Pulling the parent trigger

More than a half-dozen states now have parent trigger laws that let a majority of parents seize control of a low-performing school, notes Education Next.

Empowered Families Can Transform the System, argues Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, which has led the parent trigger drives.

Parents enduring a parent trigger campaign are transformed. Some, like the parents at Desert Trails, are forced to endure lengthy legal battles, a process most of them have never experienced. Others, including the parents of 24th Street Elementary School and also Haddon Avenue Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), find a responsive school district that wants to collaborate with them in changing their school.

. . . Many of these parents, for the first time in their lives, feel real power, not only over their child’s destiny but over their own as well. These parents, and parents like them, are the key to the future of public education in America.

“Parents don’t care if a public school is a traditional district school or a charter school,” writes Austin. “They just want it to be a good school.”

There’s a Better Way to Unlock Parent Power, responds Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation. While “it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger,” it’s not likely to turn around many schools or force significant reform.

First, the parent trigger mechanism itself will continue to get bogged down in lawsuits and other blocking tactics, as has been the case to date. Second, if and when the trigger gets pulled, the resulting school turnarounds won’t generally amount to much. And third, empowering parents via the parent trigger (creating a “bargaining chip”) won’t be enough to force larger changes in dysfunctional districts—because nothing will force such change.

Petrilli favors expanding school choice with more charter schools, vouchers and digital learning. Even if choice doesn’t force districts to improve, it will give parents more options for their children, he argues.

Try the trigger, writes Checker Finn, also of Fordham. Since “most bad districts are going to stay bad,” serious reformers need to “give kids every possible exit” into something better. “Helping an entire school to extricate itself from the dysfunctional system is surely one such strategy. Instead of pooh-poohing it, how about we put it on the list of possibilities, wish it well, and do our damnedest to help it succeed as often as possible?”

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  1. Crimson Wife says:

    I’d rather see bureaucrats allowing parent-run co-op schools similar to the existing parent-run co-op preschools. The “parent trigger” doesn’t truly empower parents to have an actual say in how a school is run. It just allows them to swap out one operator for another.

    The UK allows “free schools” that are funded by taxpayers but run by parents.

    • “It just allows them to swap out one operator for another. ”

      An operator selected by those parents who’ll last just so long as they convince parents that their child is safe and getting a good education.

      But you shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees.

      Parent trigger provides another goal towards which reformers of the public education system can strive. That’s a very under-appreciated virtue.

      It’s one thing to be dissatisfied with a situation. It’s a different thing entirely to be dissatisfied with a situation to which you have a solution.

      Or solutions.

      Charters, vouchers and tax credits are all solutions to the problems inherent to the district-based public education system. Parental trigger’s one more solution.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    When the question is, “What could be worse?”, the answer is, anything might be better since nothing could be worse.
    No reason not to try some big time solution, since finessing the number of non-teaching ‘crats–the usual answer–isn’t getting it.