Research & Commentary: The Parent Trigger, One Year Later

Published December 13, 2011

California passed the first Parent Trigger law in January 2010, taking until September 2011 to confirm permanent regulations governing it. In the meantime, Connecticut, Mississippi, and Texas passed their own versions of the law, and in 2011 14 state legislatures also considered Parent Triggers.

The Parent Trigger allows parents at a school deemed failing, often by No Child Left Behind standards, to petition one of several turnaround measures take place. If a majority of parents sign the petitions, the school district must take action. Turnaround measures vary by state, but they typically include options also specified under NCLB, such as school closure, converting to a charter school, or replacing a significant portion of school staff.

Critics argue the law places too much power in the hands of inexpert parents and could cause great disruption. They say school changes should be made by experts in consultation with teachers and administrators.

Trigger proponents argue schools eligible for the option have been mismanaged for years by the experts Trigger critics trust, and their persistently poor records demand significant and quick action to prevent more students from remaining trapped in the failing system. They also note parents are the only individuals with only their child’s interests at heart, which makes them the most appropriate and ardent child advocates.

Giving parents power over their child’s education, Trigger advocates argue, helps balance the skewed playing field that currently favors special interests. This actually helps prevent parents from having to pull the Trigger because, with it as an option, they have the power to negotiate less-drastic changes.

The following documents offer more information about the Parent Trigger.


Opinion: Triggering School Reform
Wall Street Journal colleagues David Feith and Jason Riley discuss the Parent Trigger on its one-year anniversary in a video editorial. The Trigger gives parents an opportunity to escape the “vise grip” of California teacher unions, Riley says. Feith notes bureaucrats and teacher unions are pushing back at the legislation and have enmeshed the law in regulations and lawsuits.

Pa. Senate Leaves Out Parent-Trigger Plan
Pennsylvania legislators introduced two more Parent Trigger laws as their colleagues excised a rider including the measure from a larger bill that passed the state Senate, reports the Allenton, Pennsylvania, Morning Call. Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and his staff are still pushing for the legislature to pass the Trigger in some form, staffers said.

Lessons of ‘Parent Trigger’,0,470307.story
Despite the drama surrounding the Parent Trigger enacted in California last year, the law has actually evoked much “softer” change and encouraged parents to start engaging schools on their children’s education, states the Los Angeles Times. A well-run parent organization can quietly push school officials to modify schools without resorting to harsher measures such as the petition drives and school changes required when parents pull the Trigger. Giving parents the Trigger means they have less need for it, the editorial board writes.

Proving Why Parents Need a Revolution
The U.S. education status quo is fundamentally broken because adult interests usually trump children’s needs, writes Ben Austin in the Huffington Post. This repeatedly demonstrates the necessity of granting parents power to change failing schools using mechanisms such as the Parent Trigger. Austin then goes toe-to-toe with education commentator Diane Ravitch, explaining why her attacks on the Trigger are false and harmful.

Newton: The Impact of the ‘Parent Trigger’,0,2880188.column
The Parent Trigger has emboldened California parents to take control of their child’s education, writes Jim Newton in the Los Angeles Times. Their example has inspired parents elsewhere to start mobilizing into community groups and “parent unions” to lobby for their children against special interests in public schools.

The ‘Parent Trigger’ in California: Some Lessons from the Experience So Far
After passing the first Parent Trigger law in 2010, California took nearly a year to approve final regulations in the face of lawsuits against it, writes Ben Boychuk in a Heartland Institute Policy Brief. Strong special-interest activism against the law has kept it from functioning in California, though the concept has spread to more than a dozen other states since then. Boychuk explains how the California Trigger experience could guide implementation elsewhere.



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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].