Friday, April 13, 2012

Hopes and Fears for Parent Trigger Laws

The NYT organized a debate on the Parent Trigger, with short columns by the following people: Ben Austin (Parent Revolution), RiShawn Biddle, Amy Wilkins (Ed Trust), Diane Ravitch, and Caroline Grannan (Parents Across America).  Here are the first two:

Reject Fear-Mongering and Support Parent Power

Ben Austin is the executive director of Parent Revolution. He is a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles and a former member of the California State Board of Education.

Updated March 18, 2012, 7:00 PM

The parent trigger movement involves more than just a law. It represents a new paradigm for thinking about public education in our nation's failing schools. This movement isn't about charter schools vs. district schools, reformers vs. unions, or even Democrats vs. Republicans. It's about the simple idea of giving parents whose children are stuck in failing schools some basic power over the educational destiny of their own children. 

Those seeking to understand parent triggers need look no farther than the parents at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, Calif., who are actually using the law in real time. Parents there have spent nine months organizing 70 percent of the parents at their systematically failing school. With their historic new power they have sought collaboration with their district and teachers union, not confrontation, attempting to use the leverage of the parent trigger law to negotiate. The parents' efforts are not a manifestation of the other side's for-profit or "privatization" conspiracy theory – their initial proposal was for modest in-district reform rooted in minor modifications to their school's union contract based on similar contract modifications that National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates have signed in districts across America

Parents are seeking partnerships with progressive educators – we know that we can't have great schools without great teachers, principals and administrators. But thus far, the opponents of parent empowerment have responded to this movement with bizarre conspiracy theories, lies, >harassment and forgeries on petitions. 

Ultimately opponents of parent power must make a fundamental choice: either continue resorting to conspiracy theories to defend an indefensible status quo and illustrate their lack of real solutions to the crisis in public education. Or they can choose partnership, stand with parents trapped in failing schools, and transform public education rooted in what's good for children, not powerful adults.


Don't Condescend, Parents Know What's Needed

RiShawn Biddle is the editor of Dropout Nation, an education reform magazine; a columnist for The American Spectator; and a communications consultant.

Updated March 18, 2012, 7:00 PM

There are opponents of parent trigger laws who argue that families backing their passage are merely dupes standing in for charter school management organizations looking to take over traditional public schools. There are also inside-the-Beltway school reformers like my friend Andrew Rotherham, who wrote in Time that families who would use the law just aren't as equipped as experts (like themselves) to make smart decisions in running schools -- and that it would result in sparring between them and opposing parents.

Both arguments are off target.

In Connecticut and Texas, the passage of parent trigger laws was led by families frustrated with failing and mediocre schools. Charter school players, more interested in starting up their own schools than taking over poor-performing existing ones, gave little support. Meanwhile the parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., who are attempting to use a parent trigger law to take control of the school, are looking to run the school themselves.

As for the second argument? It fails to consider the reality that families make smart decisions, especially when they have high-quality information and some guidance. This isn't to say that they won't make mistakes. But to argue that families can't run schools (and cannot reach common ground with other parents) ignores the reality that they do this successfully every day in other parts of their lives. If anything, the school reform movement's most successful leaders have been those without backgrounds in education -- including mothers like Virginia Walden Ford in Washington, D.C., and Gwen Samuel in Connecticut.

It is absolutely amoral and unacceptable to tell families that they shouldn't do all they can to help their kids get the great schools they deserve. Parent Trigger laws are just more tools they can use to help all children succeed in school and in life.

Here are some additional comments by Ben Austin:


Every time they make up crazy conspiracy theories they make our argument for us better than we ever could about why parents must have power, because they are exposing themselves as having nothing to say to parents trapped in failing schools.  


On the for-profit issue in particular, Parent Revolution has posted model legislation on our website that includes a ban on for-profits, and we support for-profit bans in all new state legislation (California's doesn't have a for-profit ban, but there are virtually no for-profit charters in the state).  More important, instead of making up crazy conspiracy theories to debate the implications of Parent Trigger, we should look at the only active Parent Trigger campaign in the entire country.  At Desert Trails, the parents not only don't want an outside charter operator, their first proposal was a very moderate in-district reform based on UTLA's pilot contract and other NEA and AFT contracts in districts across the country.  Not exactly radical reform.  CTA's response was not only to reject the parents' in-district reform proposal, but also to run a fraudulent rescission campaign with incontrovertible evidence of overt forgery.


Hopes and Fears for Parent Trigger Laws

Updated March 19, 2012 1:44 PM, NYT 

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