NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Radical School Reform You've Never Heard Of

November 16, 2010

Debates about education these days tend to center on familiar terms like charter schools and merit pay.  Now a new fault line is emerging: "parent trigger," says David Feith, an assistant editorial features editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Parent trigger, which became California law in January, is meant to facilitate the transfer of power from teachers' unions to parents through community organizing.

  • Under the law, if 51 percent of parents in a failing school sign a petition, they can trigger a forcible transformation of the school -- either by inviting a charter operator to take it over, by forcing certain administrative changes or by shutting it down outright.
  • Schools are eligible for triggering if they have failed to make "adequate yearly progress," according to state standards, for four consecutive years.
  • Today 1,300 of California's 10,000 schools qualify.

California's example has already inspired legislation in Connecticut, although Hartford lawmakers ultimately passed a reform package that doesn't give parents as much direct influence.  That hasn't stopped the idea from catching on elsewhere.

State legislators in five states -- Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey and West Virginia -- say that they plan to introduce versions of parent-trigger legislation over the next six months, says Feith.

The growing popularity of parent trigger challenges the common assertion that schools fail primarily because they serve apathetic families.  Like charter school lotteries bursting with thousands of parents and students, trigger drives demonstrate that legions of parents actively reject their children's failing schools.

Source: David Feith, "The Radical School Reform You've Never Heard Of," Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2010.

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