Parent Trigger

Parent centers proliferating at LAUSD, leading to better test scores, attendance and engagement


One of the most popular classes at 20th Street Elementary School has 43 dedicated students who come twice a week.

They’re all parents.

The parents of this 600-student school just south of downtown Los Angeles come here to learn English. They do projects for teachers. They discuss school issues. Their children even help them with their English homework. And it’s all taking place at one of the most active rooms on campus: the parent center.

LA Unified officials, board member Monica Garcia and about 50 parents gathered Tuesday to dedicate the new parent center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and student performances. The ceremony also marked a healing of sorts among divided parents who had twice moved to use a “parent trigger,” a California law that allows parents to take over a failing school.

District officials and the school board have come to realize that encouraging more parent centers on school campuses leads to more community engagement, higher attendance and eventually better test scores and higher graduation rates.

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LA parents head to Sacramento for this week’s vote to plead for an overall rating to assess schools

“In the absence of a summative rating for a school, it becomes very difficult for families to hold schools accountable for what happens within the walls,” said Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents push for better educational opportunities in their neighborhoods including using the “parent trigger” law to take over low-performing schools.

His group, as well as Families in Schools, Innovate Public Schools, Speak UP and Students for Education Reform have launched a petition asking the state Board of Education to adopt an overall rating system.

Litt said even though schools’ API scores haven’t been updated for two years, parents are still relying on them to evaluate a school because it’s something they can understand.

Litt said he is encouraged by some moves the board has made in choosing specific indicators, such as evaluating schools based on climate and how many students are being suspended.

“We just think the state board needs to finish the job and provide an overall summative rating,” he said.

A summative rating might be a number or a letter, or it could be a categorization of a school based on a color (green, yellow or red), or an assessment, such as low, improving, quality or excellent, Litt said. The group is not advocating for a return to the API score.

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Despite district rules, Haddon Elementary increases enrollment and decreases absenteeism with unique programs


Haddon Elementary Avenue School is so in demand that families want to drive their children across the San Fernando Valley from Granada Hills to attend the Pacoima school.

Haddon is not a charter school, it’s not a new pilot program and it’s not a magnet school (yet). It’s a traditional Title 1 district school in a low-income Latino neighborhood that has been there since 1926.

But it wasn’t always growing. And in fact it had to fight district rules that prohibited families from moving to the school.

Five years ago, parents were so fed up with the school that they initiated a “parent trigger” to try to take over the school from the district. The trigger was never pulled, and a new principal came in who brought programs students wanted, like a Mariachi class, a robotics program and an award-winning speech and debate team.

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California ‘Parent Trigger’ Battle Ends in Compromise

By Jenni White

California’s 20th Street Elementary School will be under new management this fall after a group of parents used the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the “parent trigger” law.

California’s 20th Street Elementary School will be under new management this fall after a group of parents used the state’s Parent Empowerment Act, also known as the “parent trigger” law, to reach an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

California’s parent trigger law allows parents dissatisfied with their children’s low-performing school to sign a petition to intervene by  “replacing all or some of the staff, turning the school over to a charter operator, transforming it through some programs, or closing the school altogether,” according to the California Department of Education website.

The first “trigger” 20th Street parents pulled on LAUSD in 2014 led to an agreement with the district to provide several concessions to improve the floundering school. Parents were not satisfied with the district’s level of fulfillment of its promises, and they filed a second parent trigger petition in February 2016, which 262 parents signed. The district initially rejected the second petition, saying it wasn’t valid because the district is exempt from using the performance measurement the petition requested.

The two sides reached a deal in July, avoiding a lawsuit. Accepting the district’s concession 20th Street would not become an independent charter school, parents chose to join the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization that manages 17 other Los Angeles schools. In a press release, LAUSD said, “The Partnership is dedicated to bringing additional resources to high-need schools and generating innovative solutions that can be implemented districtwide.”

Persistence Seen as Key

Gabe Rose—chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, the group that helped organize the petition drive to activate both parent trigger campaigns—says parents had to keep pushing the district to provide results.

“We first met some of the 20th Street parents back in March 2014, when they approached us asking for help,” Rose said. “They were very frustrated with their school’s performance, but they felt like they hadn’t been able to get the district to make changes on their own. We’ve been working with them and helping them ever since.”

Rose says the second petition was necessary, because after the district “[promised] parents the moon, everything felt like business as usual.”

Parent Victory

Rose says the parent trigger parents are satisfied with the agreement.

Partnership for Los Angeles Schools is an organization that runs schools within LAUSD; [it] has a proven track record of raising achievement at the lowest-performing schools in LAUSD, where they currently run 17 schools,” Rose said. “It is empowered to manage the day-to-day instructional program at the school. Parents wanted new management for the school that could deliver on promises of change, and they believe that is what they have now.”

‘Parents Back in Charge’

Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says the parent trigger law gives parents the power they deserve.

“The beauty of the law is that it takes teachers unions out of the picture and puts parents back in charge,” Sand said. “Instead of bureaucrats and union bosses making decisions about a child’s education, it puts parents front and center.”

Sand says the parent trigger law also functions as a spur for change.

“It’s sad it has to come to that, but if a school has become complacent, a [parent trigger] jolt may be just what the doctor ordered,” Sand said. “Parent Empowerment threatens the education status quo, and that’s just what a sclerotic system needs.”

Jenni White (jlwplusdmw@gmail.comwrites from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Originally posted at The Heartland Institute.

First ‘Parent Trigger’ School Can Stay In District-Owned Building, Arbitrator Rules

By Sarah Tully

The first school in the nation to successfully use a “parent trigger” law can stay in its building after winning a dispute with the school district.

Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, in Adelanto, Calif., began classes this month for the 2016-17 school year just days after an arbitrator ruled that it could remain in the school building, which is owned by the Adelanto Elementary School District, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

Desert Trails became the first school to successfully convert to a charter after parents petitioned to take over the low-scoring school through the 2010 Parent Empowerment Act. After a bitter dispute, Desert Trails and the Adelanto district entered into a charter agreement, which included use of the facility, from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2016.

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In Parent-Trigger School Fight, Kirkland Lawyers Get an A+

By Jenna Green

The kids are already back in school at Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto, California, a dusty town of 32,000 in the Mojave Desert. School officials keep the break short so the kids don’t fall behind.

That the independent charter school’s 500 pupils have a campus to return to is due in large part to pro bono efforts by a team of litigators from Kirkland & Ellis, who won an essential ruling from an arbitrator last week.

It’s the latest victory for Kirkland in a long and controversial fight involving the so-called parent-trigger movement, which gives parents the power to force change at failing public schools.

It’s gone from ranking tenth out of the 10 elementary schools in the district to number three in English and number five in math.

Great, right? But that’s not the happy ending.

In December, the local school board voted not to renew the school’s charter.

“Sadly, rather than applauding [Desert Trails] and supporting its continued success, the district is attempting, yet again, to destroy [Desert Trails] and ‘take back’ the school–this time, by manufacturing a series of illegitimate ‘findings’ as a pretext to deny [Desert Trail’s] petition to renew its charter,” Holscher, Weinstein and Danna wrote in March a petition demanding arbitration.

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LAUSD inks deal to avoid ‘parent trigger’ or lawsuit at southeast LA elementary school

The Los Angeles Unified School District has inked a deal bringing in an outside school turnaround group to run 20th Street Elementary School, averting a protracted court battle over a long-running “parent trigger” effort that would’ve wrested the school from the district’s control.

Under terms of a five-year agreement released Tuesday, the Partnership for L.A. Schools — a non-profit created by former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that already operates 17 schools — would assume control over most day-to-day operations at the school just south of downtown.

The decision represents a compromise between the district and parent advocates at the school, who in February petitioned the district to allow an independent charter operator to run the school. Under California law, if parents at low-performing schools gather enough signatures, the school district can be forced to introduce changes, including converting the school to a charter.

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California charter schools involved in multiple political battles

L.A. Unified has rejected petitions for new charters based on the state’s “parent trigger” law that allows parents to seek control of their poor-performing schools.

The rationale for rejection is that the Academic Performance Index, which rates schools and has been the basis for parental intervention, has been suspended by the state pending the creation of a new accountability system.

Reformers have accused the state Board of Education of dragging its feet and favoring a “multiple measures” system that, critics say, would not give parents a clear picture of their schools and thus undercut the parent trigger process.


Watts teachers urge public notice for parent trigger campaigns

The 2010 parent trigger law allows parents at persistently low-peforming schools to petition for sweeping changes, including overhauling staff and curriculum, closing the campus or converting to a publicly funded, independent charter.

The campaign against Cobian, launched by parents dissatisfied with her leadership and failure to raise the school’s low test scores quickly enough, marked the first success in removing an administrator under the law.

Platas also said teachers would push for public notification that petitions were about to be  submitted to give parents who want to withdraw their signatures the chance to do so. A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge ruled last year that the law does not allow recisions, but parents are allowed to remove their signatures before submission.

Ben Austin, Parent Revolution’s executive director, said the organization calls back all who sign a petition before submission to give them an opportunity to withdraw. But he said he would consider sending out a notice of the intent to submit to give parents a final chance to change their minds. Notification should not be sent out so far in advance that it would give petition opponents time to “scare” people into rescinding, he added.

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Research & Commentary: The Parent Petition in Michigan

The education system in Michigan, especially in Detroit, is in dire need of reform.

Only 5 percent of Detroit 4th graders and 4 percent of 8th graders tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Only 6 percent of 4th graders and 7 percent of 8th graders tested proficient in reading, and just two tests administered since 2009 have seen enough Detroit students score “advanced” in reading to provide a significant enough sample to reach 1 percent; no test in math has managed to reach that low bar.

Michigan’s NAEP scores as a whole are not much better than Detroit. Only 34 percent of 4th graders and 29 percent of 8th graders were proficient in math in 2015, while 29 percent of 4th graders and 32 percent of 8th graders were proficient in reading. Essentially, these results show Michigan’s public schools are failing to educate roughly seven out of 10 4th grade and 8th grade students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics. The state’s sub-standard performance on NAEP underscores the desperate need for the state to expand school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in the Great Lakes State are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives.

One possible avenue to help bring choice in education to Michigan parents is by passing a Parent Petition law. A Parent Petition law says that if a majority of parents and guardians of children attending a public school sign a petition demanding reform, then the school district must do as the parents ask. A typical Parent Petition law allows parents to demand that their local public school be shut down and their children assigned to nearby schools that are not failing, or that the school be converted into a charter school, or reorganized following the guidelines put forward in the national Race to the Top program. Some bills call for universal choice by giving parents opportunity scholarships to enroll their children in private schools. Seven states have adopted some version of the Parent Petition, with California being the first to do so in 2010.

The Parent Petition is an opt-in approach to reform, meaning if parents do not want it in their community, it does not happen. It is not a one-size-fits-all reform that might play very differently in a rural area than in an urban area, for example, and it does not insist that a central planner somewhere knows what is best for every school district.

Parent Petition laws should make the mechanism as transparent and easily implemented by parents as possible by having clear definitions and eligibility standards, as well as a specific timeline for petition so the parents retain majority control. When correctly drafted, Parent Petition laws provide a clear path for parents to follow by specifying what their reform choices are, who can sign a petition and how many signatures are necessary, and how to submit the petition.

The Parent Petition is a powerful education reform because it is a bottom-up tool for school reform, not another top-down reform that is likely to be deformed and undermined by the bureaucracies that must implement it. It is flexible – parents and policymakers can make choices about what schools should be triggered and what reform model should be chosen. It is democratic rather than autocratic, opt-in rather than one-size-fits-all, and popular with parents and politicians of both major parties. It would be a welcome start for the educational choice movement in Michigan.

The following documents provide more information about the Parent Petition and educational choice.

The Parent Trigger: Justification and Design Guidelines
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief presents the rationale for empowering parents with Parent Trigger legislation and offers design guidelines for parents and elected officials interested in crafting legislation for their city or state. Written by Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast and Research Fellow Joy Pullmann, it is a companion piece to two earlier reports Heartland published on the Parent Trigger, carrying the analysis considerably further by citing many of the bills that have been introduced since the first two studies were written. It also draws on experience with the young laws to improve on earlier ideas.

Ten Principles of School Choice
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 school vouchers are constitutional, grassroots activists around the country have been organizing to support the creation of school choice programs. Legislatures passed statewide programs in Colorado and Florida, and other states are expected to follow their lead. At least 35 cities have privately funded voucher programs. This booklet from The Heartland Institute provides policymakers and civic and business leaders with a highly condensed and easy-to-read guide to the debate. It presents the 10 most important principles of the school choice movement, explaining each principle in plain and precise language. It also contains an extensive bibliography for further research, including many links to documents available on the Internet, and a directory of the websites of national organizations that support school choice.

The Legal Landscape of Parental-Choice Policy
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris cleared away the most significant obstacle to the expansion of private school choice programs by ruling the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not preclude faith-based schools from participating in private school choice programs. These programs raise other important legal questions, which fall into four categories: the scope of students’ rights to an education and parents’ rights to choose their children’s schools; state constitutional obstacles to private school choice; the effect of laws governing racial integration and the inclusion of disabled students; and the religious liberty implications of faith-based schools participating in such programs. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) writes the lack of clarity on these questions poses challenges, but AEI also says these questions create opportunities for proponents of private school choice to scale up existing programs and expand program options.

The Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement
On average, children attending charter elementary schools perform better in reading and math than those in traditional public schools, finds a University of Washington study of the highest-quality research available. Students at charter middle schools also outperform their traditional counterparts in math. The study’s authors, economists Julian Betts and Emily Tang, reviewed 40 studies of charter school achievement that randomize students studied through lotteries and account for a student’s history of achievement using value-added comparisons—research considered the “most rigorous” by scientific standards.

Lessons from the California Experience
After nearly 18 months and despite a steady stream of publicity, California’s Parent Trigger has yet to be implemented successfully in any school, notes Ben Boychuk in a Heartland Institute Policy Brief. In 2011 at least 14 states considered some form of Parent Trigger. Several of those bills failed in part because opponents cited California’s experience with the law. It’s far from clear, however, why opposition from vested interest groups should discredit the Parent Trigger or obviate the need for it. This paper shows the Parent Trigger concept remains as sound as ever, and the Golden State’s experience suggests how the law and accompanying regulations could be strengthened to make it more attractive for parents and effective as a reform mechanism.

Issues 2016: Charter Schools Are Better at Retaining Hard-to-Educate Students
This Issue Brief, authored by Marcus A. Winters of the Manhattan Institute, explains how students with disabilities are more likely to remain in charter schools than traditional public schools. The study also found students learning English and students with low test scores are more likely to remain in charter schools than traditional public schools.

Markets vs. Monopolies in Education: A Global Review of the Evidence
This paper from the Cato Institute examines the success achieved by school choice programs across the globe. The authors find the efficiency rate (student achievement per dollar spent on education) of private education options was higher compared to the public education efficiency rate in 23 of the studies surveying foreign countries, and only three of those studies found equal or greater efficiency in public schools.

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.

How School Choice Programs Can Save Money
This Heritage Foundation study of the fiscal impact of voucher programs notes Washington, DC vouchers cost only 60 percent of what the city spends per pupil in government schools. The study estimates if the states with the top eight education expenditures per pupil adopted voucher programs similar to the Washington, DC program, they could save a combined $2.6 billion per year.


Excerpts of this Research & Commentary were taken from The Heartland Institute Policy Brief titled “The Parent Trigger: Justification and Design Guidelines,” which was authored by Joseph L. Bast and Joy Pullmann and published in November 2012.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Nathan Makla, Heartland’s government relations manager, at or 312/377-4000.

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High stakes over ‘parent trigger’: Closed session discussion tries to avoid 20th Street lawsuit

The LA Unified school board broke into a surprise closed session for several hours Tuesday afternoon in the middle of their public meeting in order to head off a potential “parent trigger” lawsuit over 20th Street Elementary School.

All morning, the school board was in closed session to discuss employee actions, contract renewals and pending litigation. Then, in the middle of the 1 p.m. public meeting, school board secretariat Jefferson Crain said they were going into closed session again to discuss the potential litigation involving the elementary school.

Board member Monica Garcia, who has worked with the 20th Street parents to try to solve the issues, said Wednesday that the closed-door session wasn’t merely to stop the threatened lawsuit.

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Parent-Trigger Efforts in California Hit Stumbling Blocks

By Sarah Tully

The parent-trigger movement that allows parents to petition to take over failing schools is hitting obstacles in California because the system to determine if schools are indeed failing is in transition.

In 2010, California was the first state to pass a so-called parent-trigger law, which allows parents to overhaul schools that are determined as failing by turning them into charters, removing the administration, or taking other measures. It’s also the only state, out of six that have such laws, to successfully execute a campaign.

But now California school officials and parent advocates have different opinions about how to figure out which, if any, schools are actually failing and are subject to parent-trigger campaigns.

Two school districts—Los Angeles Unified and Anaheim City—rejected parent-trigger petitions because, they argue, the test scores are outdated.

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