The Parent-Trigger War Continues

by Veronique de Rugy

Several months ago, I mentioned how one California school board was trying to undermine the “parent trigger” reform implemented a few years ago through intimidation of parents and other disheartening methods. As the story continues to unfold, it has become obvious that the school’s main concern is the preservation of its powers rather than the welfare of the students they’re supposed to serve.

The school is called Desert Trails Elementary and is in the Mojave Desert town of Adelanto, Calif. The trigger was initiated last year by parents because of the abysmal performance of the school. As you may remember, the “parent trigger” is a mechanism that allows fed-up parents whose children are in a consistently underperforming school to quickly change the school’s leadership, and the program is perceived as a source of hope for many low-income families. By signing a petition, parents can force reorganization of a school’s management (including replacing staff and curriculum) or convert it into a charter school.

Desert Trails Elementary “has been classified as failing for six years in a row, with 70 percent of sixth-graders not proficient in English and math,” the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The good news is that last month, a California court judge ruled that the parents in Adelanto successfully had pulled the trigger to force change in their children’s failing school. In addition, the judge commanded the school board to let the parents take control of the school as stipulated by the 2010 law. But the school board has refused to allow the conversion into a charter school. The WSJ writes:

A local school board is openly defying a judge’s order, with one member declaring “If I’m found in contempt of court, I brought my own handcuffs, take me away.” So now the stalwarts of the status quo will break the law rather than allow parents school choice. . . .

At a recent hearing, the school board unanimously refused. Instead, the board wants to implement what it calls “alternative governance” reforms: a somewhat longer school day, a “technology infusion into the classroom,” better training of teachers, and a “community advisory committee” to oversee such changes.

So the board’s solutions to the school’s disastrous performance are more computers and better training of teachers who have no incentives whatsoever to change their behavior? The school clearly refuses to transfer control to its customers (parents and children), instead keeping it in the hands of teachers’ unions and other interest groups.

As I have explained before, the parent trigger is not a panacea, but it introduces an element of choice (and hence competition) into a monopoly that has been shortchanging its customers and benefactors for decades. No one would benefit from these reforms more than low-income families, and it would improve income mobility for those at the bottom.

I couldn’t agree more with the Wall Street Journal’s conclusion:

Why isn’t Governor Jerry Brown or Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom holding a press conference in front of Desert Trails Elementary?

Education reform is the civil rights issue of our time, and union obstructionists are the equivalent of Orval Faubus, the Arkansas Governor who tried to block school integration after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. They should be treated with the same moral contempt that they apparently hold for the law and for the children of Adelanto.

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