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'Parent trigger' laws give parents more power

By Deborah Russell... on Apr 1, 2011 02:22 PM

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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Comments (16)

Submitted by lcr3002 (not verified) on April 1, 2011 4:42 pm

Good luck getting 5% of the parents to even come out and vote let alone getting 51% of all parents....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2011 4:01 pm

This sounds like a great idea, but then I get suspicious when people say teachers' unions have too much power. I appreciate what the union did recently in protecting Hope Moffett from being fired illegally, but I can't shake the feeling that if my union were powerful, I would have had an opportunity to eat lunch today.

I do think parents, students and teachers should be the ones making decisions together, but I also worry about manipulation. Couldn't a slick-talking company cram whatever they want down parents' throats?

This is interesting. I have to learn more about it.

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on April 1, 2011 4:27 pm

It would be helpful to have more parents involved. There is a tremendous lack of parent involvement at my school, but often times, many parents are unsure of exactly what they can do to be more helpful and proactive in their child's education. Parents know their children need to do their homework, but some parents aren't quite sure of exactly what to do or how to help. I am thinking specifically about Math. I have had many parents tell me the Math their children are doing in school is so different from how they were taught math.

But the bill proposed is negative - the choices are school closings or outside managers?????
I would rather see effective Home and School Associations being formed. Some schools have them, but my school doesn't. Having a real partnership between parents, teachers, and administrators can help schools improve before they are considered a failure.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2011 4:04 pm

To much funny stuff would happen, that would need to be prevented. I could easily see some big billionaire backed for-profit company (we know who they are) literally buying votes. "Hey!, vote out the teachers at Spiro T. Agnew Middle School and vote us in and we will buy you the large screen plasma television of your choice!". Sounds like corruption would take place that couldn't be prevented.
The article above said it has happened before, "led by a former Clinton White House aide...". Hmmm...if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2011 4:29 pm

"And work to boost the morale of a dispirited teaching staff that often feels taken for granted."

It doesn't take new legislation to put forth effort towards this. As a dispirited teacher, it would be wonderful to seem anything along those lines.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 1, 2011 5:30 pm

Parents?!? Parents?!? We talkin 'bout Parents?!!

Submitted by Timothy Boyle on April 2, 2011 12:45 am

 If you look at what is happening in California, you would see that parent trigger laws are nothing more than another guise to privatize public schools. Parents are empowered to select a private company or private management organization to run the school their children attend, and that is the extent of the law. I whole-heartedly agree that Home and School Associations are the place to start. Prove that Home and School is ineffectual, and why. When the first option is to get rid of the public option, than you already taken sides against public schools. 

Submitted by Tara (not verified) on April 2, 2011 5:05 pm

Exactly - That is why I wondered about the choices/options being so limited. There were no options for improving schools. I did find it interesting that money might be available for closing schools/outside providers. Yet, nothing in the article mentions money being earmarked to help improve the school before "failing."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 2, 2011 5:19 pm

You crazy!?!? Why save a failing public school when there is money to be made through charters? That may be the only way for the Queen to make her bonuses in the lean days to come.

Submitted by CarolineSF (not verified) on April 2, 2011 6:21 pm

Here's the view from California of why the Parent Trigger is a deception perpetrated by privatizers who are opponents of public schools.

Parent Trigger Misfires by Disrupting and Dismantling Schools

By Caroline Grannan and Sharon Higgins

Simplistic ideas may look appealing at first glance, but they rarely solve complex problems. Too often they have the potential to make things worse.

That’s true of California’s so-called Parent Empowerment Act. It created the “parent trigger,” which allows a majority of parents in a low-performing school to petition for drastic changes, including takeover by a charter school operator.

As urban public school parents and advocates, we support true parent empowerment and involvement, and effective, research-based reforms such as smaller classes and increased parent participation. But the parent trigger doesn’t promote sound practices for school improvement. It benefits corporate charter school operators – not children.

The parent trigger was created by the organization Parent Revolution, which is not a parent group but was founded by charter school operators, backed financially by billionaires and corporate interests.

The law allows parents to petition to: hand the school over to a charter operator, close the school, replace the staff and create a new administrative structure, or replace the principal.

Parent trigger drives are under way at two California schools. At Compton’s McKinley Elementary, the situation has exploded into chaos after more than 60 percent of the school’s parents signed a petition calling for takeover by the Celerity Educational Group charter operator.

McKinley parents did not initiate their parent trigger. Rather, Parent Revolution targeted their school to be a test case by pre-selecting the charter operator and then deploying a sophisticated, secretive operation, sending paid signature-gatherers door to door. With no transparency or public discussion, parents never learned about the options or heard opposing views. After the petitions were submitted, 200-plus parents protesting the charter takeover packed a Compton school board meeting, news reports said.

Meanwhile, a parent trigger at Mount Gleason Middle School in Sunland, near Los Angeles, is run by a parent who wants to replace the principal. That lagging effort doesn’t benefit corporate charter schools, and Parent Revolution has given it scant attention.
What are the problems?

* The parent trigger’s narrow, disruptive options have shown no reliable success in improving schools nationwide. In fact, decades into the charter school movement, and despite its aggressive promotion by moneyed interests, there is still no consistent research demonstrating that charter schools provide an academically superior education.

* The outcome of the parent trigger – disrupting and dismantling schools – is likely to harm vulnerable students and communities where the school provides stability.

* A parent trigger “transformation” has significant impact beyond the targeted school. If parents voted to close a school, neighboring schools would be severely affected.

* Allowing a hostile takeover of a public asset by individuals is questionable. Consider applying that to a police department or a park.

Better ideas

* We praise state Superintendent Tom Torlakson and the Los Angeles Times editorial board for recognizing that the parent trigger is deeply flawed.

* We support genuine parent empowerment through the strengthening of School Site Councils, PTAs, PTOs, Title 1 Parent Advisory Councils, and more. We believe that reform strategies must be devised at the school level, to address each school’s specific needs.

* If the parent trigger continues, transparency and disclosure must be required. Options must be aired fully and discussed openly, with all parents included – as well as teachers.

* The law must fully specify details, including the steps after a petition is delivered.

* Paid organizers must publicly identify themselves and disclose their financial backers.

* The law must specify what entity oversees the entire process.

School reform must truly empower parents and benefit children. To us, the parent trigger is simply a ploy to channel public money into private hands.

Caroline Grannan, of San Francisco, and Sharon Higgins, of Oakland, have a total of 33 years’ experience between them as urban public school parents, volunteers, and advocates. They are West Coast founding members of Parents Across America, a national organization working to strengthen the parent voice in setting education policy at national, state, and local levels.

For a version with links to background material and further reading:

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2011 12:56 am

While I welcome the involvement of concerned, informed parents in determining the direction of the schools their children attend, I have to wonder about this whole "trigger" idea. I could just see it being expanded to allow students the option of pulling the trigger on any teacher who gives them too much homework or makes them spit out their chewing gum.

Corporations are already exploiting children by making them feel they need the latest fashions, cell phones, pharmaceutical products and whatnot. It wouldn't be all that far-fetched to think that they would be out there on the playground, offering children everything from iPads to designer drugs to get them to pull the trigger on public education. "Come here, Sonny. I've got a business proposition for you." "Hey, little girl -- want some candy?" "All you have to do is stand here and hold this bag." "Of course I'll pay you. Don't you trust me?" "When XYZ Corporation takes over your school, you won't have to do any homework, or any work, period. You won't even have to show up!"

I hope the students were paying attention in the primary grades when they read about the Big, Bad Wolf. And I hope the parents who care about improving public schools understand that teachers are not their enemies. Outside corprations may promise a lot, but do they ever deliver? Will they commit themselves to educating EVERY child, or will they expel your child if he or she has academic or behavioral difficulties?

To any parents with itchy trigger fingers: please remember that a corporation's primary goal is to make a profit, while a teacher's primary goal is to educate children. So before you fire, take careful aim -- and be sure you don't hit your own child in the process.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2011 9:49 am

Parents can get involved any time they want. They already have that right, they don't need a law. If they want to have an impact then organize a parents group! Demand change! It's scary to me to think that citizens assume they are locked out of their public schools. It certainly isn't the law that's locking them out. It must be intimidation and insecurity and that can be remedied without spending a penny.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 6, 2012 9:36 pm

As a spouse of a teacher at the Roberto Clemente Middle School, I urge every parent and guardian of a 5th grader to come to school and sit in on their child's classes. Please please please come right in. Spend a day, spend 10 minutes. Every teacher I assure you will more than thank you for the amount of concern you show for your child. If only one, just one parent would make an effort, you will see that it is not the efforts of the teaching staff that is creating the chaos and turmoil this school is in.

Submitted by MBA to M'ed mom (not verified) on March 15, 2012 10:25 pm

A good teacher does welcome a parent into their classroom, has a good knowledge of classroom management discipline, has a structured lesson plans and is constantly looking for new ways to engage and differientiate in their class. They respect the parents and their students. When the teacher has a challenge with a student be it behavior or learning, they reach out to the parent, are knowledgeable about the community they teach in, familar with researched ways of engaging parents in urban schools etc.

Comments like the parents don't care, yelling at students, spending 70% of instruction time on discipline, doesn't hide from parents, actually can provide actual proof to a parent of how their child received their grades and makes an effort to actually teach, according to the PA standards...

that teacher will not have to beg a parent for involvement, they might have to tell what kind of involvement they will need, they might have to model it for the parent, or write instructions, but that teacher will have parents involved.

Submitted by mirela (not verified) on June 6, 2014 8:25 am
This is good in my opinion. I think parents deserve a stronger voice. After all, it's their children we are talking about. jocuri 3D
Submitted by gigel (not verified) on June 9, 2014 5:24 am
I agree with everything that gives parents more authority. It's their education that is on the line, and they should decide on how they receive it. noutati seo

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