Families & the Community News in Brief

Parent ‘Trigger’ Law Draws Attention, Controversy

By Ramsey Cox — January 11, 2011 2 min read
Parents in Compton, Calif., in early December prepare to file petitions seeking to have McKinley Elementary School turned into a charter school in the 2011-12 school year. Parents, from left: Marlene Romero, with son, Ivan, 8; Ismania Guzman, with daughter, Alexandra, 6; and Shamika Murphy, with daughter, Kiari, 7.
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Education advocates and organizations are closely scrutinizing the first use of California’s “parent-trigger” law, after parents in Compton, Calif., last month invoked the new statute to decide their children’s failing elementary school must become a charter by the 2011-12 school year.

Similar laws are being considered across the country even as controversy swirls in Compton, where some parents are trying to block the charter school conversion, arguing the other parents’ actions were not taken in a public enough way and were influenced by outside groups.

The California state board of education is trying to open a dialogue between both parent groups and asked the state attorney general to investigate the accusations of an underhanded process.

Still, the Dec. 7 petition by a group of parents at the low-performing McKinley Elementary School in Compton could add momentum to a push in other states for similar legislation, in the view of Robin Lake, associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

The California law, passed in January, allows 51 percent of parents at a school that has failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” requirements for three consecutive years to sign a petition that prompts one of four actions: converting to a charter school, replacing the principal and staff, changing the budget, or closing the school entirely.

Mississippi passed a similar law in July, and Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, and West Virginia also are considering parent-trigger laws.

Frank Wells, a spokesman for the Southern California Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the National Education Association, said he is concerned that the law does not require a review of the petition process.

“Some parents who signed the petition are now saying they weren’t educated on the issues when they signed the petition and would like their signatures removed,” he said.

On Dec. 15, the California school board asked the state attorney general to investigate complaints about the petition process.

Karen Frison, the acting superintendent of the 27,000-student Compton Unified School District, said the district would launch a parent-empowerment initiative that would allow for a conversation about the parent-trigger law, the petition process, and the four options parents have.

Parent Revolution, a pro-charter parent coalition based in Los Angeles, led the charge for the parent-trigger law and helped the Compton parents with the petition, which received the signatures of 62 percent of those with children at McKinley.

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as ‘Parent Trigger’ Law’s Use in California Draws Controversy, National Attention

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