TED Conversations

Randy Speck

Superintendent , Madison District Public Schools

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Is it right for parents to takeover schools? Should "parent trigger" laws give families the ability to take over and manage schools?

Throughout the United States, there is a movement for parents to take a more active role in their local schools. Actually, a more active role is an understatement. The "movement" is for parents to be able to take-over their local school under what is called a "parent trigger." This happens if their local school is deemed to be low performing, as described by each individual state.

Parents have a right to be involved...any quality school will have strong parent and family involvement. But should parents be able to come in and manage the school?


Closing Statement from Randy Speck

What a fantastic conversation and thanks to the TED community for participating. I also want to thank Ben Austin from Parent Revolution for getting involved in the discussion. Your insight was helpful to me, as a school leader.

The reality is, parents should be involved in their schools. They should have a say in the direction of their child's education. How that is accomplished may be a never-ending debate. As a school leader, I want my parents to be active in helping kids read and with their homework, but do to academic level of the family, that may not be an option. I want parents to be in attendance at parent-teacher conferences, football and basketball games, choral and dance recitals and any other activity that involves their child. However, I am also aware that working multiple jobs and shifts may make attending school events difficult, if not impossible. So how do we do this?

Unfortunately, my answer is little bit of "I don't know." But I do know it has to be a "we" that is involved. I don't believe legislatures can solve this issue. I don't believe for charter management companies can solve this problem. The main question becomes when and how are we going to make education in the United States a priority? When are we going to admit that students learn differently, therefore they should be assessed differently. That the neighborhoods you live in and the amount of resources (like food) that you have really do play a role in student achievement. Until we acknowledge...really acknowledge that socio-economics plays a factor, we may never be able to get passed basic debates.

Thank you again TED for being such a great place for people to safely communicate and share.

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  • Oct 9 2012: I usually don't engage on comment strings about Parent Trigger, but I have so much respect (reverence??) for the Ted crowd that I wanted to weigh in and clear up some misconceptions. I invented Parent Trigger. I am executive director of a non-profit organization called Parent Revolution which invented, passed into law and is now implementing the Parent Trigger.

    My background is much more in progressive politics than it is in education reform. The idea behind Parent Trigger is rooted in power. I have worked in lots of different levels of government -- the Clinton White House, Deputy Mayor in Los Angeles, and I recently served on the California State Board of Education. But I have come to recognize the system as currently conceived resists change. And if our goal is to make our public education system serve the interests of our children, then we have to recognize that kids-first sounds innocuous, but is a radical proposition. Teachers unions and district bureaucracies of course care about kids, but parents have different incentive structures and a different sense of urgency.

    That's what Parent Trigger stands for: giving parents some power over the education of their own children.

    The parents of Desert Trails elementary are the only parents in America to win a Parent Trigger campaign. They are trapped in a horrible school that nobody at Ted would ever send their own kids to. And it's getting worse, not better. So the parents organized into a Parents Union. They tried to negotiate with their district for a reform union contract and other reforms with the district. The district rejected them. So the parents organized 70% of the parents to sign a Parent Trigger petition to convert their school into a non-profit charter school. The district and union struck back at the parents, bullying them, and even using their immigration status against them. Eventually the parents won in court.

    Parent Trigger isn't the whole solution. But Parents must have power.
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      Oct 9 2012: Ben,

      I appreciate you taking time to be involved in this discussion. My background in school leadership has mainly been in the non-public sector where parents are greatly involved and invested. My move into public education has been full of moments in which I am grateful for the work that our teachers and staff do everyday, sometimes with little to zero resources. My concern about Parent Trigger is the manner in which various states implement the law, if they do at all. Here in Michigan, the State Senate passed a version of parent trigger, but the House has yet to take it up. The methods in which a school can be deemed to be a "takeover" are arbitrary at best, which sends the wrong message. I have a lot of a great parents who are involved in our district, but I'm not sure they are "qualified" to lead schools.

      Does the system in which you have championed require parent groups to contract with a professional management company? I appreciate any response and information and again thank you for being a part of the discussion.
      • Oct 12 2012: Randy, Thanks for sparking such an engaged and interesting conversation. Like I said, I don't usually engage in comment threads about Parent Trigger, but I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of this conversation, and I also LOVE Ted. In answer to your two questions:

        1. Parent Trigger is NOT about parents running schools. I am a pretty sophisticated parent, my daughter attends public school, and I would not want to run her school. Parent Trigger is about giving power to parents who are trapped in failing schools. Sometimes that power can manifest in the parents bringing in new staff and leadership, sometimes it can manifest in parents bringing in a high quality non-profit charter operator to transform their school, and sometimes it can manifest in parents having a seat at the table with the power players who make all the big decisions. Without Parent Trigger, when it's time for the big decisions to be made, teachers unions and district bureaucrats kick the parents out of the room and tell them to do a bakesale (especially low income and sometimes undocumented parents). But they can't do that with parent trigger. They have to listen, because if parents are organized, they have the power to basically fire the district. Parents can't do this alone -- they need partners. They need good administrators, good principals, and good teachers. But parents also need power because they have different interests and different incentive structures than everyone else.

        2. As for Michigan, I wrote an op ed in Detroit Free Press a few weeks ago opposing the Michigan Parent Trigger bill because it doesn't explicitly ban for-profit charter operators from participating in Parent Trigger transformations. Michigan is one of the few states that has a big for-profit charter community, and I don't think profit has any place in public education or parent empowerment.

        Thanks again for sparking such an edifying debate, and thanks to the Ted community for being so awesome!


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