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Education Transformation
For Public Schools, the Age of the Expert Is Ending

Watch out, public schools: the parents are coming. The effort to give parents more direct control over the public school system through what are called “parent trigger” laws is taking off across the country, according to the Hechinger Report. Politicians have introduced bills that would give parents the power to do things like fire a school principal or large numbers of its staff—as long as a majority of parents sign a petition for the change. Some of these bills would also allow parents to hand over a public school to a “charter operator.”

These efforts are modeled on a 2010 law passed in California called the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, and some states have versions already on the books. Many of the bills currently up for debate seek to strengthen existing laws. Advocates are particularly focused on Texas and Tennessee:

Supporters of the legislation celebrated a small victory this week. On Wednesday, the Tennessee Senate Education Committee advanced a parent-trigger bill on a 5-0 vote […]

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who tried unsuccessfully to pass a similar bill as a state senator, supports strengthening his state’s law by shortening how long parents must wait to invoke it. He said the aggressive overhaul tool should be available to the parents of 148,000 students “trapped” at 297 school campuses that failed to meet performance targets for two consecutive years […]

In Tennessee, a pair of identical bills by DeBerry and State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, would lower the parent signature requirement from a minimum of 60 percent to 51 percent. The legislation requires that parents who sign a petition also pledge to participate actively in their child’s education and support the school once it’s restructured.

Many of the bills—besides California’s 2010 act—haven’t passed, and the Hechinger Report notes that only California has seen parents organize a “full-fledged parent-trigger campaign.” And in California, the law hasn’t been used too often by parents—though it has been used to change one school into a nonprofit charter. So for now, at least, there aren’t radical changes on the horizon.

Still, the move to hand over more power to parents is very much of a part with other trends in education right now, including the rise of homeschooling and the grassroots assault on common core. As more and more people grow to distrust the ability of the public school system and the experts who run it to educate their children, expect to see more alternatives spring up—whether that’s homeschooling or stricter parental control over schools. The age of the expert is ending—the age of the parent is here.

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  • johngbarker

    Education, unlike engineering, law, or medicine does not depend on “expert” knowledge? What comprises an “overhaul” besides turning over the school to an “operator”, whose “non-profit” venture seems to generate some healthy administrative salaries.

    • Tom

      So, same as now.

    • Andrew Allison

      Putting in place competent teachers and cutting administrative overhead?

  • Marcio Ronci

    An important measure to improve education in public schools would be to allow hiring professionals without
    a degree in education such as engineers, chemists, biologists and physicists to teach math and sciences decently. The requirement of an education degree is effectively a barrier to entry and prevents improving the quality of teachers’ pool. It is ridiculous that a scientists
    or engineers are able to teach in a higher education institutions, but prevented to teach in public schools.

    • Fred

      Yes and no. I agree with you that an “education” degree is next to worthless. However, experts in their field are often terrible teachers. That doesn’t matter so much in college, where (theoretically at least) you’re dealing with young adults who can take initiative and learn on their own to some degree. Even when you have an expert who is a great college teacher, there are significant differences between elementary or high school students and college-age students in terms of emotional and intellectual development, interest, background, and the like. I’m not saying experts shouldn’t teach in public schools, only that if they do, they will need to have some courses in teaching techniques, child and/or adolescent development, in short, the kinds of things “education” departments should teach. You also have a financial problem. If I’m an engineer, chemist, biologist, or physicist, you’re going to have a helluva time getting the taxpayers to shake loose with enough money to be remotely competitive with the salary I can make in the university system or the private sector.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Some of those STEM professionals really want to clearly explain the concepts they know to everyone in sight, and some don’t. That may be the difference between natural teachers and those who would feel awkward in a classroom.

  • Fred

    Having been in an “education” program myself (necessary for my current job; I also have a PhD in Literature) and having been exposed to “education” majors at several universities, I’ll be the first to say that “Education” departments tend to be dumping grounds for undergraduates who can’t make it in anything else. Nor does anyone learn anything remotely useful in such programs. I’ve seen first hand the PC herd mentality they promote. That said, the only thing I can think of more frightening than the status quo is the prospect of John (and/or Joan) Q. Public running the school system.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Glad to hear you’ve actually met both “GOOD John & Joan”——and “BAD John & Joan”.

  • FriendlyGoat

    It’s really hard to imagine anything much worse for children than having their parents circulating petitions to fire people at school.

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