The Parent Trigger

 

A new law called the parent trigger lets parents force major changes in struggling schools if more than half of them sign a petition. That can range from turning to school into a charter to replacing the principal to making smaller, less explosive changes. It can even mean shutting it down.

In my story about Point Loma parents seeking more autonomy, I mentioned the parent trigger as a possible option. But is it a good idea? I talked to a few people — including professors and labor leaders — who have been eyeing the new law.

• John Rogers, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA, said it’s great when parents get involved. But he was skeptical that altering the structure of a school will solve problems while budgets are being slashed. He also argued that focusing on governance — who runs schools and how — obscures the importance of what is taught and how.

“There is no way to move forward on any reform that costs money, so it’s very attractive to have initiatives that move around the chairs on the deck with the appearance of no cost,” Rogers said. “I think there are times when it’s critical to rethink who is in charge of schools. … But I don’t think this is one of those times. There are some far more fundamental concerns that need to be addressed: resources.”

• Priscilla Wohlstetter, director of the Center on Educational Governance at USC, was wowed by the parent trigger, saying “it puts California on the map with education reform.” She argued that parents, as the consumers of education, should have a powerful voice.

Wohlstetter added that while the trigger gives dramatic new powers to parents, it will probably still be hard to pull it off. Parents tend to like their schools, even when their test scores are low.

“When they do surveys of parents and say, ‘Rate your school,’ parents almost always say their school is good and almost every other one is crappy,’” she said.

• Bill Freeman and Camille Zombro, the president and vice president of the San Diego teachers union, said that while they strongly believe in parents having a say in how schools are run, they fear that what happened in Compton — the only place where the parent trigger has been used so far — shows it may not be a collaborative way to get things done.

In Compton there has been debate over whether parents knowingly signed the petition or not, with both sides lobbing accusations that parents were pressured to sign or not sign.

“We can’t really speak to an ideological argument about parent trigger,” vice president Zombro said. “The only example we have is Compton and there are questions about that.”

• That brings me to another point that Rogers made. The Compton campaign was a quiet one. The group that lead it argued it had to be secretive, since parents would be attacked for signing. Whether or not that’s true, Rogers said it isn’t a healthy way for a community to talk about what their schools need and what solutions are best.

That may be why Matt Spathas, one of the Point Loma parents who is pushing for more autonomy, was quick to comment on our story saying that this is not a quiet discussion, as I characterized it. I called it “quiet” because it hasn’t grabbed headlines or been a shouting match, but Spathas is right to point out that the group is having open conversations about their ideas, including their upcoming forum.

• Finally, one of our readers was upset that I didn’t include a counter-quote to a statement from Gabe Rose, deputy director of the Los Angeles-based group Parent Revolution, which lead the Compton movement. He said that schools are afraid of real parent involvement.

Reader Caroline Grannan wrote:

When you quote it without a countering statement, it indicates credence. … As a parent with 14 years’ intense involvement in my kids’ urban public schools, I dispute and refute Gabe Rose’s unfounded attack, and you should have challenged him.

Well, it’s never too late to have the debate! Parents, do you feel like your schools really want you to get involved — or not? Let’s keep the discussion going in the comments section.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

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Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert
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14 comments
Caroline Grannan
Caroline Grannan subscriber

Also, Bruno Behrend, in other forums you've stated explicitly that your goal, and the goal of your organization, the Heartland Institute, is to eliminate public education. And you've said that the Parent Trigger will help achieve that goal.

CarolineSF
CarolineSF

Also, Bruno Behrend, in other forums you've stated explicitly that your goal, and the goal of your organization, the Heartland Institute, is to eliminate public education. And you've said that the Parent Trigger will help achieve that goal.

Bruno Behrend
Bruno Behrend subscriber

We have decades of experience dumping funds into the existing system. It hasn't worked. The Parent Trigger is important because it creates a process for empowering parents. If this comes at the expense of the out-sized powers of the the current players, all the better.

BrunoBehrend
BrunoBehrend

We have decades of experience dumping funds into the existing system. It hasn't worked. The Parent Trigger is important because it creates a process for empowering parents. If this comes at the expense of the out-sized powers of the the current players, all the better.

Richard Bagnell
Richard Bagnell subscriber

Some teachers due need higher pay and some don't. Paying teachers only based upon seniority is ridiculous. What is being asked by President Obama and others in return for higher pay is a link to merit and an end of tenure. Your union has rejected the President's reform and has put adult jobs ahead of student education.

RB
RB

Some teachers due need higher pay and some don't. Paying teachers only based upon seniority is ridiculous. What is being asked by President Obama and others in return for higher pay is a link to merit and an end of tenure. Your union has rejected the President's reform and has put adult jobs ahead of student education.

Sue Moore
Sue Moore subscriber

Having worked in Teacher Ed programs in the US, there is a real lack of highly qualified, subject competent candidates. Sadly, the US is still focused upon Liberal Arts candidate for teaching, whilst there should be a math and science majority. Many are willing to learn, but the training process is extremely weak, and often riddled with rhetoric rather than structured around the remarkable international knowledge base. And yes, I was a teacher for years, I have kids, and I home school as well.

suemoo
suemoo

Having worked in Teacher Ed programs in the US, there is a real lack of highly qualified, subject competent candidates. Sadly, the US is still focused upon Liberal Arts candidate for teaching, whilst there should be a math and science majority. Many are willing to learn, but the training process is extremely weak, and often riddled with rhetoric rather than structured around the remarkable international knowledge base. And yes, I was a teacher for years, I have kids, and I home school as well.

Caroline Grannan
Caroline Grannan subscriber

By the way, the notion that teachers' unions are the cause of (or even linked to) low academic performance is readily refuted with the obvious piece of information that academic performance tends to be lowest in states with no unions allowed. The states with the highest academic performance -- Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland -- are all strong union states. I'm not saying that unions are the CAUSE of high academic achievement, but simple reality disproves the claim that they are the cause of LOW academic achievement.

CarolineSF
CarolineSF

By the way, the notion that teachers' unions are the cause of (or even linked to) low academic performance is readily refuted with the obvious piece of information that academic performance tends to be lowest in states with no unions allowed. The states with the highest academic performance -- Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland -- are all strong union states. I'm not saying that unions are the CAUSE of high academic achievement, but simple reality disproves the claim that they are the cause of LOW academic achievement.

matt Spathas
matt Spathas subscriber

I continue to hope that the labor union in San Diego will engage in a new kind of 21st Century dialogue - that truly puts students first. Seems so simple.

msentre
msentre

I continue to hope that the labor union in San Diego will engage in a new kind of 21st Century dialogue - that truly puts students first. Seems so simple.