under Bush Bush Bush. Let's be clear it started under Bush. It took 3 years for it to be brought to his attention. How many years did it take to find and cut the D.C. voucher program within a $3.5 trillion budget? The first year. Congrats Mr. President. You should brag again about "the biggest spending cuts in history" that you signed into law.

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Isn't the DC public school system first and worst? first in spending per pupil and last in student performance.

Parents have to push their kids to do better and then demand and vote to change their under performing and over funded schools. Nether happens enough.

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Obama's more concerned with Big Bird than he is about giving parents and children choice through school vouchers. So he doesn't fully care about the kids i guess. I might as well say it like that since he tried to imply that Mitt doesn't care too much about teachers.

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