Over a year ago, in May of 2020, school superintendents from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles convened for an event hosted by Harvard University’s Public Education Leadership Project.
With management gurus at the Harvard Business School offering their wisdom two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the stage was set. This was the chance to design an Apollo Program-like movement to revolutionize public education.
Surely, the leaders of the three largest school districts in the country rolled up their sleeves and innovated America’s schools out of the problem, right?
You probably hadn’t heard about this gathering. But you know what really happened.
They bragged about increasing “the frequency of communication with unions.” They highlighted distributing millions of meals and electronic tablets to students. And that was about it.
A full year of mostly empty classrooms later, not much changed. That is about all that any public schools came up with.
Even though kids immediately began to fall behind academically and America experienced a surge of youth suicides. Even though less than 1 percent of COVID-positive Americans 24 years old or younger were admitted to an ICU and less than 0.01 percent died. Even though that’s a significantly lower mortality rate than the common flu.
Public schools may have failed to innovate but parents certainly did not. Over the past year, almost all parents found ways to creatively balance their children’s long hours and short attention spans with their own disrupted work schedules.
Some parents enrolled in “micro schools” or formed “pandemic pods” to get their kids back with their peers and learning together. Some even recruited teachers to lead a small group for a year for over $100,000.
Many others simply stepped into the breach and started homeschooling. The number of households who officially decided to homeschool doubled during the pandemic.
For years, only about 3 percent of families homeschooled their kids. Now, rates are up across the country and across demographic groups.
This includes households in progressive bastions hit especially hard by school closures like Massachusetts. There, the homeschooling rate skyrocketed from less than 2 percent to over 12 percent.
Many other parents turned to the traditional competitors of public schools—private and parochial schools, only five percent of which went completely virtual, a stunning contrast to the failures of public schools nationwide. Just how much of an exodus from public schools will occur remains to be seen, but for now the trend is clear.
Consider Jennifer Clayton and her family. A small-town restaurant worker and the wife of a retired Marine, she had never even considered private school for her six-year old son. But last year, she had a “slight nervous breakdown” when she learned that her local schools would go completely virtual and she would have to stop working so she could watch her son.
After calling “every single Catholic school in the area,” she found an opening and jumped ship from the floundering public school.
The decisions of these families might just stick, and amount to a revolution in Americans’ approach to education, and perhaps even give rise to a groundswell of parents demanding school choice.
One private school recruiter explained that now that parents have looked “under the hood” of public schools, they “are more aware than ever that they have educational options.”
Public school districts are wondering: will kids come back?
That’s the wrong question. The more important question is: will public schools come back?
Of course, everyone expects a complete return to in-person learning. But there are other factors in play.
Some parents are fleeing the left-wing indoctrination and critical race theory infecting so many public schools across America.
And some parents, especially in big metro areas, started homeschooling their kids for another reason entirely. It wasn’t to save them from virtual learning but to save them from cities themselves—from “the rioting, the rowdiness, the random acts of violence happening.” So much for ‘safe spaces’ in schools.
Despite the failures of the government-run institutions, parents did what Americans have always done when faced with a crisis. They innovated. They solved problems, and they showed once again that in America the future is not built by government, but by the people themselves.