Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University.
Updated March 18, 2012, 7:00 PM
The “parent trigger” must be understood within the current context of vilifying public education. Today, there is a national effort to privatize public schools by turning them over to privately managed charters. This movement is financed by some of the nation’s richest foundations — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.
Collaboration — not hostile takeovers — is the most effective way to improve their public schools.
The demand for parent trigger legislation came from a California group called Parent Revolution. This group is financed by the Gates, Broad and Walton foundations. If these foundations were truly interested in parent empowerment, surely by now they would have underwritten the community-based parent groups in New York City and Chicago that oppose the closing of their neighborhood schools. But they have not.
A parent trigger — a phrase that is inherently menacing — enables 51percent of parents in any school to close the school or hand it over to private management. This is inherently a terrible idea. Why should 51 percent of people using a public service have the power to privatize it? Should 51 percent of the people in Central Park on any given day have the power to transfer it to private management? Should 51 percent of those riding a public bus have the power to privatize it?
Public schools don’t belong to the 51 percent of the parents whose children are enrolled this year. They don’t belong to the teachers or administrators. They belong to the public. They were built with public funds. The only legitimate reason to close a neighborhood public school is under-enrollment. If a school is struggling, it needs help from district leaders, not a closure notice.
Parents in Florida got it right earlier this month. By organizing, they stopped a parent trigger law. No Florida-based parent group supported it. By their actions, they recognized that collaboration — not hostile takeovers — is the most effective way to improve their public schools.