'Parent Trigger' Law in California Spurs Education Reform Debate

'Parent Trigger' Law in California Spurs Education Reform Debate

With support from Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, parents in Adelanto, California, a community of 30,000 on the edge of the Mojave Desert, have petitioned to turn the underperforming local public grade school, Desert Trails Elementary, into a charter school managed by a private company, Reuters reports.

The issue has come to a head thanks to a state law passed in 2010 that permits parents at the state's worst performing public schools to organize, wrest control from their local school districts, and fire teachers and principals or convert their schools into charter institutions run by a for-profit company. According to Reuters, Desert Trails, where more than half the students are unable to pass state math or reading tests, has been struggling to meet state requirements for many years.

However, another group of parents in town, with support from both state and local teachers unions, is working to stop the so-called "trigger petition," challenging the signatures as invalid and questioning the details of the proposed plan. "Where are their lesson plans?" asked former teacher Kimberly Smith, whose two children attend Desert Trails. "What is the curriculum?...How is it better?"

For years, education reforms such as parent triggers have been supported by some of the nation's wealthiest philanthropists, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Los Angeles developer Eli Broad, and the heirs to the Walmart fortune. But union leaders and critics of the charter school movement say there is little evidence to support the contention that the reforms actually work.

For their part, those supporting changes in Adelanto believe the goal of laws like the one passed in California is to give parents more control over their children's education. "When big decisions about schools are made, there typically are only two players at the table: the teachers union and the district," said Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin. "What we're saying is, we need a third seat at the table for parents. Before, when they complained, they'd be told to go do a bake sale. Parent trigger utterly changes the game."