Randi Weingarten: Parent Trigger Laws a False Choice
Parent engagement is needed always, not just when a school is failing
October 26, 2012
Partnerships between parents, teachers, and the community are at the heart of making every public school a place where parents want to send their kids and where teachers want to teach.
As a former teacher and someone who has devoted her entire career to children and public schools, I understand the pain and frustration of parents who feel their children are not receiving the education they deserve. Educators—many of whom are also parents—understand the urgency that parents feel to provide their children with a great education in a safe, supportive community.
Real parent engagement means establishing meaningful ways for parents to be partners in their children's public education from the beginning—not just when a school is failing. The goal should be to never let a school get to that point. Unfortunately, that's where many of the parent-trigger proposals start, offering parents a false choice: You can either live with a low-performing school or take dramatic, disruptive action to shut a school down. These laws continue to be marketed as parent-empowerment laws while they actually deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and hand over control to for-profit corporations that run charter schools.
There have been only two attempts to pull the parent trigger. One never made it to the approval process. And in the other, in Adelanto, Calif., many parents report feeling deceived by parent-trigger supporters. Several parents attempted to remove their names from the petitions, saying they were told the petitions were for new bathrooms and other school improvements. Trigger supporters responded by asking the court to rule that once a signature was on a petition, it could not be rescinded. A protracted legal battle has ensued—parent against parent—while pro-trigger supporters continue plans to hand over control to a charter company. In both situations, the use of the parent-trigger law has been disruptive and divided the community.
Contrast the divisiveness and polarization of these trigger proposals with what happened in Connecticut, where the American Federation of Teachers helped pass a law creating School Governance Councils. These councils, made up of parents, teachers, and community members, develop parental involvement policies and advise on school improvement efforts. More than 184 councils were created following the law's passage and this year's new education reform law will expand these efforts.
In Cincinnati and elsewhere, AFT locals are partnering with parents and communities to mitigate the impact that poverty and other out-of-school factors have on students by offering wraparound services, including physical and mental health services, meal programs, tutoring, counseling, and after-school programs.
And just last month, the AFT joined with parents and community members to launch a series of town hall meetings, teach-ins, workshops, and other events in 11 cities across the nation. Through these efforts, teachers, parents, and communities will develop community-driven reforms to help all children and strengthen neighborhood public schools. And together we can respond to the needs of parents and communities who feel that their children and their schools have been left behind.
Our collective responsibility is to help all children not only dream their dreams, but achieve them. And real public education reform comes from teachers, parents, and communities working together to make that happen.