by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
On Monday, Democratic National Convention attendees had an opportunity to attend a screening of the new movie, "Won’t Back Down." Let’s take a trip to Hollywood via Charlotte, shall we?
"Won’t Back Down" is the story of two parents who "risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children." There is nothing controversial about that. Rather, some liberals object to the way that the parents — played by a pair of particularly attractive actresses, Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal — try to make a difference. Instead of going to the school board to ask them to appoint a committee to examine the deficiencies of the struggling school within the parameters of "the system," they turn to a "parent trigger" law to try to improve the lives of the children who attend the school.
In the real world, a parent trigger allows parents to vote on changing the governance and operation of a failing public school, such as converting it to a charter school or another alternative educational model. Conservatives like the fact that it empowers parents and expands educational options. Liberals simply want educational options so that disadvantaged children are not trapped in failing public schools. According to an article in Education Week, another contingent of liberal education reformers see the parent trigger as a way to allow parents to "unionize and collectively bargain just like teachers’ unions."
Despite growing bipartisan support, parent trigger laws are not widespread. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), six states have enacted some form of parent trigger law since 2010. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas have statewide parent trigger laws that, it should be emphasized, apply only to persistently low-performing schools. The Columbus School District in Ohio also has a parent trigger pilot program. (See Facts and Stats below for additional details on existing parent trigger laws.) NCSL reports that 20 states have considered parent trigger laws during recent legislative sessions.
The idea has been discussed in North Carolina, but no formal legislation has been proposed. Some fear that will change. During the Charlotte screening, longtime Charlotte education activist Pam Grundy was one of a handful of protesters stationed outside of the venue. Apparently, Grundy has not seen the film. Still, she objected to the
"groups who organized the [movie screening] event and their policy ideas" because they promote "relentless charter school expansion." (Just to avoid confusion, increases in the number of charter schools in North Carolina and elsewhere have nothing to do with parent trigger laws. In fact, parent triggers are a particularly burdensome way to expand charter schools, if indeed that is their underlying goal.)
As for the film, I suspect that it will lead to a brief "national conversation" about education reform and school choice. We should welcome the debate while it lasts. But its long-term impact will be similar to "Stand and Deliver," "Dangerous Minds," and "Lean on Me." In other words, I suspect that "Won’t Back Down" will be considered an inspirational and entertaining, but not necessarily transformative, film.
"Won’t Back Down" opens nationwide on September 28, 2012. Go see it with confidence, knowing that the film did not receive a film incentive from the State of North Carolina.
Facts and Stats
Overview of State Parent Trigger Laws
I would like to invite all readers to submit announcements, as well as their personal insights, anecdotes, concerns, and observations about the state of education in North Carolina. I will publish selected submissions in future editions of the newsletter. Anonymity will be honored. For additional information or to send a submission, email Terry at [email protected].
Education Acronym of the Week
NCSL: National Conference of State Legislatures
Quote of the Week
"Those who are so quick to brand these parents as anti-union should take note that all these parents have fought for is the same right to unionize that teachers enjoy. The one difference: parents are not subject to the same pressures that apply to school boards and district bureaucracies and teacher unions. Their one and only agenda is to support their kids. For too long, parents have not had a seat at the table when it came to decisions involving their children’s education. That changed with the passage of the [California] Parent Trigger law in 2010."
– David Phelps, "Recent Criticism Regarding ‘Won’t Back Down’," Parent Revolution blog.
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