NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Parent Trigger: There's a Better Way

May 17, 2013

While parent trigger laws empower parents, families and communities to take an active role in reforming their children's education, the effects of the parent trigger mechanism may be more disappointing than many other options. Because of legal and institutional obstacles, the parent trigger mechanism is not likely to make a huge difference in the long run, says Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

  • Two successful campaigns in California led by Parent Revolution have faced significant legal opposition.
  • With the McKinley Elementary parent trigger campaign in Compton, California, school officials launched an attack on the trigger petition, stating that all signatures need to be verified in person and with photo identification.
  • When this argument failed, school officials were allowed to cross-reference every signature with student records and pushed for parents' ability to rescind their support -- efforts that resulted in the parent trigger eventually failing.

Parent Revolution, a group that organizes local parents to leverage the parent trigger mechanism, is lobbying the state board of education to tighten its regulations to prevent such blatant obstruction.

  • In several other districts, parent trigger groups have met with opposition from administration officials who have either rejected the petitions or rejected their recommendations.
  • Typically, parent trigger mechanisms seek to transform a traditional public school into a charter school.
  • Because public schools have a virtual monopoly on the education market, they are incredibly reluctant to change the system.

Public schools that have been converted into charter schools come with their own set of problems. Since the schools are technically still part of the public school district, they are sometimes micromanaged by the district or worse, left completely alone. When left completely alone, the quality of a converted charter school can fall, which is counterproductive to the entire goal of improving educational outcomes.

Still, some parents are leveraging the parent trigger to encourage schools to make reforms without actually executing the parent trigger mechanism. The parent trigger is useful because it gets parents involved in their child's education. It is doubtful that it will lead to long-term systematic changes.

Source: Michael Petrilli, "There's a Better Way to Unlock Parent Power," Education Next, Summer 2013.


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