The opinions expressed are her own.
In this excerpt from “The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve,” author Peg Tyre explains how the educational “free market” created by the charter school system doesn’t guarantee parents will pick the best schools for their kids. In fact, with objective information hard to come by, even more pressure is on parents to gain — and exploit — data about school quality in order to outperform the educational market.
The idea that school choice is automatically better than no choice has recently been reinforced again, with the “Parent Trigger” in California. Under a law passed there last year, parents whose children attend underperforming public schools can get together, and if 51% of them sign a petition, they can demand their district change the school administrators or convert the school to a charter. So far, a parent group from Compton “pulled the trigger,” but parents from poor urban schools and well-funded suburban schools have been seeking information on how to use the Parent Trigger law to improve their schools.
Similar bills, which are supported by education reformers on both sides of the political aisle, have been passed in Connecticut, Ohio and Mississippi. About a half dozen state legislatures—including New York — are expected to consider Parent Trigger type bills this year.
When it comes to education, this may well be The Year of The Parent. For decades, educational professionals have talked about the importance of “parental engagement” to insure positive outcomes for kids. But in the past, the limits of that engagement have been clear. Parents were expected to show up for parent teacher conferences, chaperone a class trip and maybe whip up some cookies for a bake sale. Suddenly, with the rise of the Parent Trigger, and similar measures around the country, parent engagement may start to truly become a force that pushes schools toward real reform.
Not sure you are up to the task? Blame Milton Friedman. For the last forty years, economists have urged education reformers to unleash the power of the free market. If parents, the most highly motivated stakeholders in the education process, the theory goes, were given a choice about where to send their kids to school, and the state and federal funding followed each student, good schools would thrive and bad schools would wither and die.