A prescription for authentic school reform: Parental rights and the education of their children…

When it comes to improving the nation’s failing public schools (and not every public school is failing), solutions are “a dime a dozen.”  With solutions proliferating across the nation, that ends up being a pretty sizeable chunk of change.

Then, too, research studies examining how to improve the nation’s failing schools don’t cost “a dime a dozen.”  No, they’re a veritable cottage industry, one carrying a high price tag.  “That adds up to some real dollars,” the late-Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-IL) was fond of saying.

With all of that money spent and so many of the nation’s schools continuing to fail their students, The Motley Monk would suggest once again introducing one of the foundational principles of Catholic education—the “grammar of Catholic education”—namely, “parents are the first and best teachers of their children” into discourse about school reform.

The Motley Monk was delighted to read a Washington Post article detailing where parents are attempting to do just that.

welcome sign


Taking advantage of a 2010 California “trigger law,” parents in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto have petitioned to take over an elementary school.  Backed by Parent Revolution, a Los  Angeles organization funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Walton  Family Foundation, parents like Cynthia Ramirez and Doreen Diaz organized their efforts

Diaz said:

We just decided we needed to do something for our children.  If we don’t stand up and speak  for them, their future is lost.

The parents’ wish list includes:

  • a DTE principal who has full  control over hiring, firing, curriculum, and spending;
  • every teacher to possess a master’s degree;
  • a full-time librarian and among other things; and,
  • preschool classes, a longer school day, a computer lab, and clean,  and working restrooms.


The facts?

Diaz’s daughter attends Desert Trails Elementary (DTE).

The 666 children attending DTE are mostly Black and  Latino, with nearly every student qualifying for the federal definition of “poor.”  DTE lacks a  full-time nurse, guidance counselor, and psychologist. DTE has had three principals in the past five years.

Last year:

  • nearly 25% of students were suspended in 2011, nearly two times the district average;
  • two-thirds of students failed the state reading exam;
  • more than half of the students were not proficient  in math; and,
  • ~80%failed the science exam.

DTE has not met  state standards for six years.  Scores on state-mandated tests place DTE in the bottom 10% of  California’s schools.

No doubt, DTE is a “failing” school.

Of course, there are critics of the takeover plan and their arguments are predictable:

  • The complex challenge of educating young people may be entrusted to people who may be unprepared to meet it.
  • Parents are  circumventing the elected school board.
  • Operators of charter schools want to take over the school to line their pockets with money that should be used to educate the students.

The Motley Monk’s favorite criticism was voiced by a group of parents who are opposed to the trigger.  Backed financially by the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers  union, one of these parents who has two children attending DTE, Lori Yaun, said:

We all agree we’d like to see some improvements, but would you rather blow  everything up, start from scratch and hope for better?  That doesn’t sound  very good to me.

Judging from the facts of the past 5 years and the President of the Adelanto Teachers Union, LaNita M. Dominique, Ms. Yaun better not hold her breath waiting for “some improvements” to appear.  According to Ms. Dominique:

We have a great school district, serve great kids that live in a great  community.

Authentic school reform comes down to a battle of principles.

Are parents the first and best educators of their children and educators delegated by parents to assist in the education of their children?

Or, are educators delegates of the states who tell parents what and how their children are to learn?



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The Motley Monk is Fr. Richard Jacobs, O.S.A., a Professor of Public Administration at Villanova University. His academic specialities include: organizational theory; leadership ethics; Catholic educational leadership; and, U.S. Catholic educational history. Check out Fr. Jacobs' daily blog at http://www.richard-jacobs-blog.com/omnibus.html.


  1. 1. But did these folks ever vote in their local school board elections? A public school board is democratically elected by the people — who mostly leave it to the candidates’ extended families.

    2. Masters’ degrees are highly overrated; a good, solid undergraduate degree (not in fashion design or hospitality, please) is necessary.

    3. Teaching calls for youth and energy.

    4. Don’t obsess on state exams — you don’t know who created them and for what purposes. The point of a school is to be one of the three parts of a child’s formation, along with the family and the church.

  2. I think in the 2008 election this tenet was one of the four non-negitiables set forth by the Pope.

    The USCCB ignored all four which is partial cause for the latest “pomp and circumstances” over state control of health care and regulation of religious beliefs.

  3. Mack-
    Degrees are a common work-around to sift out the worst in the type of folks you have a heck of a time firing, like public teachers. It’s entirely possible to teach without any degree, and no teacher at all would be an improvement even on some of the teachers I had. (You do NOT need a degree to copy the examples out of the back of the teacher’s edition and read the chapter out loud.)

    Gotta love it– wonder whose pockets are getting lined right now, that folks are so defensive of a failed system, and that’s one of the first responses that comes to their mind….

    That said, I’m not sure what percent of the “black and Latino” school population are from Mexico, but it doesn’t take much to really lower the averages. (How would you do if you moved to Japan and were tested on your reading ability?)

  4. Not all parents are the best teachers; parents that work 10 – 12 hours a day, or love golf too much…it may be that in addition to the school “failing” so are many of the parents.
    After all, look at the stats…how much TV are the kids watching?…where are the parents currently; doing homework with their kids, meeting with the teachers, getting tutors, mentors, etc.? …It doesn’t appear so.

    Getting a masters?…at a teacher’s salary…that’s a cruel joke!

    Like any subject, this is quite complex. Our public school system used to be one of the best. We all know it’s declined, but why? I think it’s for many reasons; administrators have become politicians not true educators, TV and both parents working, the pay of a teachers is plain unmotivational, teaching tactics are given to teachers instead of being created by teachers….and more.

    Look at successful schools; for the most part, they are financially stable, with parents that are either involved, supportive, earning more that have degrees themselves….

    Money is an issue, but who wants to pay the taxes, who wants to stand up to the administrators and who wants to pay teachers more money and most importantly, who is spending time with their children at the books, at the school, with the teachers, providing support (mentors, coaches, tutors) when needed?…the parent who know best?

  5. Did you just write that not all parents are the best teachers, but kids whose parents teach them turn out better? Possibly what you were disagreeing with wasn’t what TMM was saying, since that’s his point….

    Teachers’ pay has been proven to not correspond to the results when you adjust for other factors; do you by chance mean that the way that pay is organized, so that you get raises by being around rather than doing a good job, isn’t going to motivate teachers to do their job? (The lack of accountability probably doesn’t help there, either.)

    We do NOT need to pay teachers more to try to get better results. We’ve been shoveling money down that rat hole for ages– as much as I’m a fan of making “teacher pay” and “teacher COMPENSATION” mean the same thing, it’s not going to happen.

    Anyone comparing the average class from back when our system was recognized as one of the best to the average class today will have a major difference– just about EVERYONE is in school, even if they simply don’t have the objective ability to finish the school. Take the kid with Down’s that graduated with my cousin– he’s a sweetheart, but he can’t manage the cash register at his mom’s cafe, and not too long ago he wouldn’t have been at school. (Either institutionalized or dead– both of which would change the stats significantly.) Ditto for a lot of special ed folks. (which, along with admin, is where a lot of the increase in spending has gone.) Another example are kids with English as a second language– one of the high school kids that worked on my folks’ ranch was the victim of that atrocity. He’s second generation American and, because they shoved him in to the “teach everything in Spanish” classes, can barely speak English. He could have been a really good mechanic, if they’d taught him enough English to take the classes for it. Want to get him foaming at the mouth? Get on the subject of illegal aliens– according to him, they showed up for school because it’s a free lunch and they can socialize. (Contrast to the migrant workers when my mom taught– the only difference between them and the normal class member was that they were only in the class for harvesting season.) Really hard to learn anything if a significant part of your classroom is busy socializing instead of trying to learn– heaven forbid if you’re in a place with lots of gang activity and your teacher’s in physical fear of some of the class.

    A lot of the decrease in quality is from having to follow rules that didn’t use to exist.

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