The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 5, 2012

Involvement by parents the biggest hurdle for our nation’s education system

Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A new education reform movie, “Won’t Back Down,” illustrates the so-called “parent trigger” concept.

On Sept. 24, Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma, City, announced plans to file trigger legislation in  2013. The law would empower 51 percent of parents at low-performing schools to transform school leadership.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi also wrote an editorial espousing the film’s message and pledging to support Holt’s legislation.

Barresi, whose twin sons were identified as requiring special needs, became a school choice advocate when she helped open Independence Charter Middle School in 1996. Holt, who attended the film’s Sept. 24 screening with the superintendent, announced his legislation the same day, according to Oklahoma Gazette.

The film is produced by Walden Media, which is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, the new owner of Oklahoma Publishing Co. and The Oklahoman.

While support for the trigger concept comes from urban areas, rural lawmakers don’t believe the Hollywood hype, claiming it’s based more on ideology over empirical data. Charter schools siphon off the best academic achievers, leaving a vacuum in urban schools challenged by socio-economic inequity.

Even if the legislation becomes law, we think having a trigger of 60 percent might make more sense. That would be more than a simple majority and the same number necessary to approve a bond issue tax.

Charter schools certainly have their place in an urban setting, but other success stories abound within the public school system. Enid’s regional center for Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics enables gifted students to receive additional instruction without having to leave home. Statewide, this collaboration helps enhance curriculum in rural schools.

Booker T. Washington High School is Tulsa Public Schools’ academic, athletic and artistic flagship. The socio-economically diverse magnet school teaches eight languages, including Chinese, and is consistently ranked in U.S. News & World Report.

We have not seen “Won’t Back Down” in Garfield County. However, the Hollywood solution apparently allows a small group of highly motivated parents to cleanse themselves, essentially creating an island.

That sounds like an easy resolution in 121 minutes, but real life is more complicated.  

Ironically, charter school accountability is elusive in some cases. The research doesn’t necessarily support that charter schools are better.

The film reportedly vilifies the system and union influence. Unions certainly make it difficult for administrators to fire problem teachers, but they aren’t evil incarnate. With unions, teachers have higher salaries and things like planning periods and duty-free breaks.

No one wants bad teachers, but educators face high expectations and public scrutiny with relatively low compensation.

Often in our embattled public education system, the missing ingredient is parental guidance striving to engage, encourage and expect the best of our young students.

Parental involvement is the single biggest hurdle for our education system, and oversimplifying the problem isn’t the solution.