The “Parent Trigger” Comes To California….Unfortunately

Last week, the California state legislature passed, and the Governor signed, legislation that included the so-called “parent trigger” law. This, as the LA Times writes:

gives parents the legal right to launch major reforms at a low-performing school by collecting signatures representing 50% of the school’s current or potential future students. The Legislature capped the number of schools where that could occur at 75.

The parent-trigger initiative was pushed by a Los Angeles group closely allied to a charter school organization.

I’ve written twice before about my serious concerns about how I think this kind of legislation is a poor substitute for genuine parent engagement — beyond signing a petition. Using parents as a smokescreen for a political agenda is not my idea of parent engagement.

A guest piece in the National Journal has just been published sharing a similar perspective. It’s by Judith Browne-Dianis and is titled “Parental Trigger: A Superficial Solution.” The blog also shares other perspectives on the parent trigger.

I’m so impressed with Ms. Browne-Dianis’ piece and, because it’s so short, I’m going to reprint it here (I hope The National Journal won’t mind):

Parents should be at the table in school reform efforts but California’s “parent trigger” is a faulty mechanism for parental involvement. For ten years, Advancement Project has worked with parent and student groups in communities throughout the country. We have witnessed first hand how effective these stakeholders can be in improving educational opportunities in public. However, California’s knee-jerk “trigger” will not produce the long-term systemic change that is needed. Instead, it may produce quick, potentially superficial decisions made by frustrated parents. It may not produce better results. Pull the trigger, and then what? There are no guarantees that the charter or the new administrators will lead to improvement for the impacted children.

Parent and student involvement can be the most effective tool for the change our public schools need. For example, in Denver, CO, the organized parents and students of Padres & Jovenes Unidos have conducted extensive research and informed and organized their community around a number of issues. Their successful campaigns include the removal of a principal who mistreated Mexicano children, a comprehensive school reform plan for a high school and sweeping reforms in school discipline that is stopping the school-to-prison pipeline in Denver. Similarly, Tenants and Workers United in Virginia conducted research and found a dearth of students of color in advanced placement classes. As a result, they successfully pushed the district to implement individualized student plans to ensure educational success for all students.

This is the type of parental involvement we need to improve our schools over the long haul. Signing a petition to close a school does not engage parents in a dialogue, visioning or powerful decision-making. Reducing deliberation and ownership over a school system to a bare majority signature campaign impoverishes parental power and dilutes real and valuable parent energy. It’s short-sighted and underestimates the power of communities to make systemic change. Additionally, it runs a serious chance of abuse and racial polarization where intentions behind the petition may not be just about academics. California’s “parent trigger” is nothing more than a misfire.

She says it in a nutshell….

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