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In 2010, California enacted legislation which empowers parents to take control of a poor performing school; three other states (Connecticut, Mississippi, and Texas) have similar laws. California’s “Parent Trigger Law” was recently put to the test by parents at Desert Trials Elementary School in Adelanto, California (Simon, 03.20.2012) and though the “school board has not yet ruled on whether the trigger petitions are valid,” the school board will take public comments this week (Simon, 03.20.2012).

Policy is often used as a means to have a conversation; parent trigger laws are no exception:

 “When big decisions about schools are made, there typically are only two players at the table, the teachers union and the district,” said Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution. “What we’re saying is, we need a third seat at the table for parents. Before, when they complained, they’d be told to go do a bake sale…” (Simon, 03.20.2012)

 “It gives parents the authority and that negotiation tool that parents will need because right now we don’t have a voice when it comes to this district,” said Ernest Flagler, a leader with Rochester Parents United. (Chodak, 03.06.2012)

Rochester School Board President Malik Evans is reserving judgement [sic]. “I think this is just a conversation around legislation, I don’t know where it’s going, I just think it’s a way we can engage people, I’m very interested in parents being involved in their parents education,” Evans said. (Chodak, 03.06.2012)

Public schools don’t belong to the 51 percent of the parents whose children are enrolled this year. They don’t belong to the teachers or administrators. They belong to the public. They were built with public funds. The only legitimate reason to close a neighborhood public school is under-enrollment. If a school is struggling, it needs help from district leaders, not a closure notice… Collaboration—not hostile takeovers—is the most effective way to improve their public schools. (Ravitch, 03.20.2012)

 As many as 20 states have considered enacting parent trigger lawsDo these laws give parents the first real power over their children’s education? Or do they put public schools in private hands and impede real improvements? (New York Times, 03.18.2012)

For years, organizations like [Education Trust] have worked on behalf of those who have been systematically disempowered by their schools. We work tirelessly to fashion more effective tools to help them move from the sidelines to the center of the battle for quality education. So, initially, the trigger seemed promising… But recent events in Michigan give me pause. Michigan is one of many states considering a parent trigger law. The strongest proponents of Michigan’s legislation are not the community-based organizations that represent the families stuck in failing schools. Instead, they’re the businesses that run 84 percent of the charter schools in the state. If these companies were providing kids with a strong, rigorous education, it would be hard to object. But indications are quite the opposite. (Wilkins, 03.18.2012)

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times read “Another ‘parent trigger’ mess” (03.20.2012) opines about the signature/petition validity– an obvious technicality in the spirit of the legislation when viewed from the perspective of (disempowered) parents seeking change. Of course, this might not be the only area where the spirit of the legislation is lost (see above Ravitch; Wilkins).

The answer for educational leaders is not necessarily any form of legislation, “parent trigger laws” as one example, which seeks to “legislate away” a problem:

Such policies are reactive measures to underlying issues – real or perceived – and fail to address the underlying issues that move states to the point of proposing such laws or initiating state takeovers of local districts.

 Consider, too, that implementation or action related to a policy may not happen or happen as anticipated; one example of this is a finding from Jacob’s study of Chicago Public Schools “that 38.8% to 46.2% (28% to 34%) of elementary (secondary) principals—including those in some of the worst performing schools in the district—did not dismiss any teachers despite how easy it was to do so under the [2004 collective bargaining agreement] policy” (Jacob, p. 404).

In our applied research and practice we find that leader actions and decisions are important in creating great schools, and that great teachers make great schools. Low-performing schools can turnaround with effective leadership; and effective leadership results in improved learning results, improved parental satisfaction and improved teacher performance.


Simon, Stephanie. (03.20.12). Hostile takeover: Parents seek control of failing school in education reform. Available online here.

Chodak, Adam. (03.06.2012). “Parent Trigger” Law Proposed for Rochester Schools. Available online here.

Ravitch, Diane. (03.20.2012). Another Battle in the War Against Public Schools. The Opinion Pages of the New York Times. Available online here.

Editorial. (03.18.2012). Hope and Fears for Parent Trigger Laws. The Opinion Pages of the New York Times. Available online here.

Wilkins, Amy. (03.18.2012). Make Sure Parents, not Companies, Have Power. The Opinion Pages of the New York Times. Available online here.

Editorial. (03.20.2012). Another ‘parent trigger’ mess. The Los Angeles Times. Available online here.

Jacob, Brian. (2011). Do Principals Fire the Worst Teachers? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. Online version available here.

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