A parent trap for public education

/ 13 April 2012 / jennifer

Star Tribune Editorial, April 13, 2012 –

Minnesota education doesn’t need proposed ‘trigger law.’

“I call this the bill from nowhere to nowhere.”
MARY CECCONI, executive director of Parents United for Public Schools
• • •
“I think it’s a great concept — one that gives parents who are feeling a little desperate some hope.”
Rep. JENIFER LOON, R-Eden Prairie, and author of the bill

Give parents more control over school operations, and student performance will improve. That’s the false premise behind a legislative proposal for a “parent trigger” law.

Minnesota can do without it. There is little evidence that similar laws have worked elsewhere. And parents in Minnesota already have a number of ways to exert their influence when they’re dissatisfied with their schools.

Under the proposal, parents could force changes in principals, convert low-performing schools to charter schools, or close them and transfer students to other schools. Only schools that are on the state’s list of lower-performing traditional, charter or alternative public schools would be eligible for intervention. If at least 51 percent of the parents from one of those schools or its feeder schools were unhappy with the program’s performance, they could petition the local school board to implement one of several intervention models.

Petitioning parents could also demand that a school be closed and reopened as a new charter or under the management of a current charter. The idea is that parents could be the “trigger” that forces educational reform and improved achievement.

But in Minnesota, parents already are pulling the trigger on schools that don’t work well for their children. Local families — especially those with students in the most troubled schools — have voted with their feet by switching schools. Ten years ago, about 10,000 students attended Minnesota charter schools. Today, the number has grown to more than 39,000, according to the Center for School Change.

Parents and community members can already band together to create new programs without the trigger law. Families also have a range of options for their children through open enrollment and other choice programs. And voters have influence in every school board election.

We’d agree that it’s important for parents to be involved in school operations and that school boards, administrators and staff should listen and respond to their concerns. However, giving parents more of this kind of control would not guarantee improved achievement. Simply shifting to a charter program — when so many charters do not outperform public schools — may not be the answer.

Until now, parent trigger rules have been adopted in California, Mississippi and Texas. About a dozen other states are considering the legislation this year.

Between 1988 and the mid-1990s, the Chicago school district tried decentralizing schools and giving greater authority to parents on local school councils. Those groups of parents, school staff and community members hired and fired principals, set school budgets, and made decisions about curriculum and other academic matters. Still, the schools got worse — leading the state to give control of the district to the mayor.

In Minnesota, the Republican-backed proposed legislation has generated some interest in the House but appears to have stalled in the Senate. To become state law, it would also need approval from Gov. Mark Dayton, who has expressed skepticism.

Minnesota certainly needs to embrace some education reforms — including teacher tenure law changes — to improve student achievement. But a parental trigger law isn’t one of them.


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