No Magic Solutions

My daughter believes in magic.

When our home's power went out last week because of a storm, she cast a spell to turn it back on. I love her magical world. I love jumping into it with her because -- even if it's just for a second -- I get to live in a world where a magic spell can fix anything.

It makes sense that in complicated times, we grasp for quick fixes. Sometimes the status quo seems so simultaneously unacceptable and intractable, that we believe in simple solutions because it's easier than the alternative. That's understandable. I visit my daughter's magical world as often as I can.

But when it comes to public education, unfortunately there is no magic spell to turn around decades of failure. As the Parent Trigger movement spreads across the state and even the nation, parents and policymakers must brace for the reality that we are about to embark upon a long journey. There will be ups and downs that none of us can presently predict.

I have worked on the inside of the system in a number of high-level positions when the doors are closed and reporters aren't in the room, and I have seen first-hand how seldom the interests of children trump the interests of powerful adults. The only way to alter that dynamic is to give parents power over the education of their own children. Parent Trigger is a necessary precondition to kids-first change. But it is not sufficient. In and of itself, Parent Trigger cannot transform our schools for the 21st Century because of vexing challenges related to policy, partnerships and politics.

We must accept with humility that we don't have all the answers when it comes to defining a kids-first policy agenda. Good policy research is being done right now, especially in the areas of teacher effectiveness. And some reforms are just plain common sense. Of course adults should be held accountable for student performance, and of course money should be invested in the classroom, rather than squandered in the bureaucracy. But common sense only goes so far. Today's classroom hasn't changed since the turn of the last century and we have a long way to go to reinvent it for this century. A lot of work remains to be done to discern how we turn around a failing school and transform a broken culture. And parents have lots of work to do not only to organize themselves, but also to educate themselves about how best to utilize their historic new power on behalf of their children.

Even more important than policy are partnerships and people.

Right now, parent union chapters across California are organizing to demand a teachers union contract that serves the interests of their children as well as their teachers. Many parents are working collaboratively with teachers and principals. These parents are organizing around the belief in common ground, not conflict. California's new Parent Trigger law gives these parents historic power. But with that power they seek partnership, because parents understand they can't have great schools without great teachers and great principals.

Finally, it's important to remember that parents are taking on some of the most powerful and entrenched forces in California politics. The defenders of the status quo are literally the biggest political campaign contributors in the state. Parents don't derive their power from campaign contributions or lobbyists. Their power comes from love. From a refusal to accept anything less than the future our children deserve.

Parents will ultimately prevail because they are right. If the protests from Wall Street to the Middle East tell us anything about these revolutionary times, it's that power cannot sustain in the face of truth and justice. But these movements also serve as an object lesson that the defenders of the status quo do not easily cede power, and the struggle for justice can be arduous and even brutal.

Unfortunately, the journey we are about to embark upon will not be a fairy tale. No magic spell will save us and no majestic hero will ride to our rescue. There will be bumps along this road, and we will take wrong turns. But we will ultimately reach our destination because we must. Because we have no choice. And because if we work together, we know this story can have a happy ending.