students screaming protest
A group of students screaming and protesting during a strike, standing up for their rights
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The Bottom Line Union Leaders & Bureaucrats Have Long Ignored Parents’ Concerns

Originally published at Real Clear Education

Since the nationwide school closures in the spring of 2020, parents have become painfully aware that public schools have conflicting interests with their own and are failing to effectively educate their children. Consequently, parents are looking for educational alternatives for their children — and the K-12 education market is changing.

Parents of public school students have put up with prolonged school closures, poor remote instruction, reduced instruction hours, mask mandates, vaccine mandates (in some cases), and even being restricted from their child’s school campus beyond the parking lot or school office in the name of “safety.”

Combine all this with the schools’ active promotion of critical race theory, gender ideology, climate hysteria, and an anti-American worldview, and it’s no wonder that more and more families want out.

Dissatisfaction with public schools has snowballed, as teachers’ unions and educational establishment leaders, in conjunction with left-wing politicians, have failed to respond to parental concerns, focusing instead on preserving their power and pursuing their agendas.

It was the teachers’ unions who refused to reopen public schools long after private schools had resumed in-person learning. Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, even directly influenced the CDC’s recommendations against fully reopening schools, despite mounting scientific evidence that it was safe to do so. For Weingarten and the unions, it was about leveraging their power; they effectively held families hostage until their negotiating demands were met, instead of doing what was best for student learning.

One of the few positive results of the Covid-19 pandemic response, which otherwise proved a catastrophe for K-12 education, was that virtual classrooms allowed the curtain to be pulled back on what was being taught. The woke, union-driven politicization of classrooms at the expense of academic learning was witnessed by parents, who had a front-row seat in their children’s classrooms for the first time. Out of concern for what they saw, parents began engaging more deeply in their children’s education, and the general public took notice as well.

As a result, we have seen a dramatic shift in views — including among Democrat voters — on the issue of school choice. According to Morning Consult December 2022 poll data, 72% of adults and 77% of parents with school-aged students support school choice through education savings accounts (ESAs).

The door to breaking the government-run public education industry’s monopoly on K-12 education has been cracked open.

Keri D. Ingraham

While parents’ voices continue to be ignored by the education establishment, administrators, teachers unions, and school board members, Republican governors and policymakers have listened. With legislation put forth in 30 states, including over 50 school choice bills, 2021 was dubbed the year of school choice.

Then in July 2022, Arizona made itself the gold standard for educational freedom, thanks to the leadership of Governor Doug Ducey. A milestone in school-choice expansion was achieved with the state’s landmark passage of universal ESAs, which affords all 1.1 million students in Arizona approximately $7,000 each for the educational options of their parents’ choosing. Other states are following suit to provide universal school choice to families.

With families wanting alternatives to the traditional public school and with the passage of more school choice bills, the K-12 education market is experiencing a much-needed shakeup. Parents now see themselves as consumers of K-12 education for their children. They are researching online, talking to friends and relatives, and considering their options. 

Creative and innovative education models are being developed and launched to meet the demand. These models range from virtual academies, hybrid schools, learning pods, microschools, private tutors, and the expansion of homeschooling.

Families who have left public schools are not coming back. Why would they, since they’re experiencing better academics, better customer service, and learning that aligns with their own values? And these satisfied parents and students are sharing their stories with others.

A new era of K-12 education is emerging. Free markets are driving competition and innovation. Education entrepreneurs are stepping forward and leaving behind the bloated bureaucracies, financial mismanagement and inefficiency, radical indoctrination, and dismal academic performance of traditional, union-controlled public schools.

The door to breaking the government-run public education industry’s monopoly on K-12 education has been cracked open. As it continues to widen, the number of student and family beneficiaries will grow, and the whole country will benefit.

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?