1

Parental choice answers controversies in public education

To say public education has been beset with controversies over the last year is an understatement. Reopening of schools witnessed major conflict and change. To wit:

  • in-person education versus distance learning.
  • the hybrid model – how much of in-person/distance learning.
  • kids wearing masks – Yes? No? Kinda?
  • social distancing – how do you do that?
  • parents opting their children out of the traditional public school.

Then, as those have been sorting themselves out, public education became swamped in the hot-button issue of the teaching of critical race theory-driven in large measure by the NY Times’ 1619 project. That has led to cries of racism and pitting students against each other based on race. An unprecedented backlash of laws and executive orders limiting or prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory have sprung from statehouses and governor’s offices throughout the country. According to EducationWeek,

As of June 28, 25 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Nine states have enacted these bans, either through legislation or other avenues.

Much of this legislative activity has been a response to parents opposing these teachings. Loudoun County Virginia, located just outside of the nation’s capital, has become ground zero over parents protesting their local school board decisions. A raucous school board meeting was cut short with parents leading the charge, not only protesting critical race theory but transgender student issues.

But now legislative action has been taken to another level.

A new Florida law, signed on June 22 by Governor DeSantis, requires schools to teach the evils of communism. The Arizona House of Representatives just passed a bill (not law yet) that would require students to be taught stories of people who fled communism. Although the Florida and Arizona efforts should be lauded in theory, do we really want an increase in state government-mandated curriculum? It’s that old slippery slope thing. Where will it stop? As I wrote in this blog even the feds are getting into the game by giving grants to schools that teach critical race theory.

And what happens when Democrat-led states follow the lead of Biden’s education department by ratcheting up so-called progressive curricula, like in Oregon where math is taught as being racist. Any curriculum tete-a-tete is a tug-of-war with students being constantly pulled back and forth.

Fortunately, these controversies have not reached a fever pitch in Kansas.  But with the combination of a reasonably conservative Legislature, Democrat governor, and an “independent” State Board of Education, they could rear their ugly heads here.

One suggestion to avoid baseless and biased teachings, e.g., the 1619 Project and that math is inherently racist, would be to create a statewide teacher code of ethics, one in which educators pledge to take their personal prejudices out of their teachings. The Kansas Association of American Educators (KANAAE), a professional organization that is an alternative to teacher unions, has a code of ethics that includes this statement:

The professional educator endeavors to present facts without distortion, bias, or personal prejudice.

The NEA has a code of ethics, which according to their webpage was adopted in 1975, but does not contain anything about personal bias or prejudice. KSDE has no code of ethics but has a code of conduct brochure. Expanding the KANAAE pledge to a statewide requirement is unquestionably within the purview of the state, but that would create a double-edged sword: it would establish a government mandate with no way to enforce it.

So instead of an approach that would be little more than symbolic, why not pursue substantive change by allowing parents a choice in where they send their children to be educated? With an expansion of parental choice, these controversies plaguing public education could largely be mitigated. If families were free to protest with their feet, there would be little need to vent their anger at the school board –they could simply send their kids to a different school. Believe me, the threat of losing students – and the money that would subsequently be lost – would resonate volumes louder than angry podium speeches.

Hats off to those parents who are fighting the good fight. But, unfortunately for those parents in Virginia who seem to be carrying the water for the nation against inane decisions on the part of school boards, there is little in the way of parental choice. In fact, Virginia almost mirrors Kansas. There is nothing more than a small tax-credit scholarship program and Virginia ranks only one state higher than Kansas in terms of public charter schools.

Perhaps their efforts would be better utilized toward crafting an escape from a system that is obviously failing to educate the next generation of Americans.