Ben Austin and His Parent Trigger, Now in Seattle

Ben Austin has made it to Seattle hosted at two events by the League of Education Voters. Check out the Lines of Influence to know where this is going.

It is Ben Austin’s, and Steve Barr’s, idea  to have as many Greendot charter schools as possible on our planet. To achieve this goal, they have created what Ben Austin terms “The Parent Trigger”. In California it is now law, thanks to Mr. Austin and company, that if 51% of parents sign a petition demanding that their school be “turned around”, then the district must begin the process of taking  drastic measures as required per the edicts of Race to the Top. The options are either to fire 50% of the school staff, replace the principal, close the school or transform it into a charter school.

One affiliation that he does not tell you about is his connection with the Greendot charter franchise.

According to the Daily News:

The Parent Revolution, which has close ties to Green Dot public schools, a large charter management organization in Los Angeles, is working with parents around Mount Gleason and believes that the school could be among the first to be reformed with the new law.

However Austin denied playing anything but an advisory role in the parents’ decision to organize.

“We’re not orchestrating…. It’s very patronizing to think that we would be making these kinds of decisions.”

As Kenneth Libby asked in an article regarding Ben Austin at Schools Matter:

Shouldn’t Austin also mention that he pulled in $94,475 in 2008 as a private “consultant” for Green Dot? It all makes me wonder: is Green Dot a candidate for running the school in the near future?
And now this from the Los Angeles Times:

Effort to convert Compton school to charter draws fire

Cynthia Martinez, (center) PTA President and parent of a student at McKinley Elementary School in Compton along with other parents in opposition to a charter program
According to the article in the Times:

“Some are withdrawing signatures given under the ‘parent-trigger’ law to make school a charter, saying they were intimidated or misled.”

“They told me the petition was to beautify the school”, said Karla Garcia whose two children attend McKinley. “They are misinforming the parents so I revoked my signature”…The school’s PTA held two meetings Thursday in which parents said they had been harassed or deceived into signing…Other parents said that they were told if they didn’t sign, the school would close or they would be deported.

And from Sharon Higgins’ blog, The Perimeter Primate:

The “Parent Trigger” and its connections to the phony LA Parents Union, Green Dot, Steve Barr, and Eli Broad

Originally conceived in Los Angeles by Steve Barr’s (of Green Dot) Los Angeles Parents Union, and largely funded by the Broad Foundation, the “Parent Trigger” has spread east, and here and here. This is an initiative where if enough parents can be convinced, pressured, and tricked to sign a petition, a school will be closed down and replaced with a charter. On each Form 990 from 2005 to 2008, Steve Barr is listed as the CEO/President of the LAPU board.

Eli Broad contributed nearly 50% of the funding for the launch of the LAPU (formerly the Small Schools Alliance, aka the Parent Revolution). The money he supplied helped pay for the propaganda to make it seem like the movement is being generated by “the people,” when in fact it is a carefully planned, targeted marketing campaign designed to wipe out the public schools.

It is most important to know is that this organization is not grassroots; it’s astroturf!

An absolute lie is being spread that it was “developed by the grass-roots group Parent Revolution in the Los Angeles Unified School District.’ The lie is that group was not a grassroots group by any means. Danny Weil explains its true astroturf nature. Community members in LA have even stated that they were offered monetary compensation [by Green Dot] in exchange for their signature on a petition.

You can go to The Perimeter Primate for the full article. It’s well worth reading.

Personally, I think that Mr. Austin needs to be tarred and feathered and run out of town


Update: December 15, 2010

From the LA Weekly Blog:

“It seems the concept of a charter school has now become the antithesis of hometown pride.”

The LA Weekly is following this story and it’s a recommended read.

Update: December 29. 2010

“New Compton Unified School District President Satra Zurita Looks Forward”

McKinley parents have a limited time in which to file their opinions on the petition and the concept of transformation into a charter school. Zurita has issued a statement on the deadline:

“School districts throughout our state are closed for the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays. So I am both surprised and extremely disappointed to learn that the official period for important public comment on a set of critical state education regulations affecting school districts statewide will include one of the most sacred days on the Christian calendar and the most celebrated national holiday of every new calendar year, and close mere days after we return from break.

“It is unclear who is really behind this suspiciously accelerated process or what they are thinking? Clearly they aren’t thinking about our school districts, parents and students by establishing a comment period that in no way respects the community’s need and desire to have adequate input on the state laws that will affect them.

“Demanding that our school district and parents provide their input during a 15-day public comment period at Christmastime is an unprecedented abuse of authority by the State Board. It also begs the question, whose interest are being served, the public’s, or well connected special interests using this process as a part of a coordinated campaign to advance their particular agenda? The state order allowing this to happen should be rescinded.

“That this is the time they have chosen to allow school districts, parents and community stakeholders to draft and submit their comments on proposed parent trigger regulations which will determine how this innovative and critically important education reform measure will be administered files in the face of the spirit, and the reality of community engagement and empowerment. The only interests served by this power play are those who seek to leverage the law, for private or political gain, not the public’s, not our schools and certainly not our children’s.

“Thankfully a new Administration will be taking office in a matter of days and we fully hope and expect that they will return a sense of fairness and thoughtful deliberation to this important public process by extending the comment period through January 18, 2011.”

And who are those folks on the California State Board of Education who are not allowing enough time for the parents to respond?

On the top of the list is:

Ben Austin, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Parents Union since April 2008 which developed the Parent Trigger and consultant to Greendot Inc., a chain of charter schools.

Ted Mitchell, President and CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit all about making a profit in charter schools.

Ruth Bloom, one of the founders of Teach for America, Inc., the company that staffs charter schools with cheap and inexperienced labor in the form of TFA recruits .

Yvonne Chan, Principal of a conversion charter school.

Johnathan Williams, is founder and co-director of The Accelerated School (TAS), a charter school organization in South Central Los Angeles.

Looks like the cards were stacked against the parents in Compton from the beginning.

Update: Check out

Ben Austin’s Antics, Continued




12 thoughts on “Ben Austin and His Parent Trigger, Now in Seattle

  1. LAUSD,

    I don’t know if I would send my daughter to McKinley or not but that is not the point here.

    The point is that our schools would succeed if they were adequately funded and if all students received the support needed to succeed whether they receive that support through their families or by way of other services. The Harlem School Zone is an example of that but it is sustained because of the millions of dollars that are privately donated to the school. This model is not self-sustaining and the only way that it could be supported for any length of time is if the federal government funded public education as it should. See: Where Do We Go From Here?, an essay on that predicament.

    Turning a school into a charter school does not solve the problem. If you look at the studies that have been done so far on the right hand side of this page, you will find substantial evidence that that is the case.

    We provide the information on the right hand side of this page, by the way, to inform the public of the other side of the coin and hopefully a more in-depth look into the education reform movement. Unfortunately, the press many times simply creates an article out of a press release rather than investigate the who, what, where, when and why that journalism is expected to uncover.

    And, charter schools do not offer higher pay, on the contrary, charter schools usually hire Teach for America recruits and others who are not educated in education, are not in a union and are expected to teach longer hours for less pay. A few articles on the right hand side of this page will confirm this also.

    Regarding Ben Austin and charter schools, this article is making the connection between Mr. Austin and charter schools in general. He developed the Parent Trigger while a consultant for Greendot and he will work for whoever will pay him. Mr. Austin is no hero but a well paid hired gun.

    In terms of “accountability”, making children take tests as a way to judge a teacher’s ability as an educator is inadequate. See: The McEducation of a Negro.

    And finally, there are highly successful schools and programs around the United States that are great examples of how to teach and they are public schools. My daughter has the great fortune to be attending one of those schools.

    This year I will be publishing articles on those programs so check back for that information.


  2. 1. Those of us who criticize the phony, predatory Parent Trigger are not saying troubled schools don’t need improvement. But ripping apart a school community, igniting “civil war” between the parents (as an ADVOCATE of the Parent Trigger put it), and turning the school over to a private operator are harmful, not beneficial.
    2. Green Dot is behind the Parent Trigger. That’s why I’m comparing them.
    It is true that the three schools run by Celerity, the charter operator that is targeting McKinley, have high ratings on California’s Academic Performance Index system. Those schools are notorious for dumping challenged students, however, and Celerity has never run a school under conditions in which it (supposedly) agrees to accept all students.
    3. We critics of the phony Parent Trigger do propose solutions; please read Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” to get a clear view of solutions that support and elevate schools, students and teachers rather than attacking and destroying.
    4. Teacher accountability in and of itself is not contentious. Attacking, disparaging, blaming and deprofessionalizing teachers and teaching are contentious, and so are invalid measures of so-called teacher quality that amount to bashing the teachers who teach the most challenged, high-need students.
    5. This blog is an opinion forum. Opinions are “biased” by definition.

  3. To all of you who accuse Austin of some evil conspiracy I ask each of you to consider: would you send your child to McKinley Elementary? Or any of the other bottom 10% of schools in your state? I wouldn’t. We get one chance to educate our kids. I attended LAUSD schools and know first hand of the problems in Los Angeles.

    Couple of other notes: Green Dot is NOT the charter candidate for McKinley. Why are you comparing them?

    I think good teachers deserve higher pay and greater recognition. Teachers who do not help kids learn should not be teaching. This is about kids, not jobs for adults. I am confused why teacher accountability is such a contentious topic. Propose a solution instead of criticizing others’ attempts to make better schools.

    Look at the news links on this site. A bit biased?

  4. Another crucial point about Ben Austin, Green Dot and Parent Revolution, and their ruthless and predatory attack on a high-poverty, challenged elementary school community near L.A.: McKinley Elementary, the target of the phony so-called “parent trigger,” significantly outperforms the average Green Dot charter school.

    California’s school accountability system is called the Academic Performance Index, which compiles the student test scores annually into one API number on a scale of 200-1000. 800-plus is considered excellent.

    Spring 2010 API for McKinley Elementary in Compton, CA: 684.
    Spring 2010 average API for all Green Dot charter schools in California: 657.

  5. Austin is the organizer of the group called Parent Revolution, which initially attempted to portray itself as an actual parent group but is actually a group of charter operators. Nobody is fooled except the mainstream press — what a surprise.

    Austin is not an actual advocate and has no background in school advocacy himself — he is 100% a paid mouthpiece. If the other side had the money to pay him he’d immediately go where the money was.

    He showed how unprepared he was for the job when he posted on his website admiringly about the LAUSD school in his own neighborhood — which is an outlier school that’s almost entirely white and almost zero low-income, in a district that’s overwhelmingly low-income and nonwhite. He had no clue that publicly voicing admiration for this segregated outlier school revealed his ignorance.

    Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed him to the state Board of Ed, which Arnold has stacked with charter insiders so that it’s basically an arm of the charter lobbying organization. Austin hasn’t technically been confirmed in that post yet, and it’s hoped that incoming Gov. Jerry Brown will remove him.

  6. Dora: This is like a virus that cannot be contained. The stories that have been shared about intimidation, harrassment, deliberate miscommunications, disinformation, and deception of parents are too numerous and diverse to all be unfounded. Follow the money–it’s more about the money than about a genuine concern about the hopes and expectations of poor families of students in schools in Los Angeles, Seattle, or here in Delaware. You all have my sympathy. One more piece of crap rolling downhill aimed straight at our community public schools and the people who value them.

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