parent revolution
Students exit the F.D. Moon Academy after school on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Oklahoma City. (William W. Savage III)

Even among Oklahoma City residents, not that many outsiders venture into the neighborhood around F.D. Moon Elementary School. My three incredibly satisfying decades of educational and mentoring relationships with poor children of color began with students at the old Moon Middle School and the basketball courts at the Foster Center.

But, two years ago, I was stunned to find a local church sanctuary full of corporate school reformers from Adelanto, Calif., who were pushing market-driven plans for taking over Moon and other Oklahoma City schools. They were from the “Parent Revolution,” using a “parent trigger” to close traditional public schools and replace them with charters.

These Californians seemed sincere about wanting to help some children. I don’t know what to say about the “Billionaire Boys Club,” which funds them and the mass takeovers of neighborhood schools across the nation. Financed by the Gates, Walton and Broad foundations, these competition-driven “reformers” are well-armed with the best scorched-earth political spin that the elites can buy. Their videos promised “transformational” change, rescuing students from the OKCPS and the teachers’ unions.

Parent Revolution harms communities

The Parent Revolution’s public relations soundbites were demonstrably false. They had taken over a traditional public school, turning it into a charter school, and, in doing so, they ripped its community apart.

For years across the country, parents fought parents. According to the investigative reporter Yasha Levine who covered the Adelanto charter school fight, “At times, locals say, the ‘Parent Revolution’ volunteers’ tactics were so heavy-handed in gathering signatures that they crossed the line into harassment and intimidation.”

Now, the Adelanto-based Desert Trails Preparatory Academy’s charter has been non-renewed. The San Bernardino Sun reports, “The district had offered instead to work collaboratively with Desert Trails … but Desert Trails repeatedly declined those offers.”

Parent Revolution comes to OKC

As is true across the nation, “venture philanthropists” quietly descended on Oklahoma City, peddling their theories. They seek to “blow up” local school boards, unions, education schools and other institutions that they condemn for only producing incremental gains in student performance. They want to kick down the old education barn in the faith that “disruptive innovation” will replace it with a new type of school — to be identified later.

Meanwhile, some would impose a behaviorist “No Excuses” pedagogy, while others would make big bucks from the often-criticized but highly profitable online learning industry. If these outsiders had their way, some Oklahoma City students would find themselves in front of computer terminals with class sizes up to 300.


Fmr. TFA corps member: ‘I thought I would teach forever’” by Meredith Simons

To date, Oklahoma has been lucky: We have homegrown charters, but only one is a part of the charter management organizations (CMOs) that have enabled the mass closures of public schools across the United States.

Two high-performing charters are located in the old Harding building. They do great work, but they are not remotely close to being high-poverty schools. KIPP and Santa Fe South exemplify the best of the nation’s handful of “high-performing, high-poverty charters.” But, the market for KIPP has long-ago maxed out, and even with the dramatic increase in southside students, it remains to be seen whether Santa Fe South can meet its growth plans.

The only way charters can expand in Oklahoma City is to step up the campaigns to “cream” high-performing students who are already getting a great education at successful schools.

I am not criticizing KIPP, Santa Fe South or other charter schools, but I do challenge their false claims about serving the “same” students as neighborhood schools. The best charters serve as many high-challenge students as they can handle. Neighborhood schools serve everyone who walks through their doors. Because of the proliferation of choice, the highest-poverty neighborhood schools have daunting concentrations of children who have endured unconscionable trauma.

Let’s move away from the Parent Revolution

I wish local charter leaders and philanthropists would disassociate themselves from the Parent Revolution and the agenda of competition-driven reformers. True believers that “the market” will magically solve education’s problems have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in failed experiments in Newark, New Orleans, Memphis and, now, Chicago and Boston. Last week, the secret $2.7 million corporate campaign for mass charterization of Los Angeles was revealed.

Those experiments mostly took bad inner city schools and made them worse. The one semi-success (New Orleans) spent incomprehensible sums of money, beyond anything we could conceive in Oklahoma, as it created a mostly all-charter system. It produced some gains through nonstop teach-to-the-test, but they came at the cost of pushing thousands of high-challenge students out of school and into the streets.

If we follow the Parent Revolution, we will be back to what we saw during the economic bust of the 1980s. OKCPS did its best, but our overwhelmed system had no chance of reaching the dozens of out-of-school kids who we used to see wandering through each of our high-poverty neighborhoods during the school days.