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In Search of Normalcy
Last week’s off-year elections have come and gone. From my perspective, it seems that the well-oiled opposition (aka The Blob) to parents having a say in their kids' education was able to score a win in many races, in large part because parent voices were stuck on pedestrian issues that while important, don't cut to the heart of the matter. The heart of the matter? It should always and forever be great education for kids, regardless of zip code. Full stop.
As I told reporter Dana Goldstein in an interview for the New York Times on the elections, I think the issues that riled parents up post-Covid in Virginia and in many other states and cities no longer have the same sense of urgency they once had. Parents like being back to some sense of normalcy – despite achievement results that are still lower than ever before – and while some are really still very upset, it’s hard to vote for people without a tangible education proposal on the table. Had the election been a referendum on education choice and freedom I think it would have been a different story, in part. That’s a concrete idea that is increasingly drawing interest from people from across the political and socioeconomic spectrum.
Goldstein described my remarks this way:
“The modest results for conservatives show that after several years in which the right tried to leverage anger over how schools handled the Covid-19 pandemic and issues of race and gender in the curriculum, ‘parents like being back to some sense of normalcy,’ said Jeanne Allen. She suggested Republicans might have performed better if they had talked more about expanding access to school choice, such as vouchers and charter schools, noting that academic achievement remains depressed.”
It’s more than depressed, actually. It’s pathetic. In some states which are in dire need of education transformation (Virginia, for one) the interests of parents who simply want better education for their kids were drowned out by special interests who would prefer they control what happens in schools. One voter interviewed for the local news said he just wanted to get back to where people cared about whether their kids were learning to read, write and do ‘rithmatic. My experience is that’s a pretty universal belief, no matter what your other issues are. But, those who are campaigning to make “parental rights'' synonymous with issues surrounding curriculum choices and sexuality are overshadowing the real issue of parental rights - and that is having a choice in how and where your kids are educated. While parents have every right to protest things that conflict with their values, many are confounding the issue of control with freedom. The reality is there can be no parental rights where parental involvement in an anomaly.
Parents don’t have rights in schools when they are controlled by union contracts bigger than the Bible, and school boards that must kowtow not only to those contracts but to state and federal mandates about how their schools must behave.
We know this, friends. The reality of lagging student achievement and low expectations is what started the education reform movement to begin with. And what’s happening today in the political sphere as parents are pitted against the system in a fight for control is precisely what happened in the 80s - and failed. Their cause is a good one, but the solution is wrong-headed. You can’t demand control from a system that doesn’t have it to give. Control comes from freedom - freedom to choose one’s own educational menu. And that’s what succeeds.
That’s how charter schools first picked up steam. Their goal was to free teachers from control. And to give parents an opportunity to help create new public schools. And it’s why parental choice in all its forms began, and eventually gave life to truly diverse opportunities for learning - and more integrated, diverse schooling for all that happens to still be more successful than the current system that parents seem so badly to want “rights” from.
Why demand rights from a system that doesn’t work? Go craft your own programs and educational opportunities. Exit the system, instead of trying to fix it. It’s impervious to change.
Many parents who have that figured out are now voting with their feet. Lots of news outlets are covering the fact that homeschooling is on the rise, and not for the traditional reasons they most used to cite - like religion. The Washington Post recently featured the fact that homeschooling is undergoing “explosive growth,” up 51% alongside increases in private school enrollment.
As I shared with the Post’s Laura Meckler back in August, “There’s a larger recognition that more parents are interested and able to find other ways to educate their kids besides four square walls.”
The surge in online & hybrid learning - for one - is here to stay, says Judy Jankowski, head of Chesapeake Bay Academy, a 2023 Yass Prize Semifinalist. She argued recently in the Virginian Pilot:
“During COVID, the number of children being educated outside of the public school system grew exponentially. Families needed educational options, and ingenuity won out. Learning pods, homeschools, independent/private schools, virtual schools and many other configurations were born, or grew, out of necessity. Families discovered new and exciting models of education for their children that better served their individual needs. As a result, today there are nearly 3 million fewer children enrolled in public schools nationally than pre-pandemic.”
And that’s necessitating that we think anew about what teaching looks like.
The reaction of parents and teachers to a system run amuck is precisely why the unions have started attacking education freedom head on in states where they control the legislatures - or courts. They are working to repeal what civil rights icon Howard Fuller calls the nation’s most important civil rights since Brown v. Board - Wisconsin’s Parental Choice program, which began in Milwaukee. According to ABC News,
“The lawsuit was brought by several Wisconsin residents and is being funded by the liberal Minocqua Brewing Super PAC. Kirk Bangstad, who owns the Minocqua Brewing Co., is a former Democratic candidate for U.S. House and state Assembly. His brewery produces beer with politically themed names that tout Democrats, such as ‘Evers Ale,’ a nod to the governor [Tony Evers].”
As soon as the Wisconsin State Supreme Court had a majority of union-backed justices, union-packed individuals filed a lawsuit to end the program that finally gave low-income families a pathway forward for their children. Milwaukee’s parental choice program not only improved education and galvanized public and private school leaders, but it improved the community. The data is extensive. Which is why the state expanded it beyond the city. But data and justice isn’t what the opponents are after.
But just remember, to turn a phrase; “hell hath no fury like a parent scorned.” You want to see a revolution? Take away a parent’s hard fought freedom to help their kids succeed. Think they’ll take it lying down? Don’t hold your breath.
The fight is on. As the great Donald Hense says, “you can’t give up. It’s simply not possible.”
Best - Jeanne
P.S. Have you voted for your famous Yass Prize Semifinalist yet? Our American Idol-style Parents Choice Award is ready for your votes - two daily, in fact! To date, almost 50,000 votes have been received! If you’re not sure who to vote for, learn about them here! Online voting is open until November 25, and the winner will be announced on December 13th at the Yass Prize Announcement event live from New York City.