California, the state that has lived and sometimes died by the proposition system of governance, has unveiled a new experiment in direct democracy: the so-called “parent trigger” that will allow parents at low-performing schools to have a voice in the way their schools are reorganized.
Designed in part to make the state more competitive for federal Race to the Top money, the legislation was signed last week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
According to the new bill, if at least 50 percent of a school’s parents sign a petition, the district’s school board must chose between several options for change, some of which are: closing the school, converting to a charter, or replacing the principal and other school leaders.
Is this good fix for low-performing schools?
Given that few parents have used the transfer option under No Child Left Behind, it’s unclear whether any group could get 50 percent of parents to sign a petition. And, even if it could, it seems like a draconian way to mandate change.
In a representational democracy, the public does have a say in the way its schools are run, and it’s through its elected representatives: the school board. I sympathize with parents whose children are stuck in bad schools and believe there should be transfer options and charters available as alternatives. But dictating the timing, and, inevitably, to some degree, the nature of reform? Not so good.
For a lively discussion of this issue, see the National Journal’s “Experts” blog.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor