Do parents need a trigger — or choices?

Won’t Back Down — Hollywood’s parent (and teacher) trigger movie, premieres today. A documentary it’s not, but its emotional appeal is likely to move the debate. Think of Erin Brockovich for school reform.

Can parents do a better job of running their children’s schools? Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, is sympathetic but concerned, he writes on Title I-derland.

Specifically, I worry that Parent Trigger laws will be better at destroying bad schools than creating excellent schools. The crux of it is this: Parent Trigger laws combine two actions – (1) parent empowerment and (2) parent influence over management – when only the first action is necessary for real change. Moreover, involving parents in management may end up decreasing student achievement.

. . . The power to change doctors is an important power – the power to influence hospital management is less useful. I don’t know how to run a hospital, and I don’t wish to have the responsibility of guiding hospital management strategy bestowed upon me.

(In November, I’ll vote on the management of the local hospital district. I’ll have to figure out which way to go by then.)

New Orleans has lots of choices for parents, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation, but it’s not typical:  Most parents have few or no affordable alternatives to the neighborhood school.

Biddle thinks parents will do a better job than school districts. I think parents who win a trigger vote (and the subsequent lawsuits) will hire a management team — probably from a charter network — and fire them if they don’t perform well.

About Joanne


  1. Just to recap the two parent triggers that have actually existed:

    — Compton, CA, 2010: The charter-operator-founded organization Parent Revolution orchestrated a parent trigger at McKinley Elementary School, which was pre-planned down to the choice of charter operator before a single parent at McKinley ever heard about the petitions. Parent Revolution’s paid operatives did the signature-gathering.

    After the “trigger” was “pulled,” McKinley parents packed a Compton Board of Ed meeting to protest the planned charter takeover. All of this information is based on reporting by the Los Angeles Weekly, a partisan advocacy newspaper that was openly PRO-parent trigger and embedded a reporter with the entire McKinley parent trigger process.

    After much legal wrangling, the pre-selected charter operator opened a school in a separate site nearby, Though parent trigger advocates gleefully predicted that an exodus would destroy McKinley Elementary, California Department of Education figures show that McKinley’s enrollment dropped only 12.9% when the charter opened. Those are the facts.

    — Adelanto, CA, 2012: A faction of parents at Desert Trails Elementary School worked with Parent Revolution to collect signatures on two petitions. One was a list of demands for improving the school. The second called for turning the school over to a charter operator. Only the second was submitted. A significant number of parents opposed the petition drive all along, and parents on both sides have said they don’t want to turn the school over to a charter operator.

    After only the charter petition was submitted, many parents wanted to rescind their signatures. A judge ruled that they could not, disempowering those parents. Now Parent Revolution is negotiating with two charter operators about taking over the school. Both of those charter operators have shaky track records with their existing charter schools. The only school run by either of them that is not highly selective and unrepresentative of its district’s demographics has an API (California’s school rating system) far lower than that of Desert Trails.

    The anti-parent trigger parents at Desert Trails are active and continue to support working with the new principal and the administration on improvements, though they are mostly ignored by the press, which focuses only on the pro-parent-trigger voices. Those are the facts.

    When we strip away the hype and distorted reporting, we can see that the parent trigger is doomed to rip apart school communities and has no chance of ever succeeding.

    • So to reiterate, the California legislature passed parental trigger and a bunch of parents tried to make use of it to rescue their kid’s school from a school board that was indifferent to the quality of the education for which the board was responsible.

      The board told the parents to get lost and when the board was informed that wasn’t quite going to cut it threatened the parents and their children. Naturally, some percentage of parents weren’t too eager to get into a pissing contest with the board with their kids at stake.

      The board, unhappy with the law that was passed decided to tweak the law more to their liking and granted parents the option to rescind their vote.

      Compton showed that the nefarious Parent Revolution wasn’t ready for the ferocity, and underhandedness, of the district response. Desert Trails shows that Parent Revolution’s managed to blunt the nastiness of politicians, bureaucrats and union officials who see their sweet deal coming undone.

      I see you’re still trying to slide by the lie that charters are selective. Well, no one can fault you for not being a consistent liar. Feel free to provide support.

      As I recall when I challenged you originally on the lie you were reduced to claiming that filling out an enrollment form was equivalent to the school selecting kids.

      By the way, Tennessee is considering whether to pass a state-wide voucher program and Michigan’s parent trigger law, referred to the legislature, had hearings recently. It could pass before the year is out.

      Good times.

      Good times.

      • To correct: No, your version is inaccurate, Allen.

        In Compton, parent didn’t try to use it at all. Parent Revolution tried to use the parents to hand their school over to its favored charter operator. Parents weren’t even involved.

        In Adelanto, the board told the parents: we agree with your concerns, so we’re bringing in a new principal. Both sides like the new principal.

        In fact, I’ve heard that the old principal, after being fired, was the one who contacted Parent Revolution. That is unconfirmed, but he did make many pro-parent trigger comments to one of the Los Angeles Weekly’s highly partisan, pro-parent trigger reporters. How ironic that he possibly led and certainly supported a coup against his own leadership

        I talk frequently with anti-parent trigger parents at Desert Trails, and they were not threatened or in a pissing contest with the board.

        The law is unclear about whether parents have the option to rescind their vote.

        Parent Revolution has shown the way in ferocity and underhandedness, including its scathing stories about teachers and school nurses, accusing them of torturing kids and so forth.

        Desert Trails shows that the parent trigger is guaranteed to rip apart a school community.

        The support for the case that certain charters are selective is when they serve a population that’s far whiter and less poor than their district.

        Many, MANY charter supporters readily agree that they’re selective, and hail that as an asset. I was just in a discussion with several such supporters on Facebook yesterday. Imposing hurdles such as lengthy, demanding enrollment forms and tests such as the one some or all KIPP schools require are factors that create selectivity.

        • Let’s start with the last lie first.

          “Many, MANY charter supporters readily agree that they’re selective, and hail that as an asset.”

          And this has relevance to what? Certainly not the question of whether charters are selective or not. No, it’s just another tawdry attempt to assert by misdirection what you can’t prove.

          If you did have any proof that charters were selective the proper response would be to, aha!, reveal it. Oddly enough that’s never happened. What has happened is lots of deflection, tap-dancing, implication and misdirection. Such as this most recent example with the pointless, probably untrue, and definitely unsupported assertion charter supporters agree that charters are selective.

          So, proof that charters, or even a single charter, is selective.

          Desert Trails shows that those who benefit the most from the public education system are willing to go to chilling lengths to maintain their grip. Your pathetic lies hardly merit mention against the threats and pressures the school board, administrators and some of the teachers directed at parents via their children.

          You want to tear a community apart? I’d say making it clear that the children are nothing but pawns as far as you’re concerned. That’s precisely what both boards of education, Compton and Adelanto, did to hang onto the schools they’d so badly overseen that parents had lost faith in the boards governance. Given the option of seizing the school that was doing a bad job of educating their kids from a board that didn’t care, parents took it.

          You are right about the LA Times being highly partisan – for left wing causes. With the exception of education policy. On *that* subject they’re pretty clear that if it’s a choice between the kids and the maintenance of the status quo the LA Times is going to opt for the kids. Unlike you.

          By the way, Tennessee is considering whether to pass a state-wide voucher program and Michigan’s parent trigger law, referred to the House of Representatives having passed the Senate, had hearings recently. It could pass before the year is out.

          Good times.

          Good times.

  2. Why is my previous comment being moderated?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      If your comment includes a link or has a high word count you’ll get the moderated message. It’s probably to avoid spam.

  3. Florida resident says:

    The most important choices the parents can (and should) make are

    1. With whom to make kids.

    2. How many kids you can afford.

    The rest are the tertiary attempts to correct for the possible errors made on the first two.

    With appreciation of all the work being done by Joanne Jacobs,
    Your F.r

    • You think picking a child’s peer group is damage control for mistakes in (1) and (2)?

    • I have to disagree. Yes the above matters, but past generations had no birth control and lots of poverty and students did better.

      My grandfather was the first of 5 children to a mother with significant mental health issues. The Christian brothers educated him and he retired a successful CEO.
      My other grandfather was very poor and was able to lead a fulfilling life (though not as traditionally successful). He learned discipline and self-restraint.

      My great-grandmother was one of eleven children and had to clean houses as a child so that the family had enough money for food. Somehow her daughter graduated from college (and education from nuns probably helped).

      Something has changed.

      • You can’t really compare eras like that, or flatly say “students did better.”

        In past eras, it was the norm for students who were not middle-class and above to drop out of school. The percentage of students who graduated from high school only reached as high as 50% by World War II, according to Nicholas Lemann’s education history “The Big Test.” So you simply can’t say “students did better.” History disproves that.

        My grandmother, born in 1899, dropped out of school after the 8th grade, in accordance with her family’s expectations, to go to work in a factory. It would have been an act of unthinkable disloyalty and defiance for her to attempt to refuse and continue her education.

        Grandma, later a single mother, supported her family anyway, working in unionized auto plants in Detroit (“on Dodge rear seat covers,” she said proudly).

  4. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ripped “Won’t Back Down” to shreds. In both cases, the movie reviewers are exceptionally well informed about the education politics, and far more perceptive than their own newspapers’ editorial boards.,0,2053199.story

    And even reviewers who liked the movie, including my own hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, unhesitatingly dub it anti-union. That’s amusing considering the director and stars staunchly insist that they’re pro-union liberals and that the film isn’t anti-union. Overall, the movie is getting trashed by critics, whether they address the education politics or not.

    • I’m trying to imagine what a movie that met with union approval would look like?

      The kids would all have to sullen, stupid or violent. Probably the parents as well.

      The teachers would all be working eighteen to twenty hours a day trying to save each precious flower of youth. The teachers would, to an individual, spend their entire salary buying school supplies which the evil administrators and the evil board of education won’t buy.

      Sadly, they can’t spend more on the wee tykes because they’re all tragically underpaid and it’s only with the heaviest of hearts and a riverine stream of crocodile tears that they vote to authorize a strike. But they’re only going on strike for the children so it’s really the right thing to do.

      But they persevere and by team work, pluck, courage and moral purity the teachers get a 16% raise which, as we all know, benefits….the children.

      The end.

  5. GEORGE LARSON says:

    Teachers often claim they need unions to protect themselves from tyrannical administrators and incompetent school boards. Why wouldn’t parents need the parental trigger law to protect their kids from tyrannical administrators and incompetent school boards?

  6. Co-op schools work well at the preschool level so I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be successful at the elementary school level if they were permitted. I currently homeschool my older two children but would seriously consider putting them in a co-op school if there was one in my area. My oldest was in a co-op preschool and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, it only was for ages 3 & 4. There was no option to continue on for elementary.

    I just don’t see the bureaucrats and teachers’ unions actually being willing to empower parents to have a real say in how K-12 schools are run.

    • Citizens of our community exert a very tangible influence over our schools through the school board they elect. True, they cannot fire a principal directly, but they can often manage it indirectly. We had an awesome principal a few years ago that one school board member disliked. The superintendent canned him. I don’t see why the parent trigger is necessary: the schools are already accountable to the citizenry, for better or worse.

      • No, the schools are accountable to the most powerful and consistent political constituency. That, in many if not most areas, is the teacher’s union.

        Lucky you that you had an effective, active and forceful school board. Many districts aren’t that lucky having limited their oversight responsibilities to the vetting a new superintendent. The schools can slide into the toilet as far as those boards are concerned because they’ve handed over their responsibility to the hired help and the hired help knows the board’s got neither the courage to assert its authority nor the interest.