Friday, March 23, 2012

Can Parents Take Over Schools?

Andy Rotherham with some wise thoughts on the Parent Trigger, including the support of Rep. George Miller of CA, who's a lion of the House of Representatives on ed reform:

If your child's school is lousy, would you want the option to band together with other parents and take it over? That's the idea behind "parent trigger" legislation that enables parents in low-performing schools to vote to change the governance of their children's school — and remove teachers and the principal if they want to. Although only four states have enacted such a law (California was the first to do so in 2010), legislators in Florida are debating this week whether it should become the fifth, and similar bills are pending in a dozen states.

But so far parents have yet to make a trigger vote stick. Yesterday, parents in Adelanto, Calif., resubmitted a petition to take over a school there after their first petition was rejected by the school board following a frantic campaign by the teachers union to dissuade parents from signing. At a school in Compton last year, parents backed away in the face of pressure so intense a Los Angeles court found their First Amendment rights had been violated. In perhaps the most offensive allegation, teachers union activists have apparently told immigrant parents that supporting the trigger campaign could result in their deportation.

Pretty dramatic stuff. (A fictional version is coming soon, with a parent-trigger themed movie due out this year, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Holly Hunter.) The controversial parent triggers got a big boost this week from the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, California Representative George Miller, who in a statement said, "parents must be empowered to stand up and say the status quo isn't good enough for their children." Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief of Staff, also spoke in favor of parent triggers this week, in support of the Florida legislation. But with all eyes focused on the debate over whether to give parents the right to pull the trigger, is enough attention being paid to what will happen after one is pulled?

I am less concerned than Rotherham is about "what will happen after one is pulled" because, as I wrote months ago in response to Jay Mathews's critique of the Parent Trigger, I think 90% of its power is the mere THREAT that parents could "throw the bums out."  This is an incredibly powerful negotiating tool – and the unions know it, which is why they're fighting like demons to kill it, both in state legislatures as well as at schools that try to use it.  I don't mean to diminish the importance of getting it right the 10% (or perhaps only 1%) of the time that it's used, but I'm far more interested in the 90-99% of the time that it changes the debate/negotiation.


Here are Alexander Russo's comments on the Parent Trigger:

Campaign 2012: Democrats Struggle To Deal With Trigger

Democratic lawmakers and centrist think tankers are all struggling to figure out what to do with the "parent trigger" idea, which many don't think of as very good public policy and is despised by teachers unions among others but sounds so great and is difficult to oppose.  (See Andy Rotherham try and thread the needle here.) Of course, this isn't the first time a great-sounding but perhaps unwise or simplistic idea has created problems for lawmakers because it attracts so much public attention.  Think smaller class sizes, universal preschool, zero tolerance for anyone bringing a gun to school, raising the mandatory attendance age. But the trigger is likely to be one of very few education-related issues to get any attention in the 2012 election cycle.  If asked, it's hard to imagine Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney being against it.  Some Democratic lawmakers -- Miller and (still unconfirmed) Emanuel -- have already come out in favor.  So where will Barack Obama be on this, as well as the rest of the Democratic Caucus?  Nobody seems to know.  The teachers unions won't like it if Democratic candidates support the trigger, but then again they don't have anywhere to go and it's hard to imagine them running against Democrats who support the trigger given all the other things they're already dealing with. 


School of Thought

Can Parents Take Over Schools?

New "parent trigger" laws are triggering debate, but not enough attention is being paid to what happens afterwards

By Andrew J. Rotherham | @arotherham | March 8, 2012 | 9

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