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  regcomments@cde.ca.gov

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