Blog readers know that I admire education commentator Rick Hess. He combines an ardent commitment to reform with a welcome insistence on asking how proposed reforms would work for teachers, parents, and students – in military parlance, the “boots on the ground.”
So I wanted to share his recent comments on California’s parent trigger laws. Parents in Adelanto, California have been trying for several years to employ California’s parent-trigger law to transform Desert Trails Elementary – a poorly-performing school serving a largely low-income, Hispanic population – into a charter school. They just won a court case, and it looks as if they’re finally going to get to pull the trigger.
Hess applauds the parents’ initiative, and generally supports parent triggers, but he also sounds some warning notes. From his (short) article
The parent trigger’s power is that it enables impassioned parents to break the grip of school boards that placidly preside over educational malpractice year after year. Absent the parent trigger, it’s unclear how the parents at Desert Trails could have forced a change. They could have tried to elect a new school board majority, but parents at a single school usually find it immensely difficult to do so, especially in board elections dominated by school-system employees.
That said, it’d be a mistake to over-hype the parent trigger. Parents don’t necessarily have the skills or knowledge to drive school improvement. That’s especially true in low-performing schools, which typically serve families with limited education or political prowess. Pursued ineptly, the trigger could spur even more ineffectual governance, as families bicker and micromanage. (Chicago’s extensive experience with site-based school management in the 1980s and early 1990s raised just such concerns.)
This matters a lot: We’re likely to see a lot more schools going the way of Desert Trails. The parent trigger has been adopted in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana — and was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors earlier this summer.
The parent trigger is a positive step for long-suffering schools, but it’s no solution. It’s just a chance to push dysfunctional schools onto a new path. Whether would-be reformers are willing and able to help parents seize this fresh start — by providing tough-minded guidance, helping to recruit high-quality school operators, and policing the bad actors — will help determine whether it ushers in real change or amounts to one more faddish reform.
What do you think? Should parent triggers join my list of reforms that would help drive educational improvement in Utah?