Long before COVID, public education was in trouble.
Distressed parents – seeing educational standards slip, core subjects (like math, science, reading, writing, history) mistaught, untaught, and underemphasized for politics were starting to jump. Today, disenchantment is everywhere. Five reasons explain – and offer a way back. But time is short.
First, before COVID, public education was failing. By reference to past performance and international data, American public schools were leaving kids uneducated in basics, character training, core competencies, creative thinking, logic, analysis. We were below Europe’s average, lagged the top five internationally, Singapore, Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. See, e.g., Reading scores fall on ‘nation’s report card’ while disparities grow between high and low performers; U.S. Education Rankings Are Falling Behind the Rest of the World.
Second, also before COVID, political excuses were lofted for nonperformance – compared to private education, homeschooling, disparate districts. These excuses, often race-based, bordered on nonsensical. They accelerated in recent years, lowering the bar based on race, nobbling more American students. See, e.g., California promotes ‘dismantling racism in mathematics’ guidance in draft for statewide framework; California seeks end of advanced math courses in name of social justice; California Leftists Try to Cancel Math Class.
Perhaps the saddest irony is that, with standards high between 1990 and 2000, and 2000 to 2009, Black and Hispanic students were gaining, not stagnant, not falling behind. The reverse is now. Human nature performs to expectations; set high, students work hard; set low, they languish. See, e.g., See how U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students performed in mathematics/.
Third, again before COVID, the power of teachers’ unions were growing – excusing underperformance, pushing union expansion, left-leaning political power, dominance over local and state priorities, union-driven politics.
The two big education unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), leaned to Democrats. As “Open Secrets” reported in 2019, they “have steadily amped up their political involvement … From 2004 to 2016, their donations grew from $4.3 million to more than $32 million – an all-time high.” Key: “They have little use for Republicans, giving Democrats at least 94 percent of the funds … as far back as 1990,” with NEA at “about $20 million in 2016” and AFT at “almost $12 million.” See Teachers Unions.
Fourth, during COVID, the first three factors pushed a fourth: Endless remote learning, resistance to returning, indifference to student and family needs. As data showed rising social damage, student suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, family stress, domestic abuse, and retarded learning, unions leveraged a return to classrooms for power. Some jurisdictions stood out. See, e.g., The Teachers Union Has Become a Public Menace | Opinion; Refusal of teachers unions to work illuminates bravery of other essential workers; Teachers Unions Continue To Block School Reopenings Across America; Chicago Teachers Union Refuses Order To Go Back to Classrooms. In short, unions – and complicit administrators – chose power over the mental and social well-being of students and families.
For those who argue data favored staying remote, that idea died a year ago. CDC’s leader in July 2020: “It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall.” Still, many did not open – and remain quixotic even now. See, e.g., CDC releases new coronavirus guidelines for schools.
Finally, many communities, teachers, parents, and students are rebelling against union pressure to teach Marxist principles, including Critical Race Theory or CRT. The rebranding of Marxism swaps static economic classes for static skin color, arguing individual liberties, opportunity, meritocracy, and achievement are dead.
Why? Because skin color decides fate, not character.
This is, of course, is not true. It is also the opposite of our Constitutional text, aspirations, promise, and empirical history, opposite of what Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson believed. The last five were Democrats. It is opposite what Republicans Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes believed. It is anti-opportunity, defeatist, and anti-American.
That is why so many parents are rebelling, rising to contest, condemn, reassert individual rights, remove leaders, disavow unions, jump ship. Numbers are piling up, public education in trouble.
Daily stories track disrespect for students, families, and damage done. Private enrollments are exploding. Vermont private schools, for example, saw an eleven percent pop in enrollment. Nationally, urban public schools are down four percent. Fully 78 of 160 independent schools spanning 15 states are enjoying higher enrollment, the majority open in-person. More than half of all private schools are up. See, e.g., One sector is flourishing during the pandemic: K-12 private schools; PA father says he’s pulling youngest child from public schools over critical race theory; Columbia professor calls on parents to pull kids from NJ prep school over critical race theory.
Nor are parents all going private when they pull out of the public schools. Homeschooling is up. Even in less conservative states, like Minnesota, homeschooling enrollment is up 50 percent compared with two years ago – not a year, but two years ago. Ominously for public education, nine percent of kindergartens are seeing decreased enrollment. That is the public pipeline.
Critical Race Theory, rising Marxism, politically jiggered history, diminished expectations, standards, and quantitative learning are driving the downtrend – not just COVID. Thus, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General under Bush 41 noted, parents are “challenging these kinds of efforts to use race explicitly in the schools,” and stock in public education is falling.
So, what is the answer? The answer is local activism, belief in ourselves, each other, our Constitution’s promise of equal protection and opportunity, individual liberty, American Dream. Our Founders, plus Lincoln, King, all prior presidents, believed in that dream. Our mission is to stand up, defend competition based on the “content of our character, not the color of our skin.” That was Lincoln’s and King’s dream, the American dream; that is what public schools should teach.