Sunday, September 2, 2012

How about a “community trigger”?

The latest idea being pushed by education “reformers” is the “parent trigger.” Under this proposal, if the majority of parents at a school sign a trigger petition, the parents can then take control and “transform” the school.

The proposal is not only unwise, but fraudulent. None of the parent trigger proposals would enable the parents to withdraw from No Child Left Behind’s mandatory philosophy that raising standardized test scores is the sole goal of education. Proponents of the trigger assert that it “allows parents to pick from a host of empirically tested school reform strategies,” which is a nice way of saying that their choices are limited to only those options that the “reformers” have approved of in advance – for example, starting a charter school, getting a voucher for a private school, or closing the school entirely. If you want a school that doesn’t share the reformers’ values, sorry, no empowerment for you. (See this post.)

Moreover, why should parents have sole control over any public school? Isn’t the whole idea behind public schooling that education benefits the entire community, and thus the community should establish and fund schools? On what basis could non-parents be excluded from any say over the public schools? (Read, for example, Suzanne Lamb’s defense of why she, as a homeschooling parent, still cares about what happens at her local public schools.) But the public nature of public schools has never been favored by the reform crowd, who are privatizers at heart.

Why not have a “community trigger”? If the citizens of a school district want to pursue their own educational policies, we could let them. You wouldn’t even need a petition, you could just empower the school boards that already exist. Come to think of it, you wouldn’t even need a gimmicky name like “community trigger”; you could just use words we already have, like federalism, pluralism, and democracy.


Doris said...

I'm not sure where to post this question, but what do you think about the organization Parents Across America? I notice that no chapter shows up in Iowa, but to the best I could tell, the ideas they are promoting seem pretty much in line with the kind of critique I would make of the top-down corporate agenda of triggers, races, and the like. (Honestly, the language itself is kind of scary. Trigger?) I am not by nature a political activist, but I'm thinking about emailing them for info about how one starts a chapter.

Given my druthers, though, I wouldn't actually use the word "parents"--precisely for the reasons you raise in this post. You don't have to be a parent to care about the future of public education in this country.

Chris said...

Doris -- They do seem like a good organization. (Here's their mission statement. There's a link about starting a chapter, by the way, here.

My feeling is that parents rightly feel deprived of meaningful input, but only because all ordinary citizens have been deprived of meaningful input by the increasing state and federal intervention in education, which have largely exempted educational policymakers from democratic accountability. I think giving local school boards real control over school policy would give parents the say they're looking for, without giving them any special privilege over other citizens.

Doris said...

I decided to go through with it, but the link page tells you to fill out a form if you want to start a chapter, and on my computer no form is appearing. Maybe I just need to update my computer software? Does a form appear on your computer?

Chris said...

I don't see the form either. And I can't find any contact info. Not a good sign.