De-Bunking Some Common Myths About Parent Trigger

Ben Austin, executive director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Parent Revolution, left at podium, applauds parents for th
Ben Austin, executive director of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Parent Revolution, left at podium, applauds parents for the first ruling in the nation to uphold a parent-trigger law at Parent Revolution headquarters in Los Angeles, Monday, July 23, 2012. A Superior Court judge has ruled that a Mojave Desert school board illegally rejected a parent petition to turn over an elementary school to a charter. The case is a test of California's so-called "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to force reforms at low performing schools through a petition signed by 50 percent of parents. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A posting here last week entitled " 'Won't Back Down' Film Pushes ALEC Parent Trigger Proposal" exposed some common misperceptions about parent trigger, an important education reform policy that is gaining national attention due to the release of the film Won't Back Down.

In the interest of telling the straight facts, it's important to look at each of the misperceptions discussed in the piece.

Misperception #1: Parent trigger doesn't come from parents -- it was developed by organizations interested in privatizing public education.

Parent trigger was developed in California by parents, legislators, and a grassroots non-profit called Parent Revolution. Their goal was to create a process by which failing neighborhood schools could be transformed into something better. Privatization of schools has never been part of this agenda.

Also, while last week's posting impugned supporters of parent trigger as 'right wing' because ALEC has supported the policy, The New York Times reported this week that teachers' unions have been greater supporters of ALEC members than the education reform community.

Misperception #2: The purpose of parent trigger is to turn more schools into charter schools.

When parents petition to turn around their school, they can usually choose from four turnaround options -- school closure, school transformation, school turnaround, and restarting as a public charter school. 1 (These are the same four school turnaround options provided that the Department of Education provides through Race to the Top.) Parent trigger focuses on creating meaningful opportunities for parents to change the way a school is run -- turning a failed school into a public charter school is just one of multiple options form which parents can choose.

Critics of parent trigger are concerned that by giving parents the option of turning a traditional school into a public charter school, this policy allows for the privatization of education by putting more nonprofit organizations in school leadership roles. The truth, however, is that when children with extraordinary potential are languishing in schools with low expectations and correspondingly low performance, we, as adults, should be more concerned about how to make schools better, than who is going to make them better.

Misperception #3: Parents don't have the skills and knowledge to advocate for successful school turnarounds on their own.

The purpose of parent trigger laws is to empower parents to the greatest extent possible. For too long, parents have gone without the meaningful information and range of educational options that they need to make good choices for their kids' educations. To this end, parent trigger policies in place around the country require only parent signatures on the school turnaround petition. 2 When it comes to schools, parents are solely focused on the interests of their kids. Parent trigger allows them to demand better schools without having to wait for approval from other various stakeholders.

Misperception #4: Parent Trigger is a "cure" for the American education system.

Parent trigger is not about fixing the entire education system -- it's about empowering a select group of parents to take action to fix their kids' failing schools. For many of these parents, sending their kids to school every morning is painful, because they know the schools in their community are not giving their children the education they deserve. These parents cannot and should not be asked to go another day without other options and the power to bring about change.

But parent trigger is by itself no silver bullet that will fix all that is wrong with our education system. Parent trigger does not guarantee a great teacher in every classroom, strong school district leadership, or sound fiscal governance. It does not tackle the problem of why some of our schools are chronically failing. But parent trigger is a start, and it is a real way to give more kids the options they deserve. That's putting students first.

For more information on parent trigger, please read Empowering Parents with Choice: The Parent Trigger.

1 See text of CA EDUC § 53300

2 See text of CA EDUC § 53300