Yes, there is a need. But not for parent trigger laws.
In communities where public schools have failed to serve low-income students and children of color for decades, the idea of a parent trigger has undeniable emotional appeal. Dramatic action is needed. But parent trigger is the wrong way to go.
Promoters of parent trigger—including the recent Hollywood flop Won't Back Down—suggest that the laws give parents control over their schools. But in reality, parents make only a cameo appearance in school change. The legislative script merely says, "Sign petition, exit stage right." This is not real parent power.
Also missing from the parent trigger is any plan to address the core issues of teaching and learning. The trigger does not put teachers, or their work, at the reform table. It does not address any of the research-based essential supports widely recognized as making a real difference in student outcomes.
Parent trigger is full of big promises, but it won't deliver.
What would real reform look like?
If we want to get serious about school improvement, we must focus on what's happening in the classroom, not who runs the school. Real school improvement addresses instructional content and quality, ensures adequate resources, gives students a full range of academic and enrichment programs, and offers them the wrap-around supports they need to succeed. And real school improvement is done with parents and teachers. Parents don't just "trigger" the reform, they build it.
There are models available. At the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, we've supported parent-led school reform for a decade and a half, and we've seen the real changes that result when parents and educators work together for meaningful instructional reform. In October, the National Education Policy Center released a report on the failure of the types of school interventions called for in parent trigger legislation. The report concluded with a proposal for "Equitable, Democratic School Turnaround." Another framework was developed in 2010 by Communities for Excellent Public Schools.
Without a bold initiative that addresses the unique needs of each individual school, and builds in ongoing parent and teacher leadership in the reform, the simple and compelling promise of parent trigger inspires, but doesn't deliver. The reality is that parents may just be shooting themselves in the foot.
About Leigh Dingerson Senior Consultant with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University
Melissa J. Erickson Principal in Fund Education Now
Randi Weingarten President of the American Federation of Teachers
Brittny Saunders Senior Staff Attorney for Center for Popular Democracy
Michelle Rhee CEO at StudentsFirst
Nina Rees President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools