Research & Commentary: Indiana Parent Trigger

Published February 8, 2011

Schools in Indiana are failing to make the grade, and parents are afforded virtually no recourse when their children fall victim to a failing school. A Foundation for Educational Choice poll recently found that among the six polled states, Hoosiers are most likely to see their public education system as failing.

Indiana would benefit from an education reform that is garnering significant national attention: the Parent Trigger. It was first passed in California and is currently being drafted in a dozen other states, including Indiana. The Indiana Parent Trigger would allow a simple majority of parents at a school to “trigger” one of three reform options: close the school and allow the students to transfer to better-performing public schools, convert the school into a charter school, or give each student’s parents a voucher usable at a private school of their choosing.

The Parent Trigger would empower parents, increase the level of competition among schools, and save taxpayers money. The lowest-achieving 10 percent of schools in Indiana represent approximately 100,000 underserved children. If parents triggered reform for just 25,000 of the students attending the lowest-achieving schools, the state could save $64 million.

By incorporating proven reforms such as charter schools and vouchers, the Parent Trigger promises to raise student achievement while saving taxpayer dollars. And by empowering parents, it holds educators and school systems directly accountable for their performance.

The following documents offer additional information on the Parent Trigger.


Are Bad Schools Immortal?
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s David Stuit finds, astonishingly, that no more than 1 percent of all schools falling under the label “failing” get the promised reforms—either turnaround or closure—under the current system.

Parent Trigger: A Model for Transforming Education
The Heartland Institute’s education team offers a substantive review of the genesis of the Parent Trigger in California. This Policy Brief offers a prescription for a significantly improved Parent Trigger policy going forward.

ALEC Model Bill: The Parent Trigger
Written and introduced by The Heartland Institute, this American Legislative Exchange Council bill outlines a recommended Parent Trigger policy. This is a useful guide in developing Parent Trigger legislation.

A New Model of School Reform: The Parent Trigger
This op-ed was featured in several Indiana publications and makes the economic and academic cases for instituting a Parent Trigger policy in Indiana.

Heartland Experts React to Indiana’s New Education Agenda
Heartland Institute scholars analyze the ambitious plans for reform announced by Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett and Gov. Mitch Daniels. Bennett includes the Parent Trigger among his favored reform options.

‘Parent Trigger’ Proposals Spread Across Nation
Ben Boychuk, managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News, reports on the rapid spread of Parent Trigger bills across the nation. He points out the draft parent trigger legislation in Indiana offered by State Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis) would provide “tuition payments for students who wish to transfer from the school to another school corporation or a nonpublic school.”

Parent Empowerment and Teacher Professionalism: Teachers’ Perspective
In a study of Israeli school choice programs, Tel Aviv University professors Audrey Addi-Raccah and Rinate Arviv-Elyashiv find that increased parent empowerment created a greater sense of accountability among teachers. “Teachers employed political means: open communication and transparency to boost parents’ confidence and trust in their teaching skills or diplomacy to avoid conflicts,” they write. 
The Effects of Parent Training Programs on Child Performance and Parent Behavior
Stanford University’s Barbara Goodson and Robert Hess review several programs that empower parents. All the programs produced significant academic gains, and the content of the program itself was found to be of minimal influence. The authors find that the simple act of empowering parents produces measurable gains in student achievement.

School-Family Partnerships: Promoting the Social, Emotional, and Academic Growth of Children
This collection of essays by prominent researchers in educational psychology, including Heartland Institute Board Chairman Herbert Walberg and Sam Redding, identifies a host of benefits from increased parent empowerment. Among the findings: “parents with partnership-focused role construction tend to model the skills of communication and cooperation that are valuable in classroom learning. Actively involved parents are also likely to reinforce students’ valuing of active engagement in learning and to teach them to engage effectively.”


For further information on the subject, visit the School Reform News Web site at or The Heartland Institute’s Web site at

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, contact Marc Oestreich, legislative specialist in education, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].