Potential abuses of the Parent Trigger???

Posted on December 7, 2010

This article in the LA Times has been getting a lot of buzz today – http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-compton-parents-20101207,0,1116485.story

The article discusses the use of what is called a “parent trigger” policy.  Here’s the synopsis:

On Tuesday, they intend to present a petition signed by 61% of McKinley parents that would require the Compton Unified School District to bring in a charter company to run the school. Charter schools are independently operated public schools.

“I know it’s never been done before, but I want to step up because I’m a parent who cares about my children and their education,” Murphy said Monday. She and other parents were meeting with organizers from Parent Revolution, a nonprofit that lobbied successfully last year for the so-called parent-trigger law.

So, what you’ve got is 61% of parents in a community pushing for a school to be converted to a charter school and potentially pushing for that school to be a specific type of charter school. This presents all sorts of interesting – and twisted possibilities.

I wrote about a week ago on how some charter schools, like North Star Academy in Newark have established themselves as the equivalent of elite magnet schools – potentially engaging in activities such as pushing out lower performing kids over time.

So, my question for the day is whether these “parent trigger” policies might allow a simple majority of parents – or some defined majority share – to force a reorganization of their neighborhood school into a charter – that would subsequently weed out those other “less desirable kids?”

That is, does this new policy of simple majority (mob) rule allow parents in a specific community to redefine their neighborhood school so that the school no-longer serves lower performing kids or kids whose parents are less able or for that matter less interested in engaging in a level of parent involvement that might be required by a specific charter operator? In short, can the majority of parents effectively kick out a minority of parents that they don’t like – including parents of kids with disabilities or non-English speaking parents?

Sure, you say – charters can’t discriminate in this way because they must rely on lotteries for admissions and must take children with disabilities and those unable to speak English. They would have to accept those kids in the neighborhood. Yes, by law this might be true. But experience with many charters proves otherwise. Many do rely on attrition to boost scores – somehow avoid serving kids with disabilities and non-English speaking kids. But the neighborhood school couldn’t do the same.

Taking this a step further, envision a neighborhood split along language, ethnic or even religious lines. Can the parents of the majority group force their neighborhood school to be reconstituted as a cultural, language or for that matter religion (argued as culture) specific school that is effectively hostile to the minority?

Hey education law friends – help me out with the possibilities here?

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