The Parent Trigger shoots education in the foot

From the Sun Sentinel’s editorial board

It’s understandable that parents who have seen little improvement in their children’s poor-performing Florida schools would have itchy trigger fingers.

So what does the Legislature propose? Putting a powerful weapon in the hands of untrained parents. Last week, state House and Senate committees endorsed so-called “parent trigger” bills that would empower 51-percent parent majorities to select a “turnaround plan” for schools with a three-year streak of poor results.

Florida’s take on a California law that’s getting national attention has, among its cures, converting to a charter school or calling in a private-management company.

Nothing wrong with that. Unless you believe in representative government. That’s just one problem with the parental trigger, a simplistic, legislative overreach that assaults home rule, woos privatization, and leaves complex decisions in novice hands.

Under the bills (HB 1191 and SB 1718), a majority of parental petition-signers could pick an improvement plan. If the school board decides a different plan would work better, the state Board of Education gets to pick a winner — possibly trumping the local school board.

We know this sounds appealing in places like Broward County, where the School Board that is supposed to govern academics has been a mess.

But with a parental trigger, private education companies could chum the waters in beleaguered districts with political campaigns to tilt parents toward privatization. And why not? “For-profit entities,” notes Kathleen Oropeza, a founder of Fund Education Now, could gobble up schools “built and wholly owned by the taxpayers of Orange County” — or any other district.

We’re also troubled that parents — often too busy even for PTA meetings — would face a steep and brief learning curve in making such a game-changing call.

As Mark Phillips, professor of secondary education at San Francisco State University, observed in a Washington Post blog post, “In a society in which prominent politicians dismiss science and mess up their historical facts, it makes perfect sense to turn school decision-making over to parent groups who know little about education.”

Parents should be more involved in education matters. And high-performing charter schools can be a good ingredient in the school-choice stew.

But reforming schools through a parental trigger seems likely to backfire.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/opinion/editorials/os-public-school-triggers-editorial-0130-20120131,0,1021436.story

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