The best parent trigger: school choice

“Won’t Back Down,” the Hollywood movie that’s linked to the idea of a parent trigger to jumpstart problem schools, open in theaters Friday. And while I have no surveys to back me up, I get the sense that while plenty of people on the “ed reform” side are sympathetic to the parent trigger, a good smattering of them aren’t all in. Neerav Kingsland counts himself among them.

Kingsland is CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, and has been a key player in the radical transformation of that city’s school system. In this essay for Title I-derland, he says while he understands the motivations behind the parent trigger – and in many ways admires the idea – he thinks there is a better strategy for empowering parents to improve schools: Give them more choice. Here’s a taste:

As with other reforms – like legislating value-added performance evaluation – I worry that the Parent Trigger addresses symptoms of our broken system and not its root causes. In short, it is another example of well-meaning educators falling to the temptation of adding another reform to our unworkable system.

Specifically, I worry that Parent Trigger laws will be better at destroying bad schools than creating excellent schools. The crux of it is this: Parent Trigger laws combine two actions – (1) parent empowerment and (2) parent influence over management – when only the first action is necessary for real change. Moreover, involving parents in management may end up decreasing student achievement.

Consider this: if you think Target’s clothes are of low quality, you don’t need a Consumer Trigger that allows 50 percent of customers to initiate an overhaul of the company. Instead, you can just go to Old Navy or Wal-Mart or Sears (or any other store). You express your dissatisfaction with Target – as well as your approval of Sears – through choice. You can protest in front of Target if you wish, but you will look foolish.

Update at 6:27: Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle responds to Kingsland’s piece:

The other problem with Kingsland’s argument against Parent Trigger laws is that he embraces a rather limited vision of school choice as escape from failure. But school choice isn’t just about families moving their kids out of failure mills and dropout factories. It is also about the ability to choose the very structure of education for the kids they love, and the ability to push for reforms directly in their communities. And why not start with the school in their own backyard? Full post here.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at