Parent Trigger & Open Enrollment – Ways to Cope With Union Controlled Schools

In January 2010 the California’s legislature passed into law, perhaps uncharacteristically, an excellent new law. Entitled “Public schools: Race to the Top,” SB 54 created two mechanisms for parents to exert greater control over the education of their children.

There are two components:

(1) The Open Enrollment Act mandates that the California Department of Education to annually create a list of 1,000 schools ranked by their Academic Performance Index. Parents whose children are enrolled in these schools have the right to transfer them to a better performing school.

(2) The “Parent Trigger” Law, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

Open enrollment has had an immediate benefit to California’s parents in poor schools, both because individually parents have been able to get their children out of poor schools, and also because the mere ability of parents to remove their students from poor schools provides a powerful incentive for school management to try harder to improve. From the California Dept. of Education, pursuant to SB 54, here is the list of the bottom 1,000 schools in California (Excel spreadsheet):  Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16. To view this list in PDF format, here is the the same list as posted by former state senator (and co-author of SB 54) Gloria Romero’s California Center for Parent Empowerment (PDF file)Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16.

The parent trigger law has a potentially much greater impact, because it literally empowers parents to take over management of an underperforming school if a majority of them sign a petition. It is important to clarify that the criteria for an “underperforming school” is not the same as the criteria used for the 1,000 K-12 schools with the lowest Academic Performance Index scores. Here is how these lists are compiled:

Open Enrollment List:

Every year the results of standardized academic achievement tests, administered to every K-12 public school student, are compiled by school and by school district. In the most recent academic year, the composite score for these tests for all K-12 students in California was 790. The open enrollment list was supposed to be the 1,000 schools with the lowest scores. For example, on the current list, the lowest score belongs to Oakland International High School with an API of 374. But in the compromises made in order to pass the bill, among other things, the published list of open enrollment schools cannot include more than 10% of the schools in any given school district. This gives the worst school districts in the state a pass, and actually leads to some schools getting onto the list that probably don’t deserve to be there. Nonetheless, at least those parents whose children attend these 1,000 schools have choices, and that is a very good thing.

Parent Trigger Eligible List:

The parent trigger list is compiled according to a more complicated formula. In summary, the criteria is as follows: Any school that has an API lower than 800, AND has failed to improve its API score in each of the last four years, is a parent trigger eligible school. The process of accurately compiling this list is tedious, requiring the analyst to research multiple CA Dept. of Education reports for multiple years while navigating several exclusions that complicate the selection process. But there aren’t carve-outs that prevent, for example, 90% of the schools in an underperforming district from any accountability, such as is the case with the open enrollment list. Here is a list of Parent Trigger Eligible schools in Orange County, compiled by the organization Excellent Educational Solutions (PDF file): Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County. The entire list is also posted on the table below – note that Palm Lane Elementary is not on this eligibility list because they have already been “triggered.” Also, some schools on the Orange County list have 3 year API averages that exceed 800. This can be because their most recent API has fallen below 800 even though the three year average is still above 800, or due to other complexities in the actual formula.

The parent trigger eligible list is a powerful resource that ought to be prepared and posted online every year by the California State Board of Education. As can be seen, there are 125 schools just in Orange County where the management of these schools can be potentially taken over by parents if 50% or more of them sign a petition. Imagine how many thousands of schools in California must be on a statewide list?

To-date, parent trigger has only been tried three times in California. In Compton, the effort ultimately failed. In Adelanto, the effort was successful (ref. Wikipedia “Parent Trigger” – Compton, Adelanto). Now the battle has moved to Palm Lane Elementary School in Orange County, where on January 14, 2015, petitions representing over 50% of the parents of the enrolled students were turned in.

When one examines the political consensus that was forged in the California Legislature back in 2010 by Democratic senator Gloria Romero and her Republican co-sponsor Bob Huff, what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. When one considers the parents who recently turned in petitions to transform Palm Lane Elementary School, and the broad spectrum of community activists who support them, again what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. SB 54 triggers not only parent empowerment, but alliances that transcend conventional politics. It is something to be watched and nurtured.

 Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County20150127-UW_OC-Trigger-Schools*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

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