Policy Brief Deconstructs ‘Parent Trigger’ Laws

By Michele Molnar — January 03, 2013 2 min read
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The Center for Education Organizing of The Annenberg Institute for School Reform recently released “Parent Trigger: No Silver Bullet,” a policy brief that reviews and critiques the laws in some states giving parents the right to petition for dramatic changes to low-performing schools, or to close the schools entirely.

Six states currently have parent trigger laws on the books: California (the first to institute such legislation in 2010), Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas. The brief describes how these states offer a variety of remedies when parents’ petitions are successful, including—but not limited to—converting schools to charters, removing much or all of the school’s academic personnel, or removing the school from local control and placing it under state control.

Connecticut’s legislature averted the passage of a proposed parent trigger bill in 2010, replacing it with a law requiring low-performing schools to create school governance councils comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. The council is charged with thoroughly analyzing the supports and challenges in the school, then developing a school improvement plan that will be implemented with state support over three to five years.

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University based in Providence, R.I. is a national policy-research and reform support organization that promotes quality education for all children, especially in urban communities. The Institute’s primary lines of inquiry include school transformation, college and career readiness, and extended learning time. The Center for Education Organizing, based in New York City, focuses on providing policy and strategic support to community organizations that increases the capacity of low- to moderate-income parents and students of color to lead and participate in the process of transforming America’s urban schools.

“While there is undeniable appeal in the idea that parents can ‘take over’ their child’s school and force dramatic change simply by circulating and signing a petition, the real benefit from parent engagement comes when parents have a long-term relationship to the school and when they can join with teachers, administrators, and students to design and implement an improvement strategy,” states the brief, which was released in December 2012.

“Parent Trigger legislation gives parents the ‘power’ to force the intervention but is silent on a continuing role for parents. Furthermore, there is no evidence that chartering or closing a school, or replacing a school’s entire staff—the interventions authorized by Parent Trigger—create academic improvement in and of themselves. Historically, the four interventions most commonly authorized through Parent Trigger laws have not proven effective in improving student outcomes.”

Critics of Parent Trigger laws say that supporters of privatization are behind the push for states to adopt such legislation.

The full policy brief is available here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.