Mayors pull the (parent) trigger

I’ve written before about parent “trigger” laws that give parents the power to close failing schools. On Saturday the U.S. Conference of Mayors voted unanimously to endorse trigger laws.

Here’s a report from Reuters, as printed in the Chicago Tribune:

Hundreds of mayors from across the United States this weekend called for new laws letting parents seize control of low-performing public schools and fire the teachers, oust the administrators or turn the schools over to private management.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday unanimously endorsed “parent trigger” laws aimed at bypassing elected school boards and giving parents at the worst public schools the opportunity to band together and force immediate change.

Such laws are fiercely opposed by teachers’ unions, which stand to lose members in school takeovers. Union leaders say there is no proof such upheaval will improve learning. And they argue that public investment in struggling communities, rather than private management of struggling schools, is the key to boosting student achievement.

But in a sign of the unions’ diminishing clout, their traditional political allies, the Democrats, abandoned them in droves during the Orlando vote.

Democratic Mayors Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento led the charge for parent trigger – and were backed by scores of other Democrats as well as Republicans from coast to coast.,0,6681233.story

Since I think parents need more clout, I applaud this vote. What do you think?


  1. Mike

    I certainly hope that before they allow anyone to take over a school and unilaterally fire teachers/admins that a comprehensive study is performed on the parents themselves. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher may be, if the parents are involved in their child’s education, it just doesn’t matter.

    If the parents aren’t doing what I call the three M’s, the outcome for a good education is diminished substantially.


    • Hank

      If the parents are involved in a child’s education properly, taking over a school will never happen. It’s when the parents aren’t involved that things go south. If teachers are having to discipline kids whose parents aren’t doing so, or teach English to non-speakers, instead of focusing on teaching the lesson plan, then kids will fall behind, and parents pull the smarter kids out and put them in charter or private schools. As a result, the school falls behind in the rankings. And it continues as a cycle.

  2. Yak_Herder

    Indeed, Mike. Excellent comment.

    Parents don’t need more clout, they need to be more involved. If that vacuum continues and triggers are, the children still won’t be getting the education they need and we’ll have alienated the very people who are demonstrating a desire to do something about it.

  3. Mary McConnell

    I understand all the frustration these readers are expressing with uninvolved parents – but I wonder if parent “clout” and parent involvement may not work together. The schools where the parent trigger has been pulled are, at least so far, schools that serve mostly minority kids and have very, very poor educational results, at least as measured by tests. These are parents who often have a hard time making their voice heard within our schools. But they are also parents whom teachers struggle to reach.

    I’ve been intrigued by the way many charter schools involve parents through contracts. The parents have some clout, since they chose the school. The school, in turn, has more clout, because parents have signed on for a school with certain expectations.
    Carolyn Sharrette has argued on this blog that these policies could be applied more broadly. But it may be that they work only in the context of mutual choice – and clout.

  4. Yak_Herder

    Clout and parent involvement do indeed work together. Clout is the result of active participation. It is something that is earned, not bestowed. Charter schools (successful ones, anyway) know that. They insist on parental participation right up front. Anything else is putting the cart before the horse.

    Sure, triggers have been pulled in schools “that serve mostly minority kids and have very, very poor educational results”. Talk to the teachers there and ask them if they are supported by the parents. Never mind, we already know the answer.

    Mike is right on the money. The responsibility rests on the shoulders of the parents. His “3 M’s” are spot on. If we’re going to shift that responsibility anywhere else, we’d better be prepared to dig deep into our wallets AND prepare to face failure.

  5. Suzie

    I think trigger laws are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If parents decide that things need to change and take action to do so, this means they care. And parents that care about a child’s education are probably the most influential thing on a child’s success.

  6. John C. Clark

    Notice that Charter schools do a poor job of serving special education students (GAO study, June, 2012). Most poor performing schools are located in low income neighborhoods. Charter schools are more likely to outsource their human resource and curriculum responsibilities to for profit entities, and will put an even lower proportion of their budget toward teachers and classroom expenses than traditional public schools. Are we going to pull the trigger on poor neighborhood schools as a way of blaming them for being poor?

  7. Carolyn Sharette

    If parents are not involved in the school, it is upon the school to find ways to get them involved. Nearly ALL parents care about their children and want them to succeed. If parents are not involved in meaningful ways at the school, then the school needs to learn from other schools where parents ARE involved how that is being accomplished and adopt their practices.

    Because we have involved parents from every walk of life in schools, it indicates that it is possible to have low-income, minority parents involved and if they are not involved in your school, then policies need to change to make it happen.

    Organizing a school so that parents are motivated is a VITAL responsibility of the school leadership team. If they lack the will to do so, they need to be relieved of their positions. If they lack the expertise to do so, they simply need to approach schools that are successfully involving parents and learn from them.

    One of my largest disappointments after 10 years in education is the lack of initiative school leaders take to find out what is working best at high performing schools and adopting it in their schools. The parent trigger provides a way for parents to pressure school leaders to do so.

    After 9 successful years in the Salt Lake Valley, with some outcomes that are AMAZING and a waitlist of over 11,000 students, we have had a total of ONE public elementary school principal come to one of our schools just to see what we are doing and perhaps adopt some of our practices. We did have a visit from one other principal but they weren’t interested in seeing what we were doing – they just wanted to know “who the competition” was. Very disappointing.

    Perhaps parents can make something happen.

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