I posted a link to this article yesterday. It is hilarious. It is a conference call in which Ben Austin, the leader of Parent Revolution, talks to Congressman George Miller, the senior Democrat in the House of Representatives. P-Rev is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Miller is beloved by the charter lobby and has received generous campaign contributions by the Wall Street hedge fund group DFER (Democrats for Education Reform).
Unfortunately, the link was taken down by someone at MyEdNext, and the article is no longer available online. I asked the author for permission to print the article, and she sent it to me for your reading pleasure.
Here it is.
'Parents Can Only Listen'
I attended a conference call today initiated and led by Ben Austin, Executive Director of Parent Revolution, to honor "National Parents Day." The call from start to finish focused on the complexity of the parent trigger law, the controversy, the process, and the status of California schools.
Although the call's password was "Parents," parents couldn't ask questions - only reporters could. Perhaps Parent Revolution should consider a name change or a re-branding.
I'm confused.
A few minutes into the call, a personable Ben Austin stated, "We've been outspent 100 to 1 by opponents of parent trigger." Florida parents were opponents of parent trigger. I'm certain the money depleted from my personal savings account and those of the dynamo parents from Stop Parent Trigger and Fund Education Florida and others wouldn't total a fraction of what Parent Revolution spent. I would have asked him to elaborate if parents were allowed to participate in the Parent Revolution, National Parents Day conference call but, we weren't.
Austin later stated that there is well-funded opposition to Parent Revolution to the tune of $8 billion. Wow! As parents we shared packages of almonds and granola bars in the senate gallery vs. eating lunch outside because we spent our savings on travel expenses, child care, and shared hotel rooms. Maybe whoever has that $8B can buy us lunch in Tallahassee next year?
Austin reflected, ”I wish I had the army of lobbyists our opponents had.” The Florida lobbyist directory shows that the California firm, Parent Revolution, has three lobbyists registered in Florida along with Students First’s five Florida lobbyists, added to the eight from Jeb Bush’s Foundation. That’s 16 paid lobbyists not to mention Florida’s Charter Consortium, the Charter Alliance Group and each individual charter with multiple lobbyists who all advocated for parent trigger. That represents an estimated 220 paid lobbyists. I think Mr. Austin has his army in place, don't you?
I'm confused.
When describing the controversy surrounding parent trigger, Austin discussed "conspiracy theories." To counter a widely held theory, Austin definitively stated: "Parent Revolution opposes all for-profit charters." Say what? Wait a minute. Parent Revolution was founded by Green Dot charter school chain operator, Steve Barr. Green Dot operates 18 schools in LA and will expand to handle multiple turnaround schools in Memphis in 2014.
Many charter chains register as "non profits" then set up "for-profit" firms to handle facilities, food services, operations. Does Green Dot charters have for profit firms operating their schools? If so, does Ben Austin oppose them? For-profit charter management is almost always the case in Florida. Mr. Austin, that's not a conspiracy theory--that's a fact.
I'm confused. Grassroots?
Mr. Austin talked about Parent Revolution being a grassroots effort. In 2012, Parent Revolution's funders included: the Broad Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers. This is anything but 'grassroots.'
If Florida parents, who are in the trenches at schools, in board meetings, in the state capitol fighting for all children, could have 10% of Parent Revolution's funds, we'd put education back on track in our state. I'd appreciate it if Mr. Austin would mount a campaign for that.
I'm confused. Parents represent the status quo?
Also participating in this call was Parent Revolution's 'hero' Congressman George Miller-D (Martinez). In a quote released the day before Rep Miller said, "We can no longer pay lip service to parental involvement in schools. Instead parents must stand up and say that the status quo isn't good enough for their children." Say what?
Isn't Rep Miller still the head of the Committee on Labor and Education? He was, I believe, for over a decade. Hasn't he held office over 35 years? Yet now Rep Miller admits to paying lip service to parents in a conference call where parents are not allowed to ask questions! Forgive me, Congressman Miller, but I do believe you are the status quo.
Congressman Miller also said, "Parent trigger gives parents a voice and a say in the involvement in the quality of their child's school. They have a right to be heard." Just not on this conference call, I suppose. Congressman Miller, where can Florida parents be heard and when? We'll be there.
I'm confused. No measurements?
Two great reporters asked substantive questions. It was unfortunate that Congressman Miller left before reporters were allowed to ask questions.
The first was Natasha Lindstrom. She asked: "What key measurements, Mr. Austin, are you looking for to determine if these turnarounds work?" Austin's immediate reply was, "well, this is a two steps forward, one step back type process." Say what? Mr. Austin seemed to take us on a tour of his stream of consciousness as he searched for a better reply. He talked about being a public school parent and how his daughter's school is a good school. He said the benchmarks would "not be just test scores!" He discussed his favorite topic of the day being dead animal carcasses in a turnaround school where parents were forced to demand the carcasses be removed for health reasons. He concluded with, "if parents are happy with their child's education, then it's successful." That's a nice, straightforward answer. However Natasha Lindstrom asked for key measurements which, as you know, dangles over the heads of public school educators like a cleaver hung with dental floss.
To add to my confusion. Parent Revolution's website states their goal is "to improve academic outcomes." How does Mr. Austin expect to accomplish that without key measurements as factors? Perhaps they will change their goal to read "happy parents" so the website is properly aligned with what its Director says.
I'm confused. Relevant?
Next up was the K-12 News Network journalist, Cynthia Liu. Her spot-on question and follow up went directly to the core of the controversy over parent trigger. "Aren't the examples you gave of effective parent petitions at Haddon Elementary and 24th Street Elementary evidence that Parent Revolution is irrelevant?" Boom!
Remarkably, the most memorable quote of the call followed that question when Mr. Austin said: "Parents don't need Parent Revolution." (No kidding, he actually said that!)
He explained that parents can work through PTAs and local school councils with grassroots petitions. Gee, Parents Across Florida has said that for years. Then Mr. Austin gave a lengthy example of a Los Angeles school that organized a protest demanding common sense changes. He said no one responded to them. So Parent Revolution, he concluded, is needed. It is relevant in cases like that.
However, if I'm not mistaken, the example he provided when no one empowered responded to parents was one that Parent Revolution was already involved in. Could that be why parent's demands went unanswered? Could it be that the school was paralyzed over the turmoil created by a controversial third party with a reputation for instigating long court battles and creating divisiveness in communities?
I'm confused. Petition names can be rescinded?
The holy crow moment for me was when Mr. Austin stated: "Of course parents can rescind their names from a petition." How many months of turmoil did the Adelanto, CA court case cost when their organization refused to allow parents to rescind their names and took them to court? How much did that cost taxpayers? Say what?
In what seemed to be a teeter-totter pattern of responding in this call, Ben Austin then jumped on the other side to say: "But, of course, signing a petition is just like voting." He gave an example of someone who voted for President Obama in November but then chose to rescind afterwards. While the analogy is interesting, it simply doesn't apply. A petition on a clipboard shoved at you by someone guaranteeing they'll "improve the school with nurses, after school care, more books, etc." while you're dashing off to work is a far cry from casting a vote for President on election day. Good try though.
I learned that July 28th is National Parents Day.
I learned that a school in Los Angeles has a problem with dead animal carcasses being removed.
I learned that Parent Revolution sees parents as "them and us."
I learned that a long time chair of an education committee says he wants to give parents a voice-- now.
I learned that as much as I try to understand Parent Revolution's position, their Executive Director confuses me.
Rita Solnet, Florida