Can Parents Tell Good Schools from Bad?
Are parents capable of telling a good school from a bad one?
That’s the question Peg Tyre asks in a NY Times opinion piece entitled, “Putting Parents in Charge”. Tyre is the author of The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve.
The assumption that parents ARE capable of distinguishing good schools from bad, of course, lies beneath the idea of the “parent trigger,” a law adopted in California that allows a majority of parents in a failing school to petition to replace the school’s administrators or alternately, ask that the school become a charter school.
The Parent Revolution, a non-profit in Los Angeles that is spearheading the parents-for-change movement, forced the passage of the parent trigger legislation last year. One of the first test cases was Compton, California, where a majority of parents demanded that McKinley Elementary School become a charter. The school board refused, so the charter operator that would have taken over McKinley opened a charter school down the street and is opening a second one in the neighborhood. Parents will vote with their feet.
Still, as I noted a few weeks ago, a recent Harris poll found that if parents had to grade their local school, 35% would give it an A, 44% would give it a B, 15% would give it a C, 5% would give it a D, and only 1% would give it an F. So only about 6% of parents think their local school is below average although it’s a good bet that number doesn’t reflect the true state of schools. Additionally, a study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that schools in Hartford, Connecticut with the lowest levels of academic achievement also had the highest levels of parent satisfaction.
But the winds of change are blowing in California, fanned by the Parent Revolution. Jim Newton, in an op-ed for the LA Times says the Compton experience “has emboldened parents elsewhere, and the quiet stir of their revolution is as inspiring as the civil rights battles of modern times – the demands for racial equality in the South, the recognition of farmworkers’ right to unionize, the right of same-sex couples to marry. This movement brings together parents of different ethnicities, races and ideologies, languages and backgrounds. They are fiercely intent on change.”
Well, OK. Peg Tyre agrees that “empowering parents may prove to be a crucial turning point in education reform in our generation.” But, she cautions, if parents are going to have more power, they need to become more “sophisticated” about schooling. “We need to supply public school parents with substantive training programs, “ Tyre insists, “to help them figure out, for instance, what a good reading program looks like….”
I’m not sure that parents need to be able to identify which reading programs are the best in order to determine whether their child is failing or the school is failing the child. Perhaps the Parent Revolution can be instrumental in helping parents take action.
The parent trigger may not solve all the problems of poorly performing schools. Still, even if parents don’t know a school is failing, teachers and administrators do. And they clearly have the professional and moral obligation to trigger change without parents forcing them to. If school people don’t recognize that obligation, parents need to act.