What happens when parents pull the trigger for a charter school conversion?

A little-noticed provision in the education reform agenda of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett is for a “parent trigger” law that would allow the state to “turn around” a failing school if 51 percent of parents request the change.

The idea is modeled on a California law that took effect in January. That law is having its first test this month in Compton, and tempers are flaring, according to coverage in the Los Angeles Times.

A group called Parent Revolution conducted a petition drive to convert Compton’s McKinley Elementary School to a charter school. Last week, it turned in signatures said to represent 62 percent of the school’s parents.

Now the California Board of Education is asking the state attorney general to investigate allegations of deceit and intimidation in connection with the effort – one parent, for example, said she thought she was signing a petition calling for beautification of the school.

Parent Revolution is fighting back. Its website blames the controversy on “lies and a misinformation campaign” by McKinley staff determined to prevent change.

According to the Times, McKinley’s test scores have improved by 77 points in the past two years, but it remains in the lowest 10 percent of California schools by student performance.

The parent trigger idea seems to envision grass-roots efforts in which parents rise up and take over their children’s failing schools. But Parent Revolution is a spin-off of the nonprofit Green Dot charter schools, which have been pledged $20 million from billionaires Bill Gates and Eli Broad, according to a favorable profile of Green Dot founder Steve Barr in Scholastic Administrator.

Wall Street Journal columnist David Feith says Indiana is one of five states where lawmakers plan to introduce parent trigger legislation in the next six months.

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