Parent Trigger Reform: A New Age for Community Education?

Aug. 15, 2012 / By

Edgardo Cervano-Soto wrote this article under a New America Media youth-education reporting fellowship, a program supported by the California Education Policy Fund.

When I attended public school, it was common to hear students, parents and school officials demanding more of each other, specifically parent involvement. In many cases, parent involvement and organizing were seen as the missing ingredients to a successful school. Never mind the poverty levels of the surrounding neighborhood, the budget cuts from the state, or the quality of teachers inside the classrooms — all of that would be mitigated if only there were a higher level of parental involvement.

The recent ruling by Superior Court Judge Steve Malone ordering Adelanto Elementary School District in Southern California to accept a parent petition for changes at Desert Trails Elementary has invigorated a movement that has come to be known as “parent-trigger” reform. Parent trigger reform allows parents to demand reforms at low performing schools, provided there is a majority of parents who support those changes. And only California schools with an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 800 or below qualify for the process.

California was the first in the nation to implement the parent trigger law in 2010, and since then more than 22 states have followed.

Yet, no school has undergone a full parent trigger reform and experienced what the process would be like to have parents at the negotiating table, which is why what’s taking place at Desert Trails Elementary is being observed with such scrutiny; it’s the fist school to have this opportunity.

Quoted in the Los Angeles Times, parent-trigger ringleader Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution, a group that is advising and advocating for the parents at Desert Trails, called the reform movement “a new paradigm of power.”

Parent Revolution has been criticized by those who say the organization may be using the local parent union as a pawn in a bigger plan to turn the school over to a charter organization. But whether or not that’s actually the case, and whether or not parent-trigger reform at Desert Trails Elementary ultimately succeeds, the level of involvement being demonstrated by parents at Desert Elementary is one that should be emulated.

School reform is a web, where certainly some win and others lose, but the parent trigger reform ruling places parent involvement squarely in the middle of the discourse about school reform. This in turn sends the message that it is the responsibility of parents and students to hold school officials, and themselves, accountable. Is that such a bad thing?

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