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Imagine us, the folk on Dauphin Street in North Philly, devoid of fancy degrees and titles. No Ed.D., Ph.D., M.A., or even a high school degree in many cases.

Yet, under proposed new legislation, there is a chance we may get more power to speak out on books in the curriculum or weigh in on effective classroom management. And supervise the principal, as if we were the board of directors (and theoretically we are). And work to boost the morale of a dispirited teaching staff that often feels taken for granted.

Or if none of that works, demand the school turn into a charter.

Far-out future or reality?

For Philadelphia and other urban school districts, accountability would take on a new meaning if parents had that kind of authority, broadening school reform beyond the usual suspects of administrators and teachers unions. Giving real clout to parents, who know their children best, is one way to bring school reform beyond the two major and often warring factions.

Pennsylvania Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin, York) is piggy-backing on California’s"parent trigger laws" that essentially give parents the legal power to enact change at failing schools.

PIccola described his two trigger bills:

One was part of the comprehensive Education Empowerment bill, and one was in a stand-alone bill.

Like California's new law, my bill would give parents the power to petition for a school closure or change in management when a school is ranked as one of the state's lowest-performing. The legislation would also require the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to publish a web-based State Report Card, identifying those schools scoring in the bottom 5% on state assessment exams.

The crux of the senator’s bill is this: if at least 51% of parents of kids in a struggling school sign a petition, they can pursue one of three options: 

  1. school closure and student transfer to another school;
  2. school closure and reopening as a charter school; or
  3. the execution of a new management agreement with a for-profit or nonprofit organization or another school district. 

Piccola adds that his bill may come with some federal money.

Speaking for those on Dauphin Streets: bring it on. Granted, some school staff are friendly and at least in principle, invite us in. However, many more diss parents at the door, be it rude Central Office staff or school police.

So like our counterparts at Compton’s McKinley Elementary, a failing school in California that was the first to “pull the trigger,” given the chance, we will enact change as well. The McKinley parents, backed by a group called Parent Revolution, led by former Clinton White House aide Ben Austin, opted to turn their school in a charter. That might not be the route for our neighborhood schools, but all options are on the table.

The Wall Street Journal supports the idea.

"The biggest obstacle to education reform has long been overcoming the inertial forces of unionized bureaucracy," wrote the WSJ. "Parent trigger is a revolutionary shortcut, and bravo to the parents in Compton for making the leap."

Bottom line, supporters of parent trigger say the law makes parents power brokers in school reform, giving them, as the closest people to the students themselves, the tools to change what they might be hearing at home or watching from afar. And you cannot beat the individualism as each parent trigger school can decide what works best based on what they know their students need.

If you had the power, what would you change at your kid’s school?

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