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When Schools Don't Work

Hartford Courant

February 19, 2010

Hartford parents frustrated by the achievement gap that still separates white and minority students are rallying behind a radical idea called the "parent trigger" to change the direction of a failing city school. With some reservation, we support the trigger, too.

The provision - developed by the legislative Black and Puerto Rican Caucus - is part of education reform legislation now before the General Assembly. If enacted, it would permit 51 percent or more of parents of children in a failing school to petition for intervention. Failure would be measured by lack of progress for three consecutive years under the national No Child Left Behind guidelines.

The remedies, if the 51 percent threshold is achieved, would be dramatic. They include closing a school altogether; replacing the principal and 50 percent of the staff; converting to a charter school; and replacing the principal and implementing professional development and evaluation for teachers.

The trigger would give parents a hammer. It would also give them a seat at the table with the teachers union, school district officials and the board of education. The trigger mechanism means that "if a school is failing for three years in a row, we would have the power to say, 'Let's close shop,' " said Millie Arciniegas, president of the Hartford Parent Organization Council.

Hartford Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski is "particularly impressed" with the proposal. The union opposes the parent trigger concept, as might be expected. Individually, most teachers are as dedicated to their profession as they come and devoted to their students. But their union over the years has too often stood in the way of progress.

Connecticut's worst-in-the-nation achievement gap - in which white suburban students outperform urban minority students - hurts the state's competitiveness and is an embarrassment.

We agree with Sharon Palmer, president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, that putting something as drastic as closing a school in the hands of parents circulating a petition could have unintended consequences. Change doesn't guarantee success. That's our reservation.

But doing the same old, same old in a school that consistently underachieves guarantees failure. That's when it's time for parents to pull the trigger.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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