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Are Parent Trigger Laws Our New 'Superman' – Or Union Kryptonite?

Though they're being pushed by the biggest names in corporate education reform, and politicians of every stripe, there's little proof that parent trigger laws actually work.

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Parents simply do not appear sufficiently engaged in available choice opportunities or their children’s educational activities to ensure the desired outcomes.

This may be just as well. Relying on public school choice and parental involvement to reclaim MPS may be a distraction from the hard work of fixing the district’s schools. Recognizing this, the question is whether the district, its schools, and its supporters in Madison are prepared to embrace more radical reforms. Given the high stakes involved, district parents should insist on nothing less.

Given parental choice’s overall history of failure, what evidence do we have that parent trigger laws are anything more than experimentation with free market mechanisms to reform education? What proof do we have that this is more than a philanthropists’ pipe dream?

Triggering Kryptonite

Since there is slim to no evidence to support these education reforms on their own merits, there’s little doubt that the real reason the billionaire boys club and its ilk are funding parent trigger laws is to privatize our public institutions and dismantle union protection of workers’ rights commitments. Corporate reformers use the allure of parental empowerment to mask the larger purpose of parent trigger laws: leveraging parents as proxies for corporate billionaires to break unions and move the U.S. closer to a service industry that provides those corporations with cheap and interchangeable workers, even in our schools.

Dissolving unions and supplanting tenure -- both of which are inevitable results of parent trigger laws -- benefit only corporate interests. By allowing democratically elected school boards to be supplanted, and by replacing public schools with charter schools that may exclude or underserve certain populations of students, parent trigger laws effectively work against the very democratic principles that make claims about parental choice appealing -- and the promise of universal public education for all Americans, regardless of background.

Without context—funding and support from Walden Media, TFA and KIPP charters— Waiting for Superman offered narratives that resonated with the public in the same ways that parent trigger laws do, and Won’t Back Down will, as well -- unless, again, we follow the money, examine the evidence, and consider how reforms supported by Republicans and Democrats alike work against public education and all workers, and for corporate interests, funded by the billionaire boys club.

Just as there are no “miracle” charter schools, parent trigger laws are not Superman; they’re not even credible education reform. But they are likely Kryptonite to unions and workers’ rights, thus fulfilling the ultimate outcomes sought by prevailing corporate interests.

Paul L. Thomas, Ed.D. is an associate professor of education at Furman University.