This Friday marks the opening of "Waiting for 'Superman,' " the latest documentary from Davis Guggenheim (director of "An Inconvenient Truth"). The movie follows five families whose traditional public schools are failing their children and their desperate, heart-wrenching quests to enroll their children in better public schools. Each of the families enters a lottery for admission at a high-performing charter school, which they see as their only path to academic success and ultimately college. Some of the students make it in; others, however, are left heartbroken as their numbers go unselected.
Walking out of the movie, one can't help but feel a sense of anger. These parents are doing everything they can to fight for their children, yet at the end of the day are left hopeless, with no good options left. They are representative of thousands of parents across the country, stuck in failing public schools, unable to afford private school, with literally no possibility of change for their children. All because they weren't able to win the lottery.
For parents living in California, however, there is finally a ray of hope. In January, the state legislature passed a law called the Parent Trigger, which gives parents -- for the first time in the history of America -- the formal, legal power to transform their failing school simply through community organizing. The Parent Trigger is a recognition of the fact that parents are the only people in public education without a conflict of interest -- the only people who care only about their children -- yet they are the only people with no power to bring change. After decades of a failed status quo, the Parent Trigger finally puts power where it belongs -- in the hands of parents.
Parents get to pick from the school turnaround options outlined by the Obama administration: they can bring in a high-quality charter school to transform their school, force the school district to hit the reset button and bring in a whole new staff, or merely remove the principal and make a few other small changes. And all they need to do to bring this about is stand up, stand together, and speak with one voice, by gathering signatures from 51% of parents at the school.
The Parent Trigger represents not just a new right for parents to transform their schools, but an entirely new paradigm for thinking about education reform -- fixing public education by giving parents power to transform their own children's schools. And it is an idea that is rapidly spreading across the country. Parents in Connecticut, inspired by California, worked with the state legislative Black and Puerto Rican caucus to successfully pass a Connecticut Parent Trigger back in March, and parents in places all the way from Georgia to Canada are currently looking to do the same.
The parents in "Waiting for 'Superman,' " just like parents everywhere, are willing to do whatever it takes to get a great education for their children. But for too long, we've told them to stand on the sidelines while others fight over what is best for their children. Parents are sick of waiting -- for Superman, a Superintendent, or anyone else -- and they need the power to create change now. Because in a country as rich as ours, no child's future should ever depend on winning the lottery.
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