More Heat Than Light: The empty promise of the Parent Trigger

Parents Across America’s position paper on the Parent Trigger is here.  The following commentary is by Bill Ring, a PAA member from Los Angeles and founder of TransParent® 

The American Federation of Teachers apparently embarrassed themselves recently when their Connecticut affiliate was caught with a document on its website memorializing its strategy to defeat Connecticut’s version of California’s parent empowerment legislation (unfortunately known in California as the “parent trigger”).

I went through the powerpoint credited to Connecticut AFT’s legislative advocate, Jennifer Berigan. I noticed one slide that seemed to be what any parent advocate would want to see:

* School Governance Councils – Mandated the establishment of advisory groups comprised of elected stakeholder representatives in consistently low performing schools

* Gave parents majority representation

* Gave Councils authority to recommend reconstitution in third year of poor performance

* Created opportunities for collaboration with teachers, parents and other stakeholders

Aren’t these among the first (and necessary) steps for true parent engagement at any school site (assuming the requisite training and support)? If schools convert to charter under a so-called “parent trigger”, are the parents going to get these elements, particularly with a school run by a charter management organization (CMO)? As a founding family member of an independent, parent-created charter middle school in Los Angeles, I would respectfully suggest no, they are not.

As I waded further into the document, I noticed a slide which caused me to question how proponents of parent empowerment legislation could misread AFT’s position: school councils that were created under this law in Connecticut should have been more than simply advisory – AFT clearly wanted them to have site governing authority.

Still, what continues to strike me as really peculiar in any of these efforts said to create better outcomes – including any proposed by the federal government under No Child Left Behind – is how proponents think that they are empowering parents. They act as if parents have been completely shutout of the process of school improvement by so many evil teachers. Where I come from, administrators are the true gatekeepers at our public schools.

Now what: If parents win trigger votes, they will have their hands on the levers of power; from what I have seen, parents are unprepared for this and will be taken for a ride by their handlers. I would love to be proven wrong but I cringe at the damage that may be done finding out.

I recognize that California’s experiment with this is limited to 75 schools but given that so many schools here are “failing” (including some charter schools that are solidly on the list of persistently lowest performing) – and yes, those parents already PULLED a trigger by enrolling their children there – this entire experience may have more value in the propaganda it will generate.

For those in California, I close with a public service: August 8 is the last day to submit public comments during the third 15-day public comment period following approval of what will otherwise become permanent parent empowerment regulations. The proposed regulations are posted here;   you can e-mail your comments to

Posted on by leoniehaimson Posted in Uncategorized
  • Gwen Samuel

    Mr. Ring, my name is Gwen, a proud parent of children in CT Public schools. I also introduced the Parent Trigger to CT. The State that I live in!

    I am proud of the traditional schools my children attend but let me reassure you we have some outstanding Charter, Magnet, Vocational, PreK – 12 schools YET with all of the school successes, Connecticut, one of the richest states in the nation and home to some of the most prestigious Universities and schools in the nation, has an academic achievement gap among the highest in the nation, observable between rich and poor students, and between white students and students of color.

    The socio-economically disadvantaged in Connecticut’s cities tend to be people of color, trapped in schools that persistently fail to meet their need for a quality education; these residents are also likely to be underemployed, or lacking in job skills that would provide a livable wage, consequently they tend be under-insured, or uninsured.

    This CT knowledge, skill and opportunity gap (known as the achievement gap) is unacceptable to me, as parent.

    I work tirelessly to partner with teachers, public policy makers and administrators to help turn around low performing schools only to be generalized like some less-knowing person that is incapable of making an informed decision and not “bright enough” to support effective education reform efforts. Then to add insult to injury the existing educational structure also known as the “status quo” is unwilling to hold stakeholder accountable to high expectations, results and responsible fiscal spending.

    That “experts only” type of structure was disheartening for parents and caused many to feel hopeless.

    Then California parents, students, education advocates and public policy makers took a risk to introduce a “Parent trigger law” that would give me/parents a mechanism to recommend a school improvement model to help my child when the educational system systemically fails to meet my child’s educational needs. What does the “low performing educational structure do when parents fight for this new law? It goes into attack mode of parents!

    So I am writing to prove your statement to be very stereotypical and insulting when you say “If parents win trigger votes, they will have their hands on the levers of power; from what I have seen, parents are unprepared for” And to state AFT CT must really want to partner with parents because of the language of “one or two slides when the rest of the document goes into “Kill Mode” is insulting as well.

    What makes Unions and public policy makers the “owners” of power to improve schools in my neighborhood? Being poor and/ or Black or Hispanic or any other ethnicity does not equal illiteracy.

    You can’t continue to deny parents access to the good information they need to help their child succeed in school and then in the same breath state “parents don’t care, they are not engaged… You can’t have it both ways!

    So how about heeding some good research that clearly states that a parents’ active engagement within their child’s learning is the most important long-term influence on academic success and behavior.

    Parental engagement goes well beyond being engaged in activities in and around school – it is about parents and effective teachers working together to support the child’s learning in the classroom and at home.

    In closing, as long as MY child is in a teacher’s classroom then by default I am the teachers parent partner and to be quite frank it’s NOT negotiable!

    Parents need teachers to be successful in the classroom therefore a vast majority of parents support effective teacher and Administrator Prep Programs because if the teacher is successful the chances of the children being successful in the classroom increases.

    The parent trigger law is here and increasing in momentum. Parents are NOT the enemy of Teachers!

    The equation for success:
    Empowered Students +Engaged Parents + Effective Teacher & Administrators = Productive Citizens and a qualified workforce.

    Now THAT is the equation for a stable economy not “Kill modes” and blame games.

    I look forward to working with you on this journey to improve America’s schools :)

  • CarolineSF

    Gwen, the Parent Trigger in California was not introduced by ” California parents, students, education advocates and public policy makers.” It was introduced by Parent Revolution, an Astroturf — fake grassroots — organization created by charter school operators for the benefit of charter school operators.

    Parent Revolution lies here in California and they’re lying to you too.

    And Parent Revolution has very definitely gone on the attack against teachers. Here in California they have reviled teachers by name publicly, gotten charges filed against them with the Attorney General’s office and the U.S. Department of Education, and assailed them in the press and on their website. Parent Revolution is at war against teachers and they are not in support of parents. They exist to enrich charter school operators. Don’t be duped.

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  • Mark

    - “I went through the powerpoint credited to Connecticut AFT’s legislative advocate, Jennifer Berigan.” -

    “Credited” leaves a little doubt. There is no doubt.

    Jennifer was the PRESENTER during the SESSION titled “Damaging Legislative Proposals and What You Can Do to Fight Them!” at the 2011 AFT TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference (formerly called QuEST). Jennifer’s PRESENTATION on Tuesday, July 12 from 1:45PM – 2:45PM was titled, “How Connecticut Diffused The Parent Trigger.” The 19 page PowerPoint slides are on AFT letterhead. Ms Berigan’s title is “Legislative Advocate, AFT-Connecticut.” She is a lobbyist who has been employed by the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut (AFT-CT) since 2008, has been involved in lobbying for 15 years, and is registered by the Connecticut Office of State Ethics as a lobbyist. The slides indicate how AFT-CT watered down the Parent Trigger Legislation but kept this hidden from the public and even parent groups who were advocating for the bill. One of their techniques was, “Other parent trigger advocates (ConnCAN, parent groups, Campaign LEARN, etc.) were not at the table” during 8-10 sessions between House proponents and the Union about the parent trigger bill. Thus Ms. Berigan did work in isolation to get this legislation passed.

    Here is a link to the Berigan slides, judge yourself.

    For those unaware of teacher unions, AFT is the American Federation of Teachers and AFT-CT is the the CT state affiliate of AFT. AFT is the second largest teacher union in the United States, behind National Education Association (NEA). NEA is the largest labor union in the United States, unless SEIU has recently passed them by. NEA also has state affiliates. If teachers in your local school district belong to an AFT or NEA union, they belong to the local affiliate. Thus union teachers pay dues to three unions – local, state, and national union. And their PAC’s if they have one and choose to do so.

    Finally, it would be informative to parents if Parents Across America disclosed on this website any and all funding and contributions that it receives from NEA and its affiliates.

  • Mark

    Oops, typo, should read, “Thus Ms. Berigan did NOT work in isolation to get this legislation passed.

  • CarolineSF

    You may not agree with the viewpoint, Mark, but that was a run-of-the-mill lobbying campaign, nothing improper, untoward or beyond the pale in our political system. No politicians were bought off (as opposed to the Stand for Children campaign in Illinois) and no deception involved.

    The California state PTA did the same kind of lobbying against the Parent Trigger here, where the concept originated.

  • Anon

    What a dishonest post. On the very next slide after the one mentioning “Parental Governance Councils,” the AFT lobbyist says, “Name is a misnomer: They are advisory and do not have true governing authority.” No governing authority. In other words, “parental governance councils” are put forth as a way to fool parents into thinking that they have governance authority when they in fact do not.

    Moreover, a further slide brags that “What Helped Us” is the “absence of charter school and parent groups from the table.”

    It’s despicable for a supposed “Parents” group to be taking a stand against having parent groups at the table.

  • CarolineSF

    Parents Across America is not taking a stand against having parent groups at the table, to point out the obvious.

  • Robert D. Skeels

    How utterly disingenous for Gwen Samuel and other corporatists to suggest: “Then California parents, students, education advocates and public policy makers took a risk to introduce a “Parent trigger law” that would give me/parents a mechanism to recommend a school improvement model to help my child when the educational system systemically fails to meet my child’s educational needs.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. From one of my recent Schools Matter pieces:

    Next, let’s consider that when the reactionary Milton Friedman worshiping former Governor of California wanted a way to help his good friend and fellow charlatan Jed Wallace, of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), increase market share with as little resistance as possible, he brought in two well known neoliberal opponents of public education: former State Senator and current Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) California Director Gloria Romero, and Ben Austin of Green Dot’s LAPU/Parent Revolution. In what was a perfect storm of Rand/Friedman ideologies, neoliberal principles, naked opportunism, greed, Heartland Institute and Hoover Institution fantasies, and lucrative charter market share grabs, Schwarzenegger, Austin, and Romero crafted a vile piece of legislation that became colloquially known as the “parent trigger.” The law allows for well financed charter-voucher advocacy groups, like say, Parent Revolution, to drop into impoverished neighborhoods to bamboozle, browbeat, and bribe a bare majority (ie. fifty percent, plus one) of parents from the school in question, and/or the feeder schools [5] into “triggering” one of the four punitive provisions from Rod Paige and arch-reactionary George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Of course the only provision Schwarzenegger, Austin, and Romero were ever interested in is the charter conversion clause, in which publicly financed schools are handed over to privately run corporations. The law could be most appropriately referred to as the corporate charter trigger, as it has nothing to do with empowering parents.

    Come up with a community empowerment law that allows parents, students, and community members work with teachers and admistrators to improve schools and increase resources for education, and I’ll volunteer! Triggers and other corporate takeover means are nothing of the sort. Shame on all the advocates of neoliberalism.

    California’s Parent Revolution is hardly a “Parent’s rights group.” Instead they are a front group for the California Charter Schools Association, and are funded by far-right-wing Walton Family Foundation, and other deep pocketed foundations that want to do away with public education entirely. Parent Revolution’s wealthy executive director has a shady past and was recently exposed as having broken the law in not disclosing his employer while lobbying for the charter trigger law. See:

    “Parent” Trigger co-author Austin knew he was breaking laws while he lobbied the California State Board of Education