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Education today/Steve Patchin

‘Parent Trigger’ laws provide parents power in school reform efforts

July 19, 2011
The Daily Mining Gazette

It has long been know that the most successful schools have a similar thread in common. They benefit from strong parent support. This parent support can be identified by large membership rosters in the school's Parent Teacher Organization, active sports booster clubs, volunteering in the classrooms of the school - especially in the elementary schools - consistent attendance to school board meetings and high attendance rates at parent-teacher conferences.

Many successful schools, especially in impoverished areas, require parents to volunteer a set number of hours per semester in order for their students to stay enrolled in that school. Parent participation is a requirement of student enrollment. The bottom line is parent involvement equates to student success.

Ben Austin is a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles. He is now a policy consultant at Green Dot Public Schools which is a charter school organization. Austin created an advocacy group titled Parent Revolution. The organizations goal was to create a law that would give parents more power to reform underperforming schools that their children were attending. In 2009, they successfully lobbied to get the first "Parent Trigger" law passed in California.

The highly debated law allows parents to petition to take control of their local school, if more than 50 percent of the parents agree. Parents then have the ability to remove the staff and its leadership and begin anew. Details on how this is done are still being worked out. A similar law in New York allows a parent majority to: fire 50 percent of the teachers, fire the principal and turn the school into a charter school. These actions would override any actions that would be taken, or not taken, by the local school board.

A similar law just passed the legislature in Texas. It does not require the schools to be turned into charter schools, but does require an overhaul in the staff and leadership at the school. McKinley Elementary School in South Los Angeles is the first successful exercise of the trigger law with 61 percent of the parents signing the petition in favor of implementing it. The judge has initially ruled the petition invalid due to lack of dates next to the signatures, but an appeal is pending.

Supporters of the law argue this is a great way for parents to take back control of their community schools. It allows the community to have a louder voice in their child's education, providing them a tool to use against some bureaucratic school boards that fail to make needed reforms. Opponents are concerned with the assumption that a parent signing a petition equates with them becoming and staying more engaged in their child's education.

Parent trigger laws are now being considered by the legislatures of 14 states. With the value of a solid education increasing in value in our society, each parent is seeking the best schooling possible for those in their household. The results of the "trigger" will be interesting to observe.

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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