August
15th 2011
Perhaps Parent Trigger Debate Can Take My Mind Off Bad School Choice News

Posted under Innovation and Reform & Parents & School Choice & Teachers & Urban Schools

Many of you know what the big education news around here is. I’m still reeling, and it hurts too much to talk about it. So at least for today, while the emotional wounds are raw, I want to bring your attention to something else you may find of interest.

Not long ago I told you about the revealing news of how the teachers union in Connecticut bragged behind closed doors of working to stop parental empowerment. For me at least, it raised questions behind the demise of Colorado’s own “parent trigger” bill earlier this year.

No matter what you think of the issue, the “parent trigger” has become a hot topic. And the good people at Public Sector Inc. are hosting an online debate between Ben Boychuk of City Journal and New York City special education teacher Julie Cavanagh about the issue. Personally, I agree with Mr. Boychuk and appreciate the powerful opening to his argument:

Empowering parents to compel school districts into enacting reforms is a positive step for improving the public education system. Merely giving parents “a voice” is meaningless if the education establishment is free to simply ignore that voice. “Collaboration” is worthless when one of the collaborators can be routinely locked out of the room.

The “parent trigger” is one way to ensure parents have access to that room, and to give them more than just a voice, but rather a genuine say in reform that the education establishment can neither easily dismiss nor ignore.

The argument of his opponent Ms. Cavanagh reads like talking points for the recent underwhelming and ironic Save Our Schools rally in Washington, D.C. She says that some combination of collaboration, parent engagement and smaller class sizes resulted in improvement at her school.

I certainly don’t doubt Ms. Cavanagh’s account, but I have to ask: What are the school’s demographics — income, race and culture? What are the dominant political views of parents? What other policies were put in place? And how to sustain positive change? Bottom line: While this Brooklyn school apparently didn’t need the “parent trigger” in place to turn things around, does that really mean there aren’t many other situations (like in California) where it would be a valuable tool?

No doubt Mr. Boychuk will respond in the next round. Stay tuned….

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