For years, policy initiatives stemming from right-wing belief tanks have been wrapped in the rhetoric of positive outcomes that are, in fact, the complete opposite of what the measures are really intended to do.
A bill called Clear Skies that called for more pollution. Another called Healthy Forests offered incentives for cutting down valuable trees. No Child Left Behind, perhaps the crowning glory of duplicity, worsened the education of disadvantaged children it was purported to magically improve.
But without a doubt the most enduring of these wolf-wrapped-in-sheep’s-clothing ideas is the promise of “school choice” that’s been promoted to parents since the presidencies of Nixon and Reagan.
Sold as a way to “empower” parents to improve the education attainment of their children, school choice initiatives take on many forms, including vouchers, “scholarships,” and tax credits. But the most radical form of school choice is the so-called “parent trigger.”
The parent trigger has been relentlessly marketed to parents and policy makers as an “empowerment” that enables parents to conduct a petition campaign in their community to fire their school’s staff and change its governance. This has all the rhetoric of democratic activism – a majority of the parents deciding “what’s best” for the education of their children. But what are the results?
So far, the trigger has only been carried out to its fullest extent in one school: Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California. A new video “Parent Triggers: Another Reform Misfires,” (see below) released by the Education Opportunity Network, recently looked at the results of the parent trigger in Adelanto and found that rather then uniting parents in doing what’s best for children, the parent trigger brought deception, division and disruption to the community.
Thus, parent trigger bills join the ranks of other school choice schemes that are proliferating across the country. And rather than giving parents more control of the trajectory of their children, these policies are leaving more parents overwhelmed and powerless.
So what should parents expect when the parent trigger or any other school choice scheme comes to town?
In New Orleans – perhaps America’s choiciest school district, where 70 percent of students attend charter schools – most of the schools remain the lowest performing in one of the lowest performing states, and parent activists have come to the conclusion that choice means “a choice to apply” while still remaining “trapped” in the same lousy schools.
A recent article in The Washington Post told the story of how the District of Columbia’s complex school choice landscape has led some parents to hire an educational consultant to navigate the public school system — and this is being seen by some as the wave of the future in districts around the country. More than 40 percent of the District’s 80,000 students attend charter schools. Even when parents do choose traditional public schools for their children, “more than half do not attend their assigned neighborhood school.”
“It’s just totally overwhelming,” one parent was quoted as saying in the Post story.
And the results? D.C. schools have among the lowest high school graduation rates in the country and the largest achievement gap of any urban school district.
According to this New York Times story, parents in New York City face a similar, if not more daunting, “school choice maze” that leaves thousands of children “shut out” of any real choice at all. Parents trying to navigate the complex system end up “feeling inadequate, frustrated and angry.”
Not to worry, school choice advocates reassure us. We’re told, as in this article at greatschools.org, to rejoice in the fact that while “it used to be that when it was time to find a school for the kids, most Americans looked no further than the neighborhood school.” Now we have a wonderful “open” system where our precious little darlings get to “compete” against the precious little darlings of our friends and neighbors.
Just make sure you’re one of the “smart parents” who knows how to “work the system.”
How could choice possibly lead to fewer options for parents?
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