Backlash: Support for School Choice Rises

Posted: Mar 02, 2021 10:35 AM
Backlash: Support for School Choice Rises

Source: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Let's start with some disheartening news: In spite of anti-science, student-harming intransigence from too many teachers unions across the country -- including some cartoonishly absurd examples -- polls have shown much of the public remaining deferential to them.  Many Americans support unions' supposedly 'cautious' approach to reopening schools, with most agreeing that teacher vaccinations should be a prerequisite, even though top public health experts (including official CDC guidance) say the data and science do not support that restriction.  And although the Biden administration's numbers on school re-openings are less robust than their overall COVID governance approval, they're still above water.  In other words, the intense anger many parents and political conservatives are experiencing on this front isn't necessarily translating into widespread or acute blowback.  But might that be changing? Attitudes and priorities are in flux.  Pew data from late February:

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) now say K-12 schools that are not currently open for any in-person instruction should give a lot of consideration to the possibility that students will fall behind academically when deciding whether to reopen. In July 2020, 48% said this should be given a lot of consideration as schools made decisions about whether to open for in-person instruction in the fall. The shares saying schools should give a lot of consideration to the risk to teachers (48%) or students (45%) of getting or spreading the coronavirus are both down from about six-in-ten who said in July that each should be a major factor in decisions about reopening.

The emphasis appears to be moving from virus risks to risks of students falling disastrously behind academically. Given what we know, this is a move toward the correct hierarchy of fear, as schools are not super spreaders for the virus -- and students and staff are safer in classrooms than out in their broader communities.  A mix of private and public schools have been safely open throughout the country since the fall, and Europe has also had success in this realm. Meanwhile, the emotional and mental damage to children resulting from isolation is undeniable, as are the detrimental impacts on learning.  The tide is turning:

This New York Times piece about exasperated parents in Philadelphia taking drastic action -- including pulling their kids out of public schools, or even moving states -- crossing partisan and demographic lines:

A year into the pandemic, less than half of students nationwide are attending public schools that offer traditional, full-time schedules. Now many parents are beginning to rebel, frustrated with the pace of reopening and determined to take matters into their own hands. Some are making contingency plans to relocate, home-school or retreat to private education if their children’s routines continue to be disrupted this fall — a real possibility as some local school officials and teachers’ unions argue for aggressive virus mitigation measures to continue, potentially even after educators are vaccinated. Other parents are filing lawsuits, agitating at public meetings, creating political action committees, or running for school board seats. Most recognize the potency of the coronavirus but believe schools can open safely, though they have a range of views on the best way to do so.

Especially unhelpful are insulting comments from teachers and various officials -- and infuriating hypocrisy or endlessly moving goalposts from others:

September of 2022.  I'm not convinced many schools will remain closed into next school year, but the following one?  It's disturbing that anyone is even trying to lay the groundwork for that.  As the science around how safe schools are becomes more widely understood, alongside greater awareness of the profoundly harmful downsides to keeping students out of classrooms, the pendulum is swinging -- on public opinion and legislatively:

DeAngelis is a top school choice advocate who recently argued that the excesses of teachers unions have done wonders for the cause he champions:

 ...As children’s learning continues to suffer, [parents] are increasingly desperate for more options. Their desperation might just make school choice more popular, even after the pandemic is behind us.One key factor driving parental exasperation is the obvious contrast between what public schools have done during this period and what private schools have done. While public schools in many cities remain closed, private schools and daycare centers have been fighting to safely reopen their doors for months...The good news is that teachers’ unions and others who oppose safe in-person instruction have done more to advance school choice in the past year than anyone could have ever imagined. The pandemic has revealed the main problem with K–12 education: There is a massive power imbalance between the public school system and individual families. Families have always gotten the short end of the stick on K–12 education. But it’s more obvious now than ever, and families are figuring out they’re getting a bad deal.

Finally, as New York City bids an un-fond farewell to its terrible schools chancellor, I'll leave you with this surreal viral video from the west coast. Normality can't return soon enough, even as some special interests pull out all the stops to forestall that desperately needed recalibration: