Opinion

The Left’s School Choice Conundrum

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Posted: Aug 12, 2020 10:00 AM
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The Left’s School Choice Conundrum

Source: . (AP Photo/David Vincent)

Say what you will about the liberals’ insistence on keeping the schools closed. They at least deserve credit for being consistent in their hostility to school choice – no matter the circumstance. 

For decades, liberal activists and the teachers’ unions have joined forces to fight against homeschooling, charter schools, private schools and vouchers – in other words, against school choice, in any form. The teachers’ unions were unequivocal in their messaging. School choice, they have always insisted, overall hurts students, taxpayers and the public schools. Competition, which works so well in every other industry, does not work with schools, they say. 

While school choice has been a broad boogeyman for leftists, homeschooling is a particular thorn in their side. In the spring, just as most schools across the country were closing their doors for COVID lockdowns, and as nearly 50 million children were heading home for some form of homeschooling, Harvard University published an ill-timed article with the title “The Risks of Homeschooling” and a picture of a child in home resembling a jail (with subtle bars on the windows). The article went to great lengths to describe the allegedly harrowing consequences of homeschooling. 

Given the far Left’s forceful lobbying on this matter for years, it is a surprising turn of events that we find ourselves here today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with teachers’ unions fighting to keep the public schools closed – and to keep the untenable situation of nationwide homeschooling. The school choice fight has shifted its focus, and now the unpalatable choice from the teachers’ perspective is the choice many parents have made, or would like to make, to send their children to school.  

The verdict is in. Online, distance-learning programs failed on a grand scale to provide quality education to students all across the globe in the spring. That’s precisely why most European countries abandoned the online classrooms and went back into the real classrooms. The success stories from these newly reopened classrooms in Europe remind us that there is no excuse to fail our children by forcing them to do online curriculum, and, furthermore, that there are safe and commonsense ways to educate within classroom walls. 

What’s even worse is that there are deep and pronounced racial disparities in the education outcomes of online classes, and that the achievement gap is now widening because of the unequal access to online education. African American and Hispanic children have been disproportionately negatively affected by the school closures, with studies showing that a lack of reliable Internet access in many minority homes meant large numbers of students in these communities were not just left behind, but left out completely. 

Despite these realities, the teachers’ unions remain fixated on their pro-shutdown position. 

The unions, not wanting to let this crisis go to waste, have seized the moment. In Los Angeles, one teachers' union has demanded Medicare for All before allowing schools to reopen. In Iowa, teachers have been writing their own obituaries and sending them to the governor to make their point that school doors must remain firmly shut. Are we to take these politically-motivated stunts seriously?

Five weeks ago, I sat at a table in the White House East Room and told President Trump that his instincts were right – schools must reopen. As a mom to two high school seniors, I urged the president to do everything in his power to encourage the safe and speedy reopening of America’s schools. The president understands that reopening schools is a moral imperative for our students and that in-person instruction is the best chance we have to quash the racial disparities in education outcomes. 

Armed with the knowledge that COVID-19 is largely not deadly for children (and, in fact, is less deadly than last year’s flu), and also equipped with the recent studies about the dismal state of online education, parents should be empowered to make the decision of how their children will learn this year – online, or in person. Parents deserve to have the option to send their children to classrooms. That choice, however, is one the teachers’ unions are fighting tooth and nail to take from parents. 

In case there was any ambiguity about where the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would side in the feud between parents and the teachers’ unions, Biden made clear last month whose banner he carries. Speaking virtually to the National Education Association – the largest teachers’ union in the country – Biden vowed loyalty and made much of the fact that his wife is a member: “When we win this election, we’re going to get the support you need and the respect you deserve. You don’t just have a partner in the White House, you’ll have an NEA member in the White House.”

With President Trump’s commitment to reopening schools and partnering with parents, and Joe Biden’s commitment to the raw political agenda of the teachers’ unions, this November’s election may shape up to be the ultimate school choice decision for parents. 

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Jenny Beth Martin is honorary chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action.