Prior to joining Heartland, Marc was a graduate student at Purdue University studying political psychology and education policy. He enjoys defending liberty, writing about education and technology, music, designing websites, and is a fan of the NFL team in Indianapolis. Go Colts!
Former Senate education staffer and journalist Alexander Russo made our Parent Trigger the subject of his popular education policy blog “This Week In Education.” He addresses 9 of the reasons he feels people are fighting back against the Parent Trigger. Perhaps an exercise in throat-clearing, I figured I’d take this opportunity to defend my baby and pick through his “nine reasons that everyone hates the Parent Trigger.”
To get started on the right foot though, let me briefly offer this disclaimer:
The Heartland Institute supports the Parent Trigger in concept, but not all iterations of it are befitting the greatness of Heartland. The California Parent Trigger bill fails to live up to its billing as a truly parent-empowering piece of policy. Certainly it is the case in California that we are seeing a bit of beta-testing, if you will. The first attempt at drafting such a transformative policy, especially in California (no offense), is likely to be fraught with kinks and bugs. California still deserves an “atta-boy” for being inventive and ballsy.
All that said, as I’ve tried endlessly to explain to my peers in Platonic fashion, a perfect Parent Trigger is possible and we know what it looks like:
With a simple majority, parents from any school can “trigger” 1 of 3 reform options: close the school and allow students to transfer to better-performing public schools, convert the school into a charter school, or give parents vouchers to use at the schools of their choosing.
No need for schools to qualify for this, no caps on how many can be transformed, no ability to veto the demands of parents.
Alright, with that disclaimer out of the way let’s pull apart Russo’s list:
(1) Turnarounds of any kind are high-risk, uncertain propositions that cause a lot of displacement and collateral damage.
Are they? Turnarounds defined under the California law are bureaucratic and expensive (and probably not useful), but the reform options you see in the proposed New Jersey or Indiana version of the Parent Trigger aren’t high-risk or uncertain. They are actually empirically tested and will raise achievement in public and private education.
(2) People — educators — are really angry and feel scapegoated by the recent reform trends (value added, removing charter caps, etc).
Yes. This is certainly a reason for push back. Educators are not being singled out, merely held accountable for the quality of their work. Its sad that accountability is so unusual to them that they feel attacked. I tend to think by-and-large educators do great work. I’ll even take this opportunity to go on record saying that teacher unions do great work as well. The Parent Trigger is the type of accountability that must exist as a balance to the unions.
(3) Current reforms haven’t (yet?) proven to be any more successful or effective than NCLB or anything that’s come before; there’s little to show for RTTT etc.
RTTT is young, there is no reasonable expectation that much would come of it yet. But, without a universal choice option and enough charter schools to be more than extraneous data when figuring the quality of state’s education systems, current reforms are meaningless.
(4) People — educators — are feeling empowered by the emergence of champions like Diane Ravitch and the defeat of opponents like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein.
Let’s hope they’re feeling a false sense of security.
(5) The economy is in the tank and everyone’s worried about jobs, mass layoffs, etc.
When the economy is tanking we see 2 major problems in government: (1) not enough incoming tax revenue to pay for bloated budgets and (2) the need to lower taxes to spur economic resurgence. The Parent Trigger has hugely positive budgetary implications. A 75-percent per-pupil voucher would mean that the state saves 15-percent of cost on every student exercising private-school choice. Charter schools regularly perform better for less money than their traditional peers. In fact, Texas just found that 25-percent of its most efficient schools were charter schools. The Parent Trigger is just what these starving budgets need.
(6) Parent Revolution and its head, Ben Austin, don’t seem to have the personal authenticity and track record to persuade skeptics to give them a chance.
I’ve never felt a great deal of authenticity coming from NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. Regardless of track records, the Parent Trigger movement is hitting high-gear with a dozen states working on their own versions of the legislation; improved, streamlined, and ready to make substantial changes to the face of American education.
(7) Burned in the past or mad at the LA Weekly, the LA Times has decided to emphasize the issues raised by parent trigger opponents rather than the other way around.
(8) Direct democracy — elected school councils in Chicago or state referenda in CA — is a messy business that’s nearly always manipulated by organizers and advocates.
The beauty of the Parent Trigger is that while it is a faux-direct democracy, it isn’t at the same time. Parents are given very limited choices, all of which have been empirically tested to produce better educational outcomes. No matter who’s doing the manipulating, organizing, or advocating, it is impossible to choose a bad option.
(9) Displaced rage against the holiday season.