6 Reasons Why Parent Triggers Are A Waste of Time

Anti-Tax group, StudentsFirst Ohio's lobbyist is upset that not a single parent expressed any interest in pulling a parent trigger in any of the 20 Columbus City Schools that were eligible.

Not a single Columbus City Schools parent has inquired about using Ohio’s “parent trigger” law to force changes at 20 low-performing schools, according to the facilitator appointed to oversee the process.

“No one has contacted us,” said Greg Harris, director of StudentsFirst Ohio, a pro-charter-school organization chosen by the state Department of Education to aid parents on the trigger. “I really assumed there would be some inquiries.”

While some feared a disruptive storm of building takeovers could ensue, 10 weeks after the law went into effect, the result amounts to not even a drizzle: No one is aware of any move by parents to submit petitions to the district treasurer by the Dec. 31 deadline. The response was so anemic that Harris said he fears it will be used to try to repeal the law, which makes Columbus a test site for the trigger.

Any Columbus district school ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state is eligible to be reinvented — including being transformed into a charter school — using the trigger.

Nationwide, parent triggers are rarely pulled, except for where outside agitators looking to profiteer get involved to try to turn a local school into a profit making charter school enterprise. Why is this? Greg Harris thinks it's because parents of students who attended these schools didn't get a letter

While StudentsFirst vowed to remain neutral and not attempt to motivate parents in one direction or another, Harris said he now regrets that his group didn’t mail notices to the thousands of affected parents, which he estimates might have cost up to $8,000.

“Now in hindsight, I wish I had done that,” Harris said. “Not that I wanted to organize the parents, but I wish they were made aware of the option.”

Let's examine the real reasons these parent triggers are rarely pulled.

1. Student Mobility

Low performing urban schools has massive numbers of transitory students. The Fordham Foundation did a massive study on this in 2012, and found

Analysis of the mobility history and test scores of students in the Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Dayton districts who took the 3rd and 8th grade achievement tests in spring 2011 found that the number of school changes over two years is an independent predictor of test scores, with more moves generally indicating a likelihood of lower scores. “The fact that one in six urban K-8 students and one in five urban high school students switched schools during the school year has a negative effect on student performance,” said Mark Real from KidsOhio.org. “It is hopeful that twelve organizations are banding together to understand and discuss these issues.” -

Parents of these students, if they indeed have parents, are simply moving through and are are unlikely to get involved in protracted efforts to "turn-around" or "take-over" a school their child might only attend for 3 months.

2. Maslow's hierarchy of needs

A simple look at the economic demographics of the schools eligible for the student trigger reveals that nearly all the students are coming from disadvantaged background - ie poverty. This shouldn't surprise anyone - we know that academic performance is highly correlated to poverty. Parents working 2 or 3 jobs are unlikely to have the time or energy to engage in some corporate education reformers political fantasy of taking over a school. Their hands are full trying to house and feed their children.

3. Quality Profile of the Schools

It is well understood that parents choose which schools to send their children to based on a wide range of criteria, and not just academic performance. In fact when parents of urban charter schools are asked why they choose that school, safety and convenience are the top answers. Performance index scores are simply not their only concern.

4. Who can read your letter?

StudentsFirst may want to send out $8,000 worth of letters, but in what language will they be written? Non english speaking and ESL parents and students are highly prevalent in these school environments. It's another predictor of challenging academic performance.

5. Students with Disabilities

These schools all have large populations of students with disabilities. Parents of these students barely have the time between work and caring for their child to begin some political school take over process - even if they believed it was needed, which they very well may not. Again, performance index scores are not their only concern.

6. Maybe these schools aren't so bad

A quick look at the performance data for these schools shows they are struggling, but many of the mitigating circumstances have been discussed above. But beyond those mitigating circumstances, many of these schools are showing adequate growth, even if that growth is not enough to propel them to the top of the A-list performance index charts.

In conclusion

Given all these factors laid out, does anyone but the most naive believe that not sending parents a letter is the main reason why not a single one felt the need to engage in the political stunt of taking over a school, whose struggles have very little to do with the administration or teachers of that school?

These parent trigger laws are simply a waste of time. They fail to address the real challenges students from these schools face on a daily basis. Hunger, homelessness, over worked parents, lack of healthcare, English as a second language, disabilities, lack of a safe environment and on and on. They are not struggling because their school is populated with incompetent teachers and administrators who don't know or care about what they are doing. In many cases, those teachers might be the only people who care.

Greg Harris should spend less time on the hall of power in Columbus and more time in the halls of these troubled schools talking to people, maybe then he would understand sending a letter isn;t the solution, and neither are these trigger laws.