Trigger Happy: Are People Expecting Too Much From The Parent Trigger?

This week’s TIME School of Thought column takes a look at the hot issue of the “parent trigger.”  Big time pols weighing in, furious lobbying on both sides, and lots of action.  But what happens the day after the trigger is successfully pulled?

If your child’s school is lousy, would you want the option to band together with other parents and take it over? That’s the idea behind “parent trigger” legislation that enables parents in low-performing schools to vote to change the governance of their children’s school — and remove teachers and the principal if they want to. Although only four states have enacted such a law (California was the first to do so in 2010), legislators in Florida are debating this week whether it should become the fifth, and similar bills are pending in a dozen states.

You don’t need a majority, super-majority, or even teacher union sign-off to read the entire column by clicking here.

4 Replies to “Trigger Happy: Are People Expecting Too Much From The Parent Trigger?”

  1. In California, the second group of parents are looking for their school to have PreK, extended hours, full time librarian, and all teachers with a master’s degree.
    Noble goals, but how will they pay for them.

  2. Just what exactly are the advantages of parent trigger laws?

    Local schools are not run by the US Army, the federal govt, or even the state govt (in most cases). Local schools are run by local school boards (or, in some cases, local mayors). The local school boards and mayors are usually elected by the local voters. If the parents don’t like the way the schools are run, the parents can lead a election campaign to replace the local school board or mayor. That’s the way democracy works.

    Actually, given how sensitive local school administrators, school boards, and even mayors are to adverse publicity, if parents at a particular school have legitimate complaints regarding how the school is being run, a few letters to the editor of the local newspaper and/or a few meetings with a reporter for the newspaper or a local radio station will probably be sufficient to spur local school officials to action addressing the identified problem.

    In short, parents currently have ample means to change incompetent school management or policy.

    A more concrete argument against parent-trigger laws: Given the extremely high correlatio between student test scores, graduation rates, and family income, it’s extremely unlikely that changing school management will significantly improve a poorly-performing school. The problem is the students, not the teachers/administrators — if the problem was the teachers/administrators, then the low-income neighborhood would have several high-performing schools (with competent teachers/administrators) and one or more low-performing schools (with incompetent teachers/administrators). But this rarely happens — instead, pretty much all the schools in the low-income neighborhood will be low-performing.

    Bottom line: Unless the parents trying to pull the trigger can identify specific affordable program changes they will implement, there is absolutely no reason to believe a parent trigger will improve a school (and lots of reasons to believe it will be a disaster).

  3. I agree with LaborLawyer that parent-trigger laws are a poor substitute for school reform and not likely to produce very good results. It sounds good, of course, as a media soundbite, but that’s not the same thing.

  4. Hey LaborLawyer and Attorney DC:

    I would love to talk to both of you. I do an internet radio show on education and think you both might have interesting things to say.

    Please contact me, even if you have no intention of being a guest on the radio show–I would still like to pick your brains.


    thefrustratedteacher @ gmail . com

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