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Campaign 2012: Obama's Murky Position On Parent Trigger

ScreenHunter_06 Jun. 01 00.07Yesterday's Jay Mathews column (on the virtues of home visits by teachers) mentions in passing the Obama campaign's support for the parent trigger

Indeed, Secretary Duncan said something vaguely supportive about the trigger last winter (January 2011).  But as you may recall the Duncan comment was so heroically bland and vague --  "I applaud the efforts of parents and community organizations  to take charge of their children's future by working with teachers to transform underperforming schools" -- that it was never actually quoted in the NYT or LA Times (How Duncan Stayed Out Of "Trigger" Debate).  We weren't even sure if Duncan knew how the trigger worked.

Duncan has apparently reiterated his support in a Santa Ana speech this past fall -- perhaps in much stronger terms.  But to my knowledge we still don't know for sure what the President would have to say about the issue.  He either hasn't been asked, or hasn't answered. The former is my guess.  And my guess is that when asked, he'll say something carefully supportive.  

After all, the campaign hired Parent Revolution PR person Linda Serrato (pictured) and has so far at least kept her on despite the California Teachers' Federation's angry requests to remove her "or else."  But still, the actual Obama answer hasn't happened yet, and will be an important moment for trigger advocates and for teachers unions when it occurs.  


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I think the comments from both sides overlook the fact that Serrato, like Parent Revolution director Ben Austin (the main force behind the Parent Trigger) and the rest of that crew, are purely hired mercenaries who promote whatever position they're paid to promote. A lot of the conversation seems to be based on the mistaken assumption that they are heartfelt advocates who infuse their work with their deep belief in the Parent Trigger, wherever they go. That seems naive to me. Once the last paycheck is deposited, Parent Trigger will be forgotten.

caroline i'm leaving this post up so that others can see what kind of comments will get them banned.

as we've emailed about before, you insist on disagreeing with others via attacks on motivation, character, and intent -- a slippery and offensive slope.

i don't know what else to do so for june you're banned from commenting here (or on my FB).

See you in july.

Well done, Alexander. I know Ben well, and had lunch with Linda once. To the best of my (first-hand) knowledge, "they are heartfelt advocates who infuse their work with their deep belief in the Parent Trigger, wherever they go." It is legitimate to disagree with the practicality of their efforts, as Jay has done in his columns, or to equivocate in the face of this innovation, as Secretary Duncan has done (I loved your line "heroically bland and vague"), but this kind of needless character assassination has got to stop; it is poisoning legitimate debates about important issues of public policy. Even Jay accurately calls the Parent Revolution " a well-meaning group". It is sad that districts sometimes so disastrously fail their constituents that they feel moved to try this desperate strategem, but I've worked in a desperate community, and feel for parents locked into horrific ghettos.

Hi, it's Jack again.

I have a DVD of President (then candidate) Obama speaking to the NEA Representative Assembly (teachers' union national convention) in 2007. He said the following:

"We need to fully fund, support, and defend our public schools, instead of abandoning them and handing out vouchers!"

Back to me: the way that corporate charter schools currently operate, there's only a hair's difference between a voucher school and a charter school. In both instances, public money (taxes) go to what is effectively a private school: there's no transparency to the public; there's no mechanism for accountabiilty by the public via a democratically-elected school board; the charter schools brazenly refuses to educate all the public...i.e. the hardest and moste expensive to educate: special ed. kids, second-language learners, bad-behavior kids.

Given the 2007 quote, one could infer that, having been fully informed on this matter, the president would oppose not just the Parent Trigger, but any charter schools that fit the above description.

Actually an earlier post of mine didn't go through. Hence, the "again" in the last post.

Here's the earlier post:

I'm at a loss as to why Caroline's comment justified her being banned, as I find any censorship of ideas and opinions highly offensive. (And so should you.)

To Alexander and Bruce, here's a question:

If a certain person is being paid handsomely to promote a controversial agenda, do you then believe that that person is somehow immune from any concerns, criticism, or skepticism that someone else might have? Do you believe that anything that that handsomely-paid person says or does---or what that person's true motivations might actually be---are similarly exempt from anyone else's concerns, criticism, or skepticism?

BTW, that's not a rhetorical question.

Quick, Alex, ban me too. Yes, "motivation" matters in education policy debate. Rick Hess so famously pointed it out, when he said "We're all implicated" in the expose of targeted journalistic subsidies.

For instance, the Gates Foundation's major contribution to education is "advocacy" spending. That means paying people (through grants, hiring, or organizational interest leverage) to lobby, write, legislate, and advocate for specific education policies. Those facts aren't in doubt, and the motivation of the core of advocates mobilized by all that money should be discussed.

Murdoch spoke publicly about the $500 billion "funding stream" of US public education, and he hired Joel Klein to make him a profit from it. He purchased a venture start-up from a member of the Education Week Board of Directors for $600 million. wireless Generation that makes its profits from contracts in the "accountability" and oversight industry, and Klein's motivations need to be considered in discussions of the policies he imposed on New York City during his tenure as a corrupt public servant.

It's "your" blog, and your byline. Your background as a congressional staffer for the education committee gave you familiarity and contact with lobbyists, and you've discussed that yourself in your columns. You're not an educator, or an expert on education itself by any stretch of the imagination. You have a job promoting a particular agenda. If you want to claim you're on a moral crusade, whose motives are sacred, then ban all of us who disagree.

Please, though, leave this post up as a warning for other people who might wish for the honor of being banned.

thanks for the comments, which i appreciate whether we agree or disagree.

in fact that's the point: disagreeing about actions and decisions without implying immorality to the other side's motivations, character, etc.

some people are motivated by money, and others are motivated by ideology or personal experience -- it's usually a mix of things and we can't alas read each other's minds and shouldn't presume the worst (at least out loud in public debate)

as for the ban, let's not make too much of it. it's a month. it's one blog out of thousands. speaking of which, caroline has already posted her thoughts on the matter on her own blog, so it's not like she's been muzzled in any meaningful way:

"Parent Trigger flap over paid flacks vs. real advocates « Parents Across America" http://ow.ly/bjLuv

Alexander & Bruce:

Here's a great YOUTUBE clip featuring a CPS parent who---it should be noted---IS NOT BEING PAID A CENT FOR HIS "heartfelt activism" that is in evidence on this video. Judge for yourself whether or not he "infuses his work with his deep belief" in the ideals he holds dear.

It's parent/lawyer Matt Farmer calling out billionaire CPS Board Member Penny Pritzker on the hypocrisy she---along with Mayor Emanual, CEO Brizard, et al---engages in while trying to privatize education and bust unions:


He does something that Linda, to my knowledge, has never done---he uses facts, prior quotes, and full-throated emotion etc. to back up what he advocates in a public forum. Go to YOUTUBE and try to find a video of Linda preaching the truth in such a public setting this forcefully and this factually... HINT: you won't find it.

And again... unlike Linda with her six-figure salary, Farmer is not getting paid a cent. Does that fact make Farmer the more credible of the two? I think most people would think so.

Alexander's dilemma came to my mind when I saw that clip, too, Jack. Why would Chicago's education elite demand something so much less for the children they serve than they get for their own children?

The Russian language has three distinct words for "why". Pochemu? Otchevo? Zachiem? From what causes do they make these choices for other people's children? To what end? And, on what grounds do they exercise such power? These are inescapably moral questions.

In no particular order, we can also ask from what cause, or to what purpose, or on what grounds Obama hired Linda Serrato, or why Linda advocated for the parent trigger, why Jay Matthews would mention anything at all "in passing", or why Alexander became offended when Caroline brought up the plasticity of hired advocacy.

In public policy discourse, all three versions of "Why?" do matter. Causes are complex, purposes might be nefarious, and the grounds on which an argument rests must be examined for truthfulness and relevance. That's why motivation is always part of the discussion. At the risk of setting him off again, I support Alexander's own leap of equating hired work with character, though, because I see moral content in education and yes, even in business.

So do you, Alexander. It's yourself you're arguing with, and you can't ban that.

Realistically... this is a blog with Scholastic’s logo on it. They can’t be seen as taking too strong an opinion, either way, lest they venture into some risky territory. Nobody wants to censor anybody, but that’s a reality we all have to accept when posting on an entity which wants to remain non-biased, publicly. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but it’s what I suspect.

I’m not trying to single anyone out. It isn’t wrong of Scholastic to do this. That’s business, and while this is a personal blog, it’s the right of whoever manages the blog itself to determine allowed and unallowed commentary.

As a part-time administrator myself, I know why things like this have to be done. It’s a harsh reality of online business.


I'm not buying your argument.

"(Scholastic) can’t be seen as taking too strong an opinion, either way, lest they venture into some risky territory."

Well, in the COMMENTS section at least, Scholastic isn't "taking too strong an opinion (position)." It's the the folks who are commenting---me, you, Bruce, Alexander, Mary, etc.---who are sharing opinions and taking positions in what theoretically should be an open forum. In a free and open marketplace of ideas, everyone should be allowed to do so without fear of being banned. Is that naive of me to think this?

If, in the COMMENTS section, Alexander and/or Scholastic only bans the facts and opinions that expressed/shared by only one side of an issue, isn't that taking a position?

You know the old saying "he who pays the piper calls the tune"? That's what I fear is happening... both with Linda's actions/positions promoting privatization (i.e. the Parent Trigger), and what may have influenced Alexander to ban Caroline the other day.

I'll take the opinion of an unpaid parent whose child's education and future are at stake (Matt Farmer and Caroline), over that of paid operatives like Linda any day of the week.

NEVER FORGET: the Gates/Broad/Walton family privatization nexus stands to gain, and yes, PROFIT HANDSOMELY if the Parent Trigger succeeds, as the end game that Linda has been paid to push for will result in tens/hundreds of millions of dollars---school buildings, real estate, multi-million dollar annual school budgets, etc.---being transferred


the PUBLIC COMMONS where it is under the control/oversight of the citizens via democratically elected school boards, public school board meetings, etc. ...


the PRIVATE SECTOR, where unelected charter CEO's will conduct their meetings in private, and where there will be:

---no accountability to the public;

---no transparency to the public, paying themselves excessive salaries with no one to stop them;

and where charter honchos can, have done, and will---due the inherent higher costs involved---continue to fail to educate ALL the public (i.e. excluding the hardest/most expensive kids to educate---special ed. kids, second-language learners, behavior-problem kids, etc.)


(NOTE: Instead of "privatization nexus" ABOVE, I was tempted to say "Axis of Evil" facetiously, but was/am afraid Alexander wouldn't get the joke, and then ban me; Get a sense of humor, guys!)

Jack, I will answer your questions and respond to the video I watched at your suggestion. I obviously do not believe that anyone commenting on public affairs is immune to or exempt from "any concerns, criticism, or skepticism that someone else might have", regardless of whether or not the person is paid; my post above discussed legitimate grounds for disagreement, and tried to distinguish those from illegitimate character assassination completely lacking evidence but instead based on the innuendo, "Oh, you're getting paid to say that, so you can't actually mean it." As for the video, I agree entirely with the curricular criticisms made by Mr. Farmer and the director of the Chicago Lab Schools. Having watched the video, I fear Ms. Pritzker was taken out of context, but I don't pretend to be an expert on the situation in Chicago's public schools, and so will beg off from commenting further on that matter because I'm not well informed.

I’m not defending anybody here. I disagree with censorship in any form.

But opinions we express here, left untouched, influence thinking in either direction, whether made by the blog’s creators or not.
I don’t see how what Caroline posted was an offensively personal attack just as much as you do, and I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s the reality of administration of any online service.

Opinions not posted by oneself can convey bias. The point is, we’re not paying to keep this webpage up, and therefore have minimal, if any, say in what is and is not acceptable content. It’s not exactly fair, perhaps, but free speech doesn’t apply in an environment which you don’t have ownership over. Particularly in an environment such as this, where anonymity means I or you or anyone else could be just that, anybody.


I don't know what you mean by Farmer taking Pritzker's comments out of context. It's her hypocritical actions that he is criticizing.

Specifically, he refers to her actions as a Chicago Public Schools Board Member in voting to close 160 or so school libraries, and cancel arts and P.E. programs in schools servicing middle and lower income schools, while simultaneously being a prime mover and organizer being a multi-million-dollar library and expensive arts/music/P.E. programs for kids at her own school---Chicago Lab School---where Mayor Emmanuel's kids go, and Obama's kids used to go.


You are hereby and officially banned from this day forward from my SmallTalk blog, or at least until you un-ban truth-teller, Caroline. I know this will be difficult to do since I rarely mention your name anyway (once since 2010) and rarely read your blog (only coming to it today because I heard about your banning tactic).

Having banned you however, I still reserve the right to denounce you by name and say nasty things about you.

Mike Klonsky

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