Yesterday’s Dropout Nation report on the lack of Parent Power voices at today’s hearing on the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind led a few readers to note one of the biggest problems with the Harkin-Enzi plan’s move to gut the law’s Adequate Yearly Progress provisions: It could effectively abolish Parent Trigger laws already passed in California, Connecticut and Texas.
How is that? Start with the fact that the Parent Trigger is targeted towards schools that are persistently failing as measured by AYP for several years. In Connecticut, for example, it is for at least three years. So long as there is a form of AYP in place, families can effectively push for the overhaul of failing schools, either in petition or through school governance councils on which they are the majority. But if AYP is no longer in place, Parent Trigger laws can’t actually be used. After all, no AYP, no failing schools, and thus, no ability for parents to push for the overhaul of schools that have failed generations of kids.
While Harkin-Enzi is unlikely to pass, Parent Power activists have to worry about the Obama administration’s waiver plan which, like the Senate plan,would essentially eviscerate AYP. Congressional Republicans who control the federal lower house are divided over the matter. But House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline has made ending accountability a cornerstone of his tenure as education point man — and he is convincing other Republicans on the committee to stand in common cause on this goal.
As one can imagine, the Parent Power groups that have pushed for the law, including Parent Revolution (which successfully advocated for passage of California’s Parent Trigger law) are none too happy with Harkin-Enzi. Parent Revolution already declared on its blog that: “Removing accountability at our schools – whether at the state or national level – isn’t good for our kids and it doesn’t prepare our next generation of leaders for tomorrow’s challenges.” Parent Revolution Executive Director Ben Austin says the outfit is already working the Hill and the Obama administration to figure out ways to protect Parent Trigger laws in the three states which already have them. Other groups, such as the Connecticut Parents Union, already gearing up for legislative battles over expanding Parent Trigger, will now have to work statehouse players on ensuring that the laws in their respective states remain in effect.
In theory, state legislators could simply overhaul the Parent Trigger laws by limiting their use to the worst-performing five percent of schools and schools with wide achievement gaps. Harkin-Enzi, along with President Obama’s waiver plan, still require such accountability for those schools. But California’s Parent Trigger can be applied to the 15 percent of schools in the Golden State that are failure mills. Parent Revolution has made clear that it won’t accept any reduction in footprint — and chances are, other groups share that same reluctance.
Can Parent Power activists make those changes? Sure. But they, along with other reformers, will have to be especially savvy in taking on affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, who have long opposed the laws and want to keep them from being implemented in other states. The AFT, in particular, had already shown a road-map on weakening Parent Trigger laws, courtesy of its Connecticut affiliate. The presentation, which Dropout Nation revealed in August has already caused the union to offer a series of non-apology apologies and has lead its president, Randi Weingarten, to meet with Connecticut Parents Union leaders; they have also issued a joint press statement in support of Connecticut’s Parent Trigger law.
Whatever happens at the state level, the efforts to gut No Child’s accountability measures have been a set-back to the school reform movement — and ultimately, to efforts to overhaul American public education so that even our poorest children can get the learning they deserve.