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California's Parent Trigger Isn't About Schools. It's About Power

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Power to the Parents

John Cadiz Klemack

Strength in Numbers: parents call for change in LA School Districts.

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One hot topic in education policy here in California is the so-called "parent trigger," which allows parents to demand changes in failing schools if a majority of them sign petitions.

The trigger has been touted as a bid for education reform, allowing parents to change a school's administration or turn it into a charter.

The trouble with this as school policy is that no one knows if it work.

Parents may be just as myopic and wrong-headed as teachers and administrators in a failing school.

The trigger is so new -- the law is two years old and it's been tried only in one place, Compton, where the courts ultimately threw out parent petition -- that there's no data to suggest whether the parent trigger will be effective, educationally.

But that may not be the parent trigger's real value, or purpose.

The parent trigger is most useful as a tool to give parents -- and the charter school operators who have backed the parent trigger -- a leverage point against the teachers' unions who totally dominate education policymaking in California.

A leading champion of the parent trigger, Ben Austin of the Los Angeles group Parent Revolution, said as much in a conference call this week.

Austin said on the call: “It has more to do with giving parents leverage to bargain."

The call was put together to criticize a national teacher's union after the union's written plan to fight the parent trigger -- and limit parent voices in school governance -- was mistakenly posted on the Internet.

Parent trigger advocates are using the union's mistake to bludgeon teachers' unions around the country for their opposition to the trigger -- and to spread the word about the trigger's possibilities.

Kathryn Baron, writing at the Silcon Valley Education Foundation blog, noted that parents had done something in the controversy that rarely happens: they outmanuevered the teachers' union.

Even if the parent trigger doesn't much change schools, it could help make the education wars a fairer fight.

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