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Even if never used, "parent trigger" helpful school reform

In all of the excitement surrounding far-reaching school reform legislation that stormed its way out of the Legislature, one thing unnoticed in all of it was institution of the “parent trigger,” which allows parents of a low-performing school to petition that the current governorship of that school be sacked in favor of the Recovery School District. If other states’ experiences are a guide, it will help, but perhaps not much.

Three other states currently have laws like this in place. In Louisiana’s version, a school ranked as failing or the grade above that for three consecutive years, if half plus one of the parents or guardians of children in it sign a petition in the 90-day period after the release of school scores, then the RSD will take it over to decide to run the school as a traditional school or make it into a charter school.

The experience of the innovator of the law, California, has yet to have the device work. A few attempts have been made, but the relative strictness of the process and the somewhat vague nature of the options has doomed each of these. By contrast, Louisiana’s is relatively straightforward, with the only real hurdle being getting fifty percent plus one signatures within 90 days after reporting.

Low-performing schools often crop up in neighborhoods where less-productive adults have congregated to live, to be able to afford by their own efforts or through government subsidy only the housing stock available in such an area. Because of their background, these parents disproportionately place less emphasis on education and would be less likely to mobilize to pull the trigger. Thus, any exercise of this power would depend upon serious organizing efforts that may end up beyond the capacities of the portion of concerned parents and/or groups willing to assist them.

Yet even with this difficulty, the option remains useful. It will sensitize governing authorities to the possibility they fear most, loss of power and privilege through loss of control of a budget unit and remains another incentive tool to force them away from counterproductive strategies of putting special and their own interests ahead of improving performance and the potential of children.

As are the many discrete parts of education reform, like them this by itself does not serve as the panacea for the many ills of Louisiana’s elementary and secondary education. But as one of many parts all together, it will help and improvement would be less likely without it, even if it never gets used.

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