AMAC Exclusive – By The Gallic
One of the few positive outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic was that parents, for the first time, were able to have a true inside look into their children’s education – and what they saw shocked them. Now, parents and legislators are pushing back against the failures of the current education system in a number of ways, from demanding more accountability from public schools to imagining entirely new educational models that best fit the needs of individual students. Given the scope and energy of this movement, we may well be witnessing a budding revolution in the way we approach education in this country.
It’s no secret that the American education system has failed to achieve its central mission of educating our youngest generations in recent years. Consider this: in 1912, one of the questions on an 8th-grade graduation test (yes, they had to take a test to graduate 8th grade) was “name the states that border the Ohio River.” Another asked, “what is the role of the liver in the body?” and “how many parts of speech are there? Define them.”
These, of course, were in addition to basic questions about American history and culture, all things that many 8th grade students today – and even most adults – know nothing about. In 2019, even before the learning loss brought on by the pandemic, a study from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only four in ten Americans under the age of 45 could pass a basic U.S. history exam. Only 15% could correctly name the year the U.S. Constitution was signed. Only 25% knew freedom of speech was guaranteed under the First Amendment. Another poll from this year found that two in three Gen Z Americans don’t know who America declared its independence from on July 4, 1776, and only a third could even correctly spell “independence.” The list goes on.
Yet astonishingly, the average high school GPA has been on the rise for more than a decade. Even during the pandemic, which had a devastating effect on student achievement when it came to standardized testing, high school graduation rates and grades in class remained more or less the same. The alarming conclusion from these data points is that as student knowledge is slumping, schools are simply lowering their standards to create the illusion of progress instead of addressing the fact that the state of American education is in a steep decline.
At the same time, the pandemic afforded parents a window into their kids’ classrooms thanks to virtual learning, exposing a related but far more sinister problem – politicized curriculum like “Critical Race Theory” and gender ideology replacing traditional instruction in core subjects like reading and history. From the concept of “racist math” to the denigration of the founding fathers, it quickly became clear that many schools had run far astray from their mission.
In response to these twin crises, parents began taking action. Many started by attending their school board meetings and speaking out. Particularly passionate parent remarks from places like Loudoun County, Virginia, made national headlines, even as the Biden Department of Justice labeled these parents with a “threat tag.” Recent election cycles have seen a wave of success for school board candidates promising to get CRT out of classrooms and provide more transparency and accountability to parents.
For those who can afford private school, many have switched away from the public school system entirely in recent months. This trend was seen throughout the country, and not just in red states; in California, private school enrollment jumped by 5.7% last year. In Minnesota, it grew an astounding 23% in some areas. Nationally, the number went up by 2.3% for Catholic private schools alone, and this year it seems that the enrollment trend remains strong.
The growing charter school movement has also provided another option for parents. More than 3.4 million students now attend charter schools, up from 2.2 million a decade ago. In Virginia, Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin – who was elected last year largely on a platform of fixing the education system and expanding choice for parents – succeeded in getting $100 million set aside in the state budget for “lab schools,” a charter school-like alternative to public schools.
Many Republican legislators are also taking action to both restore integrity to public schools and increase accessibility to private and charter schools for thousands of families. Just last week in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey signed what is likely the most expansive school choice bill in American history, which allows families to redirect funds from their child’s public education to a private school or homeschooling.
At the same time, the school choice movement is facing some headwinds. Just a day prior to Ducey signing the Arizona law, a circuit court judge in West Virginia struck down a law allowing a similar voucher program.
At the community level, groups of parents and families have also developed innovative new ways to homeschool kids. Some neighbors have banded together to form learning “pods,” sharing duties among several households. In other cases, retired or part-time educators have created “micro-schools” for a few students in their neighborhood. In each case, parents have been able to have a great deal more input into what their children are learning and how they are learning it, ensuring that it aligns with their values and beliefs.
Change is always difficult – particularly when it comes to kids. But with these recent developments, the country may be entering a new era where parents and students, not faceless bureaucrats and unaccountable school administrators, are empowered like never before.
The Gallic is the pen name of an educator with over 30 years of experience, who spends his time helping schools get better at teaching their students and parents happier at sending them to those schools.