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Meet the parents

Low parental turnout in the recent vote on school reform shows the apathy the mayor is up against.

December 15, 2007

If the votes at seven Los Angeles campuses are an indication, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will have his work cut out for him as he attempts to revamp a group of low-performing schools. A strong majority of the teachers and parents who voted Tuesday favored having the mayor and his partnership run the three high schools and four middle schools. (The teacher vote at Santee Education Complex might need to be redone, though, in part because a large number of teachers at the multitrack school were on vacation.) With the mayor behind them -- his skill at raising money and hiring smart leaders, his ability to pull community and city resources together -- these schools stand their best chance in years of a real turnaround.

But a strong majority of a very small minority is an even smaller minority. After more than two months of outreach through schools, churches and community groups, less than 10% of parents voted in the advisory ballot. Let's face it, voter turnout in the last school board election was just about as bad. But the school board is remote, its reach amorphous and the likelihood for imminent change small. In this case, parents had the chance to speak out on transforming their children's schools, bringing in new management, new financial resources and even new teachers. Instead, they stayed home in droves.

The implication is that the task of getting parents involved in education might be tougher than foreseen, even for a mayor with a legendary ability to galvanize grass-roots excitement. Villaraigosa's school team plans to require, as most charter schools do, that parents sign contracts promising to be active in their children's schooling, from volunteering to making sure the kids attend. His commitment to bringing parents into the mix is unwavering and praiseworthy, but he also might have new insight into what teachers have been struggling with all along.

Parents whose children attend low-achieving schools cannot just fume and hope things will get better. They have to be part of the transformation. That's a lesson we hope they learn the easy way.

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