When it comes to schools, parents would rather fight than switch

The new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll certainly speaks to growing unrest and division on education issues in our country and, with it, an increasing acceptance of learning alternatives. But the question it asked on one of today’s most polarizing issues – parent trigger laws – is worth examining for what it says about the ideals we all share.

Gallup did not use the term “parent trigger” or describe charter school as a specific alternative in its question, which will no doubt cause critics of the laws to discount the findings. But the question was certainly direct as to intent: “Some states are considering laws that allow parents to petition to remove the leadership and staff at failing schools. Do you favor or oppose such laws in your state?”

That 70 percent of all respondents and, even more interestingly, 76 percent of public school parents support such laws is a powerful statement of ownership that should please all sides. Leave aside the merits of converting a public school to a charter school based on a majority vote of parents. The basic thrust of the question is whether parents should have extraordinary power to fix the school to which their students are assigned. This is not asking whether they want options to leave the school, but instead whether they want tools to stay put and roll up their sleeves and make things better.

In Florida, some of the parent groups who fought a trigger bill this year seemed to miss the degree to which they share common values with parents who want more authority. What they share is an allegiance to the most traditional form of education – the district-operated neighborhood school. They both want a neighborhood school that works for their children. Though the parent trigger debate may continue to provoke fights over how much authority to give to parents, this poll tells us that parents are not ambivalent and detached. They want to be a part of the solution. To borrow the words of an ancient Tareyton commercial, they’d rather fight than switch.

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BY Jon East

Jon East is special projects director for Step Up For Students. Previously, he was a member of the editorial board and the Sunday commentary editor at the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest daily newspaper, where he wrote about education issues for most of his 28 years at the paper. He was also a reporter and editor at the Evening Independent and Ocala Star-Banner. He earned a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.