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Examining the Parent Trigger as a Strategy for School Reform and Parental Engagement


by John Rogers, Chris Lubienski, Janelle Scott & Kevin G. Welner — 2015

Background: Purpose: This analysis considers the emergence, evidentiary basis, and potential of parent trigger policies. In particular, we focus on the policy, political and social circumstances in which parent trigger legislation emerged in California, the efficacy of the school improvement levers on which it draws, and the underlying assumptions about democratic engagement that inform the approach.

Research Design: This policy analysis draws on multiple forms of evidence to examine the efficacy of the parent trigger approach for school improvement and community engagement. The initial examination of the emergence of parent trigger considers public policy positions, media statements, and press accounts to trace the nuances of this policy landscape. Then, in lieu of useful research evidence on parent trigger itself, we turn to the research literature on the remedies that parent trigger tends to adopt, including studies in school choice, charter schools, and various school improvement strategies, as well as the implications for parental empowerment.

Findings: Reviews of extant evidence on policy remedies implicit and explicit in parent trigger indicate that, although parent trigger may have emerged from a deep-seated desire to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, it is unlikely to actually improve the educational quality of schools, given that the overall effects of these policy interventions are mixed, at best, and parent trigger adds another element of instability to already unstable school communities in disadvantaged areas.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our analysis suggests that parent trigger tends to assume an aggregative model of democratic action drawn from a market-style economic premise. Unless policy makers promote a more deliberative model of community engagement, empowerment, and school governance, it is likely that parent trigger could contribute to continual corruption of democratic institutions and avenues for school governance.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 6, 2015, p. 1-36
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17881, Date Accessed: 3/28/2017 1:52:50 PM

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About the Author
  • John Rogers
    UCLA
    E-mail Author
    JOHN ROGERS is a Professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA). He also serves as the faculty co-director of UCLA’s Principal Leadership Institute. Rogers studies the role of civic engagement in equity-focused school reform and civic renewal. He is the co-author of Learning Power: Organizing for Education and Justice and co-editor of Public Engagement for Public Education: Joining Forces to Revitalize Democracy and Equalize Schools. He received his Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University and his B.A. in Public Policy and African American Studies from Princeton University.
  • Chris Lubienski
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTOPHER LUBIENSKI is a professor of education policy, and the Director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the University of Illinois, and the Sir Walter Murdoch Visiting Professor at Murdoch University in Western Australia. His research focuses on education policy, reform, and the political economy of education, with a particular concern for issues of equity and access. He was recently a Fulbright Senior Scholar for New Zealand, where he studies school policies and student enrollment patterns. His new book is The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools (with Sarah Theule Lubienski, University of Chicago Press).
  • Janelle Scott
    University of California at Berkeley
    E-mail Author
    JANELLE SCOTT is an Associate Professor at the University of California at Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education and African American Studies Department. She earned a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of California at Los Angeles’ Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Her research explores the relationship between education, policy, and equality of opportunity through three policy foci: (1) the racial politics of public education, (2) the politics of school choice, marketization, and privatization, and (3) the role of elite and community-based advocacy in shaping public education. She was a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Year Fellow and a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. Her work has appeared in several edited books and journals, including the Peabody Journal of Education, Educational Policy, American Educational Research Journal, and the Harvard Educational Review. She the editor of School choice and diversity: What the evidence says (2005 Teachers College Press)
  • Kevin Welner
    University of Colorado, Boulder
    E-mail Author
    KEVIN G. WELNER is a professor of education and director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado, Boulder School of Education. His work examines the use of research in policy making, the intersection between education rights litigation and educational opportunity scholarship, and the school change process associated with equity-focused reform efforts. He has authored or edited nine books and more than 90 scholarly articles and book chapters. Welner has received the American Educational Research Association’s Early Career Award in 2006 and has been designated an AERA Fellow. He earned his B.A. in Biological Sciences from UCSB and his J.D. and Ph.D. from UCLA.
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