Research & Commentary: Parent Trigger Success in Adelanto

Published August 6, 2012

A judge recently ruled that a Parent Trigger petition from parents in Adelanto, California is valid and their request to convert their children’s school to a charter must go into effect.

California is the first state to pass a Parent Trigger law, which a dozen other states also have considered. It allows a simple majority of parents at a failing school to “trigger” one of several reform options, including close it, convert into a charter school, or hire a new principal and give him or her greater flexibility in running the school.

The parents at Desert Trails Elementary were the first at any school in the nation to employ the trigger, and the judicial decision marks the first time a Parent Trigger has gone into effect.

Critics charge the measure would take state money from traditional public schools and give it to charter schools. They also say not all parents want the power to disrupt schools and the law pits parents against each other and teachers.

Reform advocates note charter schools already have demonstrated better student achievement at lower taxpayer costs than traditional public schools. Public money should go to the most efficient, highest-achieving schools, they say, and not fund incompetence as it so often has in traditional public schools. Schools eligible for the Parent Trigger in California are the 1,300 worst in the state. At Desert Trails last year, fewer than one-third of students passed the state reading exam, fewer than half were proficient in math, and not a quarter were proficient in science.

Reform proponents also say parental authority over their children’s education puts power in the hands of the people who care most deeply about the children involved. The trigger requires parents to work together, not against each other, and simply gives them authority that is rightfully theirs. It also gives them a bargaining chip to make school administrators take their needs more seriously, making resorting to the trigger less likely.

The following documents offer further information about the Parent Trigger ruling regarding Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, California.


District Must Accept Parent Trigger Petition, California Judge Rules
A judge ruled in favor of parents hoping to take over the low-performing Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto, California under the state’s Parent Trigger law, reports School Reform News. This landmark ruling allows the state’s first successful Parent Trigger to take effect. Parents are now seeking an independent operator to run the school and give them more control over curriculum and policies.

Triggering Reform at Public Schools
Parent Trigger laws are an intriguing experiment afoot in some of the nation’s struggling public schools, writes Andrew Kelly in Phi Delta Kappan. Reformers should direct more attention to encouraging stability and patience with implementation after reforms have been triggered, he says. Parent Trigger laws need attention to the rules and institutions necessary to build stability so they don’t lead to the same policy churn, inefficiencies, and persistently troubled schools that exist today.

Ruling in High Desert Case Is a Victory for School Reform in California
A ruling in a San Bernardino County court is another victory for education reform in an ongoing battle to give parents in California the power to fix failing schools, write the editors of the San Bernardino Sun. The editors trace the context of the law and its short history in the state, concluding the success or failure of Desert Trails’ reform could inspire or discourage parents at other failing schools.

Schooling Them: ‘Parent Trigger’ Is a Big Deal—But Systemic Education Reform Is Bigger
Judge Steven Malone’s ruling for the parents who petitioned to take over Desert Trails Elementary is a significant and positive decision, writes Frederick Hess in The Daily. The parents had no other options for their children, who were forced into a desperate education situation. “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,” he writes. However, parents who exercise this right will need help from school reformers experienced in turning around and running failing schools, he says.

‘Parent Trigger’ Clarity
In addition to clearing the way for reform at the school, the ruling allowing an Adelanto, California Parent Trigger to proceed sends a broader message that school officials cannot undermine California’s law by making parents run in bureaucratic circles, write the editors of the Los Angeles Times. Even so, the complicated process indicates the state needs clearer guidelines for the law. Now, parents of Desert Trails Elementary students can proceed with the possibility of making a big difference for their children and community.

Parent Power: Grassroots Activism and K-12 Education Reform
Education reform advocacy organizations are working to pull parents into larger policy debates over school reform by mobilizing them to lobby policymakers, testify before school boards, and vote for certain policies. Reformers’ high hopes and good intentions often lead to naïve expectations of what parent power can accomplish, however, especially since some recent activism has not drawn on past lessons about community organizing and voter mobilization and because these new reformers face well-financed and practiced special interests: teachers unions. This paper, with contributions from Patrick McGuinn and Andrew Kelly, discusses strategy and outlook for parent power activists, offering recommendations to help them create sustained, successful reform.


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. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].