Public education is experiencing a profound change as a result of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Highlighting this change are two disparate events that are resulting in a review of how education is being delivered and who is the ultimate judge about the process.
Sunday, the Chicago Teachers Union, representing a little more than 28,000 teachers in the nation’s third largest public school system, told its members to defy orders to return to city schools for in-person classroom instruction. Their reasoning for defying the orders made no sense to the public or anyone associated with city school’s administration. The union tweeted, “The push to reopen schools is rooted in sexism, racism and misogyny.”
Robby Soave, reporting on the Chicago school story for Reason Magazine, notes, “Many families would undoubtedly prefer to reclaim the per-pupil dollars forcibly confiscated via taxation and spend that money on education options that actually meet their kids' needs: private school, pod-based learning, tutoring, etc. But the public school system obviously won't give back the money; it will continue to compensate teachers even if they refuse to work.”
Soave’s comments strike at the heart of the educational debate, which is how education money is spent and who is determining its purpose.
Chicago is not alone in this teacher mutiny. Both Virginia and North Carolina teacher unions have also expressed resistance to in-class participation despite scientific research from UNC-CH and Duke University which indicates that schools can reopen on a case by case basis if appropriate safeguards are applied.
While the public school industry continues to extract public funds as it fumbles without clear direction for teachers, parents and students, alternatives are being promoted as the nation celebrates the 10th anniversary of National School Choice Week, Jan. 24-30.
Shine for School Choice is the theme of this year’s celebration with activities taking place in every state to promote educational opportunities that currently exist for parents and students. Those opportunities include private schools, homeschools, educational pods with tutors, public charter schools and of course public schools.
Because students and teachers have been forced out of the classroom environment by the pandemic, the vulnerabilities of the traditional teaching experience have become obvious. Parents have watched in frustration as their children have muddled through either remote or hybrid learning classes which is resulting in reduced subject understanding or complete disinterest.
That frustration, compounded by the intransigence of teachers to work with school administrations, parents and students to find common ground for in-person classes, is resulting in a national review of how education is delivered and giving new life to the school choice movement.
Teaching professionals have always recognized that learning is an individual experience. But the traditional educational system has evolved, some would say devolved, into a common structure that treats all students as if they are the same. The idea that students can all learn at the same pace using the same structure is fallacious.
Parents are beginning to resent the controls of a generalized education system, feeling powerless to make changes as they watch a system operate without accountability or apparent concern for their customers - the students. A recent poll of public school parents shows that 77% of those surveyed supported school choice and more importantly wanted the public school funds to follow the students to their schools of choice rather than the current process where the students follow the money.
The national school choice movement is tearing down perceived barriers to school choice and prompting parents to demand that their children are given options.
Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, expressing concern about the reduced educational experience for students during the past year noted, “Parents who never thought they would need school choice now realize they desperately do.”