sad kid with medical mask and backpack
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The Bottom Line The New Norm in K-12 Public Schools

There was endless talk among educators nationwide during the early months of the pandemic in the Spring of 2020 — Things couldn’t and wouldn’t go back to how it was before. The outdated and ineffective K-12 education system was exposed with increased clarity, and even educators realized it wasn’t working as intended. Too many kids were falling through the cracks of the one-size-fits-all factory model system.

These noble conversations centered on the use of technology to enhance student learning, providing more personalized instruction, varying assessments, and so on. However, as we near the two-year mark since Covid’s debut, K-12 public schools nationwide find that the approach to learning has not changed much despite the grand talk.

The impact of closed schools and remote learning in response to the Covid pandemic has not been a springboard toward the aspiration of improved educational experience or outcomes for students. Instead, the dramatic shift has been far from a bolstering of academics.

Student motivation has plummeted. Graduation rates have backslid. Absenteeism has skyrocketed. Student misbehavior is commonplace. Violence on campuses has soared. Student well-being is at all-time crisis low levels. And canceled school days due to teacher mental health days and staff shortages are becoming commonplace.

But while the ineffective learning practices have remained constant, much has, in fact, changed in K-12 public school environments. Unfortunately, these changes were all for the worst. Instead of improving academics, woke political priorities took center stage. In place of essential teacher training and professional development centered on the goal of enhancing student learning, teachers and staff were “trained” in Critical Race Theory, social-emotional learning, and the redefinition of gender, history, and core academic truths (even basic mathematical truths such as 2+2=4).

School policies were also changed. For example, students were no longer held equally accountable for their individual behavioral choices. Instead, student discipline is required to be administered in such a way as to achieve equal disciplinary outcomes among the various racial or ethnic groups of students, regardless of offenses committed. In other words, the reality is manipulated to force a uniform desired outcome. The same philosophy was applied to gifted and talented programs, which were either eliminated or forced to accept an equal number of students per race, regardless of merit.

Additionally, time that should be devoted to core academic learning has been traded for the promotion of a left-wing political agenda. Teachers’ unions have powerfully depicted schools as unsafe for adult employees. The Covid fearmongering has created a culture void of hugs, high-fives, and smiles. Parents and students describe schools today as sad, lonely, anger-filled, toxic, and divisive. With the disingenuous “safety” distractions dominating, it’s not surprising that students are disengaged, and teachers are demoralized.

Regarding this new “norm” within K-12 public schools, parents have spoken with their voices, their ballots, and with their feet through the mass exodus taking their beloved children elsewhere.

Keri D. Ingraham

It’s no wonder school administrators, teachers, and staff are fleeing and retiring early at record rates. Educators entered the profession to make a positive impact on the lives of students. When kids don’t show up, or come to school full of anger, depression, or anxiety, a teacher’s ability to engage students in learning is exponentially more challenging. Managing the emotions and harsh realities of their students’ home lives fits the job description of a social worker, one for which teachers are neither prepared nor qualified to fulfill.

Vaccine mandates have also exacerbated the situation as staggering staff and substitute shortages have put even more pressure on those remaining. In increasing numbers, educators are experiencing mental health challenges. And they are called on to navigate the school day masked, trying to interact with masked children, all the while disinfecting and trying to get active and social children physically separated, all in the name of safety.

But it didn’t have to be this way. The schools (particularly private and charter schools) that kept their doors open, allowed parents to determine the masking of their children, refused to trade academic instruction for political indoctrination, and held fast to a culture of high expectations for all students, have fared much differently. Walk down the hallway or enter a classroom in one of these schools, and you’ll find engaged students learning in a warm, caring environment. Not surprisingly, parental approval ratings are high — in stark contrast to the intense parental dissatisfaction with public schools (as witnessed by raucous school board meetings and parents’ withdrawing their students by the droves.)

The extreme public school far-left politicization experience has failed. Teachers’ unions have shown their cards, revealing a power and money-driven agenda taken to dangerous lengths. Couple that with politicians on the left maintaining unbridled union loyalties, and the result is a loss of political power for the Democrat Party and a loss of money for the unions.

It’s time these radicals cut their losses and get out of the way. For far too long, and most recently in increasingly extreme ways, these groups have dominated and detrimentally derailed public education from its mission. At its core, public education should be for the good of the public and in partnership with parents. Regarding this new “norm” within K-12 public schools, parents have spoken with their voices, their ballots, and with their feet through the mass exodus taking their beloved children elsewhere.

Are you concerned about educating the next generation?
The American Center for Transforming Education is a program of Discovery Institute, a non-profit organization fueled by its supporters. Will you help us advance the timely and vital work of transforming our K-12 education system so that it better serves students and their families?