Can parents run their kids’ schools?

Eventually, parents will take over their children’s low-performing school using “parent trigger” laws. (Adelanto, California parents have resubmitted their petition.) Can parents run their kids schools any better than the pros? asks Andrew Rotherham in Time. Even bad schools can get worse, he warns.

Adelanto parents distrust outside charter operators. If they can’t agree with the district on improving Desert Trails Elementary, they plan to turn it into a community-run school. Turning around an existing school is a huge challenge, Rotherham writes.  “Let’s face it – if it were easy to run great schools, we’d have more of them.”

To avoid chaos, he suggests a supermajority — perhaps two-thirds of parents — be required to trigger a takeover.  That would ensure a “core consensus.”

However, parent involvement in running schools has a “decidedly mixed” record, he writes. In the ’60s, New York City created community-run schools that “fired white teachers without cause and sparked a legendary teacher strike,” he writes.

As the father of school-aged children, it’s hard for me to oppose the parent trigger, and I don’t. But I do see school choice as a more sustainable way to give parents options and control in the long run. . . .  I’m cautious about what we can expect once parents pull that trigger. When it comes to handling real firearms, there are some age-old axioms: never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot, and never fire unless you know where the round is going to end up. In this case these rules apply to schools as well.

I share Rotherham’s concerns. Parents may find a charter operator with the expertise needed to run a school. If they try to do it themselves, at a school with a history of failure, they’ll face a very steep learning curve.

About Joanne


  1. Yes. Parents that are overinvolved ( “My little Johnny could never do anything wrong like that!” / “I demand that you give Johnny an A in this class”) can do just as much damage as parents who don’t care at all. It’s all about moderation and common sense… Or at least, it used to be.

  2. Parent Revolution, the operation behind the Parent Trigger fiasco in Compton and this one, seems pretty blithe about encouraging this notion. No one in Parent Revolution has any experience turning around or improving a school, so they aren’t equipped to help — and aren’t likely to even understand how risky this notion is. (Or, perhaps, to care, since they’re all paid staff just doing their job.)

    The Los Angeles Times also described the divisiveness and hostility within the parent community at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto that this campaign has brought. That’s not a good thing either — and hardly bodes well if these parents DID try to team up to manage the school.

    • Well let’s see, the school sucks.

      So if the parents do a lousy job running the school it’ll suck.

      The parents only have to be better at running a school then the folks who are currently in charge and doing a rotten job. Doesn’t set a very high standard to exceed.

      Also, the LA Times ran an article in which parents complained that they hadn’t signed rescission forms which the district is attempting to use to invalidate the parental trigger action. That sort of fraud doesn’t exactly foster the impression that highmindedness is the emotion that motivates the employees and elected officials of the district.

      • Parent Revolution used this strategy when their previous Parent Trigger started deteriorating in chaos and conflict too — hysterical shrieking about fraud, deception, harassment, intimidation by evil evil evil teachers — whatever they could think of. It’s all about convincing their funders that the concept is workable long enough to keep the checks flowing until they can all find honest jobs… Meanwhile, you’d think the press MIGHT notice that these are the same hysterical shrieks as last time.

        • Roger Sweeny says:


          You are often unfairly attacked by commenters here. Comments like the above are one reason why. Accusing people you don’t like of “hysterical screaming” doesn’t add color to your comment; it takes away credibility.

          So does the implicit accusation that “all my opponents care about is money.” We have a situation here where the current school teachers could lose their jobs and their union is fighting to keep them. It would be easy to aim the accusation in the opposite direction. But it would be untrue and unfair. Both sides honestly think they are doing what is best for society–and for themselves.

          There is chaos and confusion here because closing a school is a big deal and the present employees will not go quietly. Had the union rolled over, things would be much more peaceful. I can’t blame them but I also can’t put all the blame on Parent Revolution.

  3. Generally, I’m doubtful that parents could run schools better than school administrators and teachers. But, there is no doubt that school administrators and teachers definitely have something to gain from their involvement. In any case though, it all depends on the background of the specific parents.

  4. There are many successful parent-run co-op nursery schools in existence. I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be successful parent-run co-op elementary schools if the government permitted them. The key thing would be to allow those operating the school the power to require families wanting to enroll their students to fulfill the co-op duties and actually enforce that requirement. Co-op nursery schools are successful because the parents are very invested in that success, and those who shirk their duties get kicked out. I don’t see there being the political will for that at the K-12 level.

    • Co-op nursery schools pick and choose carefully from their applicants — I was a co-op preschool board president, and five-year co-op board member. And of course pretty much everybody who applies for a co-op nursery school is aware of the obligations and prepared to meet them. A public elementary school that accepts all applicants is an ENTIRELY different story.

      • The question Joanne posed was, “Can parent-run schools be successful?” The answer is yes, *IF* the political will existed to expand the existing co-op nursery school model to the elementary level.

        • Talk about the content of my post, @Roger. Unless I’m flaming someone, badgering me about my tone is just a diversionary tactic aimed at discrediting and intimidating me when you can’t do it with the facts, as the facts all support my case.

          It’s not implicit but stated. Parent Revolution IS only about the money. Its advocates are hired to to play-act the role of advocates for parents. Its current activities are aimed at keeping the funders’ checks coming.

          There is chaos and confusion because a petition drive like this inherently causes conflict and hostility within the school community. Even if no teachers said a single word, that would be the case.

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    Caroline, I am not trying to intimidate or badger you. I do not consider you an enemy who should be shut up. I consider you an informed, caring person who sometimes hurts your cause by intemperate language and personal attacks on people who disagree with you. No doubt sometimes those attacks are deserved. People treat you poorly sometimes. But as Gandhi said of “an eye for an eye,” eventually the whole world goes blind.

  6. I dispute that I’ve ever made a personal attack on anyone. I call out falsehoods and correct misinformation, as any committed advocate would and should do. I only get distracted from sticking to the point by all this talk about what I do and how I do it, which is irrelevant and a waste of everybody’s time.