Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Chalk Talks- Bold Reform or a Flash in the Pan: Parent Empowerment and the Parent Trigger

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Chalk Talks- Bold Reform or a Flash in the Pan: Parent Empowerment and the Parent Trigger

Article excerpt


Since No Child Left Behind ("NCLB") was enacted, the hope for a better public education system has diminished as many students continue to fall below literacy and math proficiency each year. In this era of school reform, education leaders at all levels typically lead the rally to save America's battered public schools. Creating a monopoly over education reform, leaders and education organizations often leave little room for other stakeholders, such as parents, who are left without a major avenue to affect change.1

Despite excitement at both the 2012 Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention surrounding parent trigger laws,2 legislation that permits parents to petition for school reform, and Won 't Back Down/ a Hollywood depiction of a fictional parent trigger law, legislation that allows parents to determine the method of reform for their low-achieving school remains a relatively new, controversial, and untested concept. Its first manifestation was enacted in California in 2010, and since then, the general idea of parent empowerment and a parent trigger have received both a wide range of praise as well as hefty criticism.4

Controversial groups such as StudentsFirst/ an organization known for its tough stance on union control, have reached out to rally support, arguing that true change in education is possible only through parental leadership.6 Thus far, only two groups of parents in California have sought out "the trigger."7 These attempts erupted into a wave of political organizing, controversy, and a battle cry heard across the nation.

This paper explores the goals of parent empowerment expressed through parent trigger laws, analyzes the movement's trajectory towards its goals, and questions what the law contributes to the lasting education reform. Additionally, this paper discusses the dynamic climate surrounding the parent trigger law and what leaders in education reform may learn from it.


The first parent trigger law appeared in California's Race to the Top application, a program that gives states the opportunity to present options for school reform, rewarding the top proposals with grants.8 Senator Gloria Romero sponsored the law in the hope of giving parents the power to challenge school districts that were "just not doing enough."9 Passed by only one vote, the idea, from the start, was greeted with varying levels of bi-partisan support and quickly caught the attention of national organizations and political leaders.10

To qualify a under the California parent trigger law, a school, not identified as "persistently low achieving"" must:

1 . Fail its Adequate Yearly Progress goals under NCLB for three years,

2. Be under "corrective action" status for at least one year, and

3. Have an Academic Performance Index, a measure ranging from 200 to 1000 with 800 as the state goal, under 800. 12

There are approximately 1,300 failing schools in California that qualify under this criteria. In order to trigger reform, at least half of the parents with children currently enrolled in the school, or with children who will matriculate into the school, must sign a petition stating the specific reform requested." There are only four restructuring options available for states to select for failing schools under NCLB, namely, turnaround, transformation, charter school conversion, and school closure.14 Turnaround requires the school to make specific changes, which often include replacing the principal and staff; transformation is similar to turnaround, but focuses more on operational flexibility; conversion requires the school to be closed and reopened as a charter; and school closure closes the school and redistributes students to higher achieving schools in the district.15 Additionally, no more than seventy-five California schools total can be subject to a petition.16

Despite wide acceptance by advocates, some supporters still point to flaws in the law. …

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