California

Round-up of leading thinkers on parent-trigger laws

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Parents in Adelanto, Calif., scored a victory for advocates of the “parent-trigger” law last week. The law allows public-school parents who gather signatures from a majority of their peers to transform a school into a charter. They can also opt to remove a consistently failing school’s staff or close the school entirely.

(To read more about the development, see these stories from the Los Angeles Times and Colorlines.)

A judge deemed that organizers in Adelanto had gathered valid signatures from more than 50 percent of parents. The decision marks the most successful execution of the law to date, although the school district can still appeal.

First introduced in California two years ago, so-called “parent-trigger” laws have since spread to other states. There are now variations on the law in Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas.

The Adelanto school in question, Desert Trails Elementary, had been classified as low-performing for years. Compared to schools with similar demographics, Desert Trails falls in the bottom 30 percent of schools in California when it comes to standardized test scores.

The Hechinger Report compiled comments from leading thinkers on the decision, pro and con.

John Rogers, an associate professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA), said in an interview:

“There have been millions of dollars pumped into this initiative and parent trigger ideas thus far. After all of that you have this one contentious and unclear result. It’s hard to imagine that this points to an idea that’s going to spread rapidly … The parent trigger has offered an appearance of empowering parents by focusing on a model of parent mobilization that does not promise the sort of deep development and community-wide formation of strong parent organizations that alternative processes have proven to develop.”

The nonprofit group Parents Across America, which advocates for greater parent involvement in public education policy, said in a release:

“Although Parents Across America strongly supports true parent empowerment, we oppose the Parent Trigger process. While the Parent Trigger allows parents to voice discontent with a school, it gives them no opportunity to choose among more positive reforms, and fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up.”

Blogger RiShawn Biddle, who edits the website Dropout Nation, wrote:

“The fact that the families are actually looking to transform Desert Trails into a charter school they will operate on their own — instead of simply looking to hand off the school to a chain — is also a strong stand for families taking … powerful roles in shaping teaching, curricula, and school cultures on behalf of their kids.”

Ben Boychuk, a policy advisor at The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit that seeks free-market solutions to social and economic problems, said in an interview:

“The main thing is that proponents of the parent trigger needed to get a real win on the board and I think the court decision in the Adelanto case is a solid win.”

As Sean Cavanagh of Education Week wrote last week, parent-trigger laws are headed to the silver screen this fall. “On Sept. 28, the movie ‘Won’t Back Down,’ a fictional account of frustrated parents seeking to transform a school in Pittsburgh, will open in theaters around the country. The trailer to the film (see the clip below) says that it is ‘inspired by actual events,’ leading to speculation that it will closely mirror real-life examples of parents attempting to use trigger policies to take control of low-performing schools in Compton and Adelanto, Calif. The movie, distributed by 20th Century Fox and produced by Walden Media, stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a parent and Viola Davis as a teacher who work together to marshal support in the community for a petition to overhaul the school and resuscitate it academically.”

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Nick Pandolfo writes for The Hechinger Report. A native of New York City, he majored in education at Eugene Lang College and later taught ESL… See Archive

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