Monday, November 26, 2012

Won't Back Down: A look at Parent Trigger Laws

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I saw the movie Won't Back Down, based on the actual events of two mothers, one a teacher, who fight to take over their failing school.

Here's the trailer for the film:

The plot is based on Parent Trigger Laws, which exist in a handful of states, including California, in which parents can transform failing public schools.

Here's a quick overview of Parent Trigger Laws in California (from the National Conference of State Legislatures): 
  • Qualifying Schools: Must have failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for 3 consecutive years and been in 'corrective action' status under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for at least one year
  • % Signature Required: At least 50% of parents parents either with children enrolled in the targeted school or with children in lower grades that matriculate into the school
  • Intervention options include:
    • replace all staff and faculty relevant to low-performance
    • convert to a charter schools
    • close the school  
There's no question that the movie is one-sided and it has understandably been accused of union-bashing. Here are two contrasting opinions about Parent Trigger Laws from US News:
  •  Michelle Rhee, CEO of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools: Communities Need Parent Trigger Laws 
    • "Far too often, chronically failing schools—the ones that are subject to parent-trigger laws—serve poor and minority communities. These schools, if left unchanged, will perpetuate achievement gaps between minority students and their wealthier, white peers. No child should have to attend such a school, and as concerned citizens we have a special responsibility to close the unconscionably large learning gaps in our country. Poverty can present huge challenges in our schools—I've seen this firsthand—but with the right supports in place, all children can learn at high levels."
  • Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers: Parent Trigger Laws a False Choice
    • "Real parent engagement means establishing meaningful ways for parents to be partners in their children's public education from the beginning—not just when a school is failing. The goal should be to never let a school get to that point. Unfortunately, that's where many of the parent-trigger proposals start, offering parents a false choice: You can either live with a low-performing school or take dramatic, disruptive action to shut a school down."

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