Even a foolproof Parent Trigger mechanism will be of little value without a set of well-researched, time-tested reforms from which parents may choose.
The designers of the California Parent Trigger made a grave mistake by leaving tepid reform modules in the bill and allowing districts to override the parents’ reform choice. Essentially, if parents in California choose to convert their school to a charter school, district officials can decide to implement any of the other reform options instead.
The modules section of a parent trigger bill can be thought of as a vessel for major reforms that can be triggered at the school level. Possible modules could range from a recent reform fad such as teacher merit pay to time-tested voucher programs to experimental overhauls that cannot be instituted as a blanket, statewide policy.
It is important to present parents with truly empowering choices that will dramatically reshape schools. Tired, failed reforms such as those mandated at the federal level as “turnarounds” simply increase bureaucracy and further burden taxpayers. Parent Trigger bills by their nature are mechanisms for flexibility and localized control, so lawmakers should include modules to remedy all sorts of school situations. For example, a rural school would benefit far more from the option to convert to a charter school than from a provision for school closure or public school choice. Conversely, voucher programs or leadership replacement might make the most sense in other settings.
With that in mind, a parent trigger bill should include at least two modules: (1) a school-specific voucher program and (2) conversion to a charter school. Bills without at least one of these modules will not truly empower parents.