The threat of the parent trigger and the change it begets

Parent Revolution
Simply the threat of pulling the parent trigger could spur complacent administrators to act.
Photo from Strollerderby.

There is a reason why, after months of resistance, the Adelanto School Board this week voted unanimously to adopt the parent-triggered charter conversion of Desert Trails Elementary: It’s not the same board. Throughout 2012, all five board members had thwarted the efforts of the Desert Trails Parent Union to enact the nation’s first parent trigger, but only two of those board members are serving the district today.

Gone is Carlos Mendoza, the former school board president who went so far as to flout a California judge’s order to accept the parents’ plan to seek a charter operator for the troubled elementary school; in fact, he lost his re-election bid to a member of the Desert Trails Parents Union.  Gone, too, is Jermaine Wright, who vowed to block the schoolhouse door in handcuffs if that’s what it took to prevent a charter conversion. Wright fled the school district as soon as he spotted an opening on the Adelanto City Council.

A third incumbent was voted out in November as well. And the district superintendent left in the fall just as public opinion was mounting against the board and its thuggery. That cleared the way—finally—for the parents of Desert Trails to work with LaVerne Elementary Preparatory Academy nearby in the Mojave Desert to transform the school.

Arguably, the incumbents on the school board may have been thrown out or scared away only because of the impudence they showed to Desert Trails parents.

Ultimately, the trigger threat may motivate school boards to provide more choice.

Ben Austin, the executive director of the Parent Revolution (the group that helped to organize Desert Trails parents), has long said that the trigger can be most effective when used as a bargaining chip. The threat of pulling the trigger could spur complacent district administrators and school board members to respond to parental concerns when they otherwise might not. 

To be sure, whether the parent trigger can be a sustainable reform strategy remains far from clear. As Rick Hess pointed out in the summer, the trigger could be counterproductive if families bicker and ineffectually micromanage their schools (and Desert Trails parents did, indeed, fight with one another early in the process). And New Schools for New Orleans chief Neerav Kingsland may be right when he argues that “choice, not a say in management, is the only real power parents need.”

But ultimately, the trigger threat may motivate school boards to provide more choice—not just in Adelanto but also in the seven states that have their own trigger laws or in the twenty states currently considering the measure.

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