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EDITORIAL: Parents need trigger law to hold low-performing schools accountable

School accountability has improved in Nevada in recent years. High-performing schools can be rewarded with more autonomy, while low-performing schools can be hit with a “turnaround” designation that requires administrative and staff replacements. And teacher tenure has been reformed to make it possible to push ineffective instructors out of public education.

But as long as accountability measures are fully controlled by government institutions — school district administrators, elected trustees, state policy makers — the accountability will be lacking. They have a vested interest in defending what they’ve built. Public officials will always be more tolerant of the systemic failure of schools than the public itself because, with rare exceptions, their children aren’t the ones being failed.

Real accountability is rooted in choice. Every family should have the ability to fire their child’s school. Sometimes that involves leaving one campus and enrolling in another. Sometimes, however, that involves hitting the reset button at an underperforming school. Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature can help the state’s families — especially those in low-income neighborhoods with low-performing schools — by enacting the Review-Journal’s 20th of 25 policy recommendations in 25 days: a parent trigger law.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, parent trigger laws have been enacted in seven states. Most share common provisions. First, they allow parents to petition to take action against a school that has not met certain performance standards. Most parent-trigger states require a school to be designated as low-performing for three consecutive years before parents can petition for intervention. Second, they require a majority of the parents at a school to sign a petition to trigger a change. And third, if a majority of parents sign a petition, it changes the school’s operational structure. Some parent-trigger laws give parents the option of replacing the school’s administration and staff; converting the campus to a charter school; closing the school; or placing the school in a “recovery” school district.

Gov. Sandoval proposed the latter in his State of the State address. His planned Achievement School District, to be led by former Clark County School District administrator and former Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez, would administer the 10 percent of state schools identified as persistently failing.

The argument can be made that allowing three consecutive years of poor academic performance is three too many. In Nevada, three years is half a student’s time in an elementary school, the entirety of middle school enrollment or three-quarters of a student’s high school education. Indiana’s trigger law allows parents to petition after two years of low achievement. A child who spends one year with an ineffective teacher might need several years to catch up.

A parent trigger law is just one part of a strong school choice agenda, but it’s a vitally important one. Ineffective educators and administrators are much more likely to work in low-income, high-minority schools — neighborhoods with families who can’t afford private school tuition and can’t transport their kids to charter schools. For them, a parent trigger law that provides as many intervention options as possible would be a godsend.

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