Ohio District Makes Little Effort to Inform Parents of Parent Trigger Option

Published February 12, 2015

Ohio residents may never know whether a parent trigger law works, even though Columbus has a pilot program.

According to Greg Harris, director of nonprofit StudentsFirst Ohio, the pilot program was set up to fail.

Harris says the state and Columbus School District have made little effort to inform parents about the program. Twenty schools in Columbus are eligible for reform under the state’s parent trigger law.

The law, passed as part of the state’s budget in 2011, empowers parents to decide how to reform chronically low-performing schools.

Parent trigger in Ohio applies only to Columbus City Schools and allows changes such as schools becoming charters or replacing administrations. The reform process kicks in if more than 50 percent of parents in an eligible school district, or schools within a district, sign a petition demanding reform. Parents needed to submit a petition to the district by Dec. 31 to force a change for the 2015–16 school year.

Set up to Fail

Harris says the lack of interest within eligible school districts is no accident.

“It’s almost like that is by design,” said Harris, noting the only effort to notify parents has been the addition of a parent trigger page online.

Harris says the school district’s goal was to get no response, which would then lead to the unfair assumption parents aren’t interested and the law is not effective and should be revoked. Eligible schools weren’t announced until late summer. Since then, the districts and state haven’t made an honest effort to notify parents of the possibility of reform, Harris says. The only way parents could have learned about the parent trigger pilot program in Columbus was if they already knew the law existed and looked it up online.

“You have to know about the law in the first place,” said Harris. “The school district should be notifying parents. If you want to make a sincere effort to notify parents, there are a lot of ways to do this: newsletters, sending something home with students, PTA meeting announcements.”

Parental Involvement is Necessary  

Jeff Warner, communications director for the Columbus School District, said there are concerns the law could create problems for the district, including possible layoffs.

“Columbus has great schools to serve our students,” said Warner. “Since (the parent trigger is) part of state law, we have to abide by it. The biggest concern is making sure parents understand what we have available.”

Warner claims the real problem in low-performing districts is lack of parental involvement, and he says some of the state’s best teachers are in schools eligible for the parent trigger.

“If we don’t get the parents involved, the performance is going to be the same no matter what,” said Warner.

Harris said parent trigger laws inherently include parental involvement by requiring significant support for the law to go into effect.

“The parent trigger law gives parents leverage in a system that otherwise acts like it doesn’t have time for them,” said Harris.

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by woodleywonderworks.