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Orwellian 'Parent Trigger' Laws Have Gun Aimed at Wrong Target

Since No Child Left Behind became law, schools where there are lots of poor kids have been turned into brutal testing factories, where the focus is on raising test scores rather than raising children. Even so, the test scores inexorably reflect the economic disadvantages of poor communities, as parents each year continue to receive the federally-mandated letters telling them their schools are failing. 

Some parents shake their heads and shrug off the letters because they know their child’s teacher is doing the best she can.  Others get frustrated and angry.  And yet most of these parents do not know that Karl Rove and his little band of Texans created NCLB with their dismay and frustration in mind, in order to replace public education, or to “blow it up a bit,” as former Assistant Secretary of Education Susan Neuman told Time Magazine in 2008. The idea, all along, was to use the tests, as Senator Judd Gregg mused in 2001 during final mark up of NCLB, to show that public schools are failing and, thus, to usher in “market solutions” and charter schools to replace the “failed” public schools.

Nor do these parents remember the warnings printed in New York Times op-eds that warned that massive failure rates among poor schools would be the sure outcome if the NCLB plan went through.  Staiger and Kane, both respected economists, titled one hair-on-fire piece “Rigid Rules Will Damage Schools,” and they did not even get into the damage to be absorbed by the children in those schools.  Parents do not know the first trigger was pulled back then, eleven years ago, when NCLB became law. 

Now parents are being handed another weapon, this time with the trigger on the wrong end, and parents are being urged by the "CEOs for social justice" to open fire.  This new self-destructive weapon is called the Parent Trigger law, and it is celebrated in a new movie by Walden Media, which is headed by conservative media tycoon and philanthropist, Philip Anschutz (see Ken Libby’s post on Anschutz here). Walden Media is the same outfit that brought us the glossy Hollywood propaganda film, Waiting for Superman.

The film, Won’t Back Down, celebrates the first parent trigger law from California, which is named, in the best Orwellian tradition, the Parent Empowerment Act.  It is supported with tens of millions of tax-sheltered corporate dollars, and it is aimed at frustrated low-income parents of children in the aforementioned testing factories.  Aimed, quite literally.  Following a decade of test failure and shrinking budgets under NCLB, parents are now urged to finish the job that the little Texas Mafia of Karl Rove, Margaret Lamontagne Spellings, and Sandy Kress started in 2000:  blow up, for real, the remaining urban public schools where their own children go to school.  When the dust clears, there will stand a school that looks very much like the old one, but it will be run with public funds by a nexus of corrupt unemployed politicians, self-serving CEO wannabes, hedge funders, and vulture philanthropists. 

As for the parents who pull the trigger on what they thought was 'poor education and lack of accountability,' they will find out too late that the gun was pointed in the other direction: straight back at them and their children. But, you see, because the Orwellian 'Parent Empowerment Act' offers no provision for rescinding a decision to hand over schools to a charter outfit, that law will ultimately silence the very voices it promised to champion. And worse still, the law will silence the voices of community members to come, who would never have picked the "self-destruction option" if given the choice. 

But then, do any who pull the trigger on a gun get the chance to pull their bullet back?

A slightly different version of this piece was published at Schools Matter.

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Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July 2013.

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