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Bruno: Lack of Responsibility in Parent Trigger Laws

20110423_IRD000Rachel Levy has a thoughtful take on "parent trigger" laws informed by her dual experience as both a parent and a teacher. She makes a key point that I think warrants a little elaboration, saying:

What really struck me was what the parents wanted, why they were organizing a a parent trigger: They want smaller classes, more art, music, and other subjects beyond reading and math. The parents refer to these as "reforms" but most educators would call them essentials; most public schools and educators want these things as well.  It seems, to me at least, that it is the state that isn't providing what they want. Surely, there are other problems and I don't blame these parents for being upset. I'd be upset. But it sounds like they want the school to provide what the state doesn't have the will or means to provide.

As I mentioned in the comments over there, it's particularly ironic that California is serving as a testing ground for this sort of intensely-direct democracy. California, after all, is already notorious for demonstrating the dangers of a system of government in which voters can mandate that the government provide specific services without having at the same time the ability or responsibility to procure the required resources by, for example, raising taxes.

The issue isn't, as RiShawn Biddle suggests, that "families make smart decisions" in other parts of their lives and so should be trusted to make them about schools. In other parts of their lives families can not only strive for the things they want, they are also responsible for the costs of acquiring them. Parent trigger laws are diverse, but generally involve divorcing decisions about resource allocation from concerns about resource acquisition in a way that I think California has already demonstrated is unwise.

And it's not as though families don't or can' t have a voice in their local schools anyway. I'm both grateful for the involvement of families in my school's operations and glad that decision-making at our site can consider the wishes of parents without being bound by them. Frankly, educational decision making isn't just about what one particular group of people want; it's about doing the best you can for everyone with the resources available to you. I don't think of that as a particularly subtle distinction, but it's one that parent trigger laws seem not to acknowledge. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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Parent Revolution, the nonprofit organization backing the latest CA parent trigger petition in Adelanto, needs to apply some common sense. They had parents sign two different petitions and submitted the least favorite one to the district. They call it strategy to get district to negotiate. State Senator Gloria Romero, the author of the parent trigger law, initially called their two petition strategy a dubious strategic choice. No wonder parents rescinded their signatures. You only need one petition at the ready to threaten a district to negotiate under the parent trigger law - not two. How does having parents sign two different petitions and submit the least favorite choice a strategy to convince a district to negotiate? I'm in favor of parent empowerment and that argument sounds dubious to me too.

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