Across the political spectrum, parental involvement in schools is
seen as a good thing.
But California, in keeping with its trend-setting reputation, is
considering a role for parents in local schools that makes even the
state's PTA blanch. Contained in a ballot initiative that goes
before voters Tuesday, the measure would put parents in control of a
large slice of school budgets and curricula.
For supporters it's the logical extension of a nationwide
of the 1990s to involve parents more in education, a practice that
has declined in recent decades, particularly in the inner cities.
For critics, it's a good idea taken to a frightening extreme, with
proof of its effectiveness.
For all sides, it's a radical step that, if approved, would again
make this state a bellwether on social policy, particularly in the
field of education, as it was in 1996 when it ended race-based
preferences in public education and earlier this year when voters
terminated bilingual education.
THOUGH this measure lacks the racial components that made those
earlier initiatives so attention-grabbing, it too is sweeping and
revolutionary. "This would be an unprecedented step into the great
unknown," says Bruce Fuller, co-director of the Policy Analysis for
California Education, a research group funded by Stanford University
and the University of California, Berkeley.
The measure to give parents new clout is contained in a ballot
initiative that includes a number of fundamental changes in how the
nation's largest public school system would be run. Crafted and
supported by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, the initiative would do
things he was unable to push through the state's Democratic
The initiative (called Proposition 8), comes wrapped in a feel-
good banner of making permanent cuts in class size that even critics
find hard to oppose. For two years, California has been offering
money to school districts that reduce class size, and this
would establish a permanent fund to continue that shrinkage in
K through 3.
But other key provisions of the initiative are vigorously opposed
by the state teachers union, the state PTA, and others. Those
provisions include establishing a new state inspector general for
education, who would rank and evaluate all the public schools;
principals the authority to fire teachers; requiring subject-matter
competency tests for teachers; and forcing local schools to
governing councils that would be two-thirds parents, one-third