Neal McCluskey is the associate director of CATO’s Center for Education Freedom. Like most advocates of education reform he never misses an opportunity to mock Diane Ravitch, but McCluskey’s opposition to parent trigger speaks directly to the divisiveness such efforts are already causing in California.
To remedy the problem, the trendy thing seems to be “parent trigger” laws that would, generally speaking, allow a majority of parents at a school declare that they want to fire the staff, or bring in a private management company, or some other transformation. It’s been the spark behind some especially heated conflicts in California, as unions and parents of different stripes have been doing battle with each other. It is also the subject of a New York Times “Room for Debate” exchange today.
While I sympathize—obviously—with those who advocate giving parents more power, I cannot help but conclude that the parent trigger is a very poor way to do this. For one thing, it is inherently divisive: what about the 49 percent, or 30 percent, or whatever percent of parents who don’t want the changes the majority demands? They’ve got no choice but to fight it out with their neighbors. It is also inefficient: individual children need all sorts of options to best meet their unique needs and abilities, but the trigger would just exchange one monolithic school model for another.
The trigger, quite simply, is no substitute for real educational freedom: giving parents control of education funds, giving educators freedom to establish myriad options, and letting freedom, competition and specialization rein.
I’ll leave the last paragraph alone as I want to applaud McCluskey for recognizing that parent trigger is already proving to be bad public policy. Moreover, his nuanced point of view serves as a rebuke of organizations like Parent Revolutions who cause such chaos and long-term animosity that McCluskey sees.