Monday, May 11, 2009

Charter entreprenuers as organizers?

In today's LA Times, the article "Parents are urged to demand more from LA schools," presents an odd and interesting juxtapositioning. Here is a charter school entrepreneur -- one of the founders of Green Dot Public Schools (a charter not-for-profit) -- who is urging parents to get organized to demand better schools for their kids. The Parent Revolution is a tool to help parents in Los Angeles communities create political pressure on schools to improve. Steve Barr's initiative is aimed to empower parents but has potential benefits for charter organizers like Green Dot, as the article points out: "With parents, they predict, they'll have the clout to pressure the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve schools. They'll also have petitions, which Barr and his allies will keep at the ready, to start charter schools. If the district doesn't deliver, targeted neighborhoods could be flooded with charters, which aren't run by the school district. L.A. Unified would lose enrollment, and the funding would go to the charters instead of to the district."

This effort to organize parents in neighborhoods where families are least empowered and most educational disadvantaged unites bizzare bedfellows: Barr, the LA Chamber of Commerce, and the Eli Broad foundation, all of whom are bankrolling this initiative. The initiative is not ostensibly about promoting a charter school agenda, but clearly charters are an animating "stick," if you will, that those promoting the Parents Revolution see as a motivational force, a stick that would be aligned with Barr's interests as well as the Chamber of Commerce's, I would guess.

In my own work I'm increasingly fascinated with the ways in which community organizing language, tools, and strategies are being used by educators and families, and the ways this tradition of activism and community-based leadership are being born anew in today's school reform movements. This particular article highlights the strange linking of business, nonprofit, and poor communities in contemporary urban neighborhoods. As those writing on community organizing in education today have documented (see Aaron Schutz's online commentaries, among others), educators have much to learn about this tradition and how it might serve educational progressives today. Barr and his Parent Revolution in Los Angeles is yet another reworking of this tradition, but one which significantly steps away from an Alinskyan framework. Can we really utter the terms "grassroots" and "Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce" in the same breath? I certainly know what Alinsky would say.....

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