This Mom Is Ensuring a Better Education for All

Shirley Ford, Parent Revolution
Presented byPresented by Kia
Mar 7, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Tosten Burks is a contributor for Passion of the Weiss. He has written for The Fader, GOOD, Grantland, and VICE.

This profile is part of TakePart’s “Re-Visionaries” series, in which we highlight people who are shaking things up—and making a difference—in their field and community.

In 2006, when Shirley Ford and two other mothers in South L.A. started Parent Revolution, they simply wanted their children to enjoy a better experience in high school than they did in chronically underfunded public elementary and middle schools. After helping to pass California’s landmark parent-trigger legislation in 2010, which empowers a majority of parents to take control over failing schools and make decisions for its future, Parent Revolution has doubled down on its efforts to help families control their educational destiny. The organization recently launched the "Choice4LA" tool kit to provide comprehensive school data and walk parents through application and transfer processes. As director of community partnerships, Ford trains families and community groups to navigate the school system. The revolution continues.

TakePart: What was the original idea for Parent Revolution?

Shirley Ford: I think the mere thought of having this organization was that everyone has someone to represent them—the teachers, the administrators. We had no money to have power. That was the biggest reason, to have parents together united in power standing up for each other and for our children to better our community. It started out as the Los Angeles Parents Union, and then we became Parent Revolution under new leadership, new ideas. But the fight continued.

TakePart: What inspired the fight for the parent-trigger bill?

Ford: When the district opened [failing] schools for bids—when I say "bid," you could write a proposal and a letter of intent to say, "I would like to take over school one. Here's what I would offer the parents"—the district wasn't really engaging the parents in a real way. At that time, the district would only allow parents to have an advisory vote, which meant absolutely nothing. Once [the district] made the choice of who would get the school, they ultimately had control and the parents' voice meant nothing, which was very insulting.

When President Obama initiated Race to the Top, we were actually able to work with Sen. Gloria Romero and get legislation passed—the Parent Empowerment law, better known as the parent-trigger bill. We were able to get that bill passed by one vote. It empowers parents to turn around a low-performing school that had been chronically failing for years under state measurement of schools, federal measurement of program improvement.

TakePart: How is Parent Revolution continuing to innovate on behalf of parents?

Ford: If I go into a community and a parent doesn't want to do parent trigger—I just can't empower that parent to move to the next step, to stand up and go through that process—then we're doing "Choice4LA." Basically it's a toolbox. We're assessing schools based not on my opinion, what I think or anyone here at Parent Revolution thinks. This is based on district and state information. We're assessing schools and helping parents understand that they have options. Here are some options you have. We will walk you through any one of these.

Under the Romero open-enrollment law, if the school is failing in your district, you are allowed to go to another district that is doing better. Most parents don’t know that. Another option is charter—only the best because we're scrutinizing them as well. We also do magnet schools, helping a parent understand what a magnet school is, the process to get into the school. We've also done a lot of research on out-of-district transfers. We will walk you through any of these options.