Parents Across America opposes Rahm-supported “parent trigger”

Rahm reads to children

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel’s education platform specifically called for enacting a “parent trigger” law for Chicago. The Chicago Tribune has aggressively promoted this idea in the past few weeks. Here’s what Parents Across America think (PAA press release):

March 16, 2011: We oppose Parent Trigger laws

Reform should rely on proven solutions that involve parents from the ground up and improve rather than privatize schools

With California’s so-called Parent Empowerment Act drawing national media attention as a school reform panacea, and similar laws being discussed in other states including New Jersey, Colorado, and elsewhere, the new national organization Parents Across America (PAA) warns that the law fails to promote positive solutions, is subject to abuse, and threatens to harm school communities.

“This law is likely to cause more problems than it solves,” PAA said in a position statement.  (See attached pdf or link here: )

The Parent Empowerment Act took effect in California in 2010, creating a process called the Parent Trigger, in which a majority of parents at a low-performing school can petition to demand one of a narrow set of options, including firing all or some of the staff, takeover by a charter operator, or closing the school.

PAA is a grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the United States to share ideas and work together on improving the nation’s public schools. The Parent Trigger, its statement said, “represents neither real parent choice nor empowerment.”

In its statement, PAA explains why the group opposes the Parent Trigger process and cautions that none of the options offered “have been consistently successful in improving schools nationwide.” The options allowed in the California law are the same as those provided in the federal School Improvement Grant program.

The Parent Trigger gives parents “no opportunity to choose among more positive reforms, and fails to promote the best practices for parent involvement from the ground up,” as pointed out by Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director of Parents United for Responsible Education of Chicago.  “The process creates huge potential for abuse, and for disruption and divisiveness in school communities.”

Los Angeles parent leader Bill Ring adds, “I fear that this law, in its current incarnation, may be more about getting some organizations a better foothold in public schools.  Even if parents do choose to reconstitute their school as a charter, how does this process ensure that they are empowered to evaluate the changes and ensure better outcomes for their children?”

Parents Across America instead supports a process in which parents are authentically involved at the ground level in developing strategies for improvement.  “These strategies might include smaller classes, more parent involvement, or other reforms that have been proven to work and are aligned with the individual needs of the school and its students,” says Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.

The Parent Trigger has been used at only one California school, McKinley Elementary in Compton, near Los Angeles. Parent Revolution, the Broad Foundation-funded organization that conceived of and pushed for the Parent Empowerment Act, selected the school to target and the charter operator that would take it over before sending paid operatives to collect signatures. The campaign was secretive, and some McKinley parents say they were misled about what the petition called for and had no opportunity to learn about other options. Since the petition was submitted in December 2010, the issue has erupted in a lawsuit, controversy and chaos.

The conflict in Compton underscores PAA’s concern that “disrupting and dismantling school is likely to harm vulnerable students and communities in which the local public school is often a key stabilizing force,” observes Caroline Grannan of San Francisco, founding member of PAA.

According to Julia Sass Rubin, a parent and member of the grassroots group Save Our Schools New Jersey, a PAA affiliate, “If a traditional public school converts to a charter schools, it affects the education of every child in that community by drawing critical resources from the traditional public school system.  That is why Save Our Schools NJ supports legislation to require local voter approval for any new or expanding charter schools in a community.  We do not believe the decision to establish a new charter school or to convert a traditional public school to a charter should be made just by government officials or by a small group of parents, as the consequences will affect the entire community.”

The PAA statement recommends safeguards “if such a process is to exist,” including full parent involvement at the school level, “transparency and disclosure,” as well as rigorous requirements to ensure access for all parents in a clearly stipulated process – as well as access for all existing students if a charter operator winds up taking over the school.

“While PAA celebrates parent involvement, this legislation does not fully include families in decisions about their schools.  Until we can properly fund education and give districts the resources to include families in decision-making from the bottom up, such legislation simply takes advantage of parent disenfranchisement,” concludes Andrea Mérida, school board member in Denver. “We urge lawmakers to oppose proposals like the Parent Trigger that would exploit parents’ legitimate concerns in order to turn public property over to private hands.”


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Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.
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