A Moment of Opportunity For Education

America’s educational system is terrible–so bad, I think, that it poses a serious threat to the thriving, and even the survival, of the republic. That is the context in which all, or nearly all, public schools shut down last spring as a result of coronavirus hysteria. The results were disastrous. Once learning went “virtual,” something like 20% to 30% of students never even logged in once. They never completed an assignment, never took a test, and so on. And, of course, these were precisely the students who need our schools the most.

Now, with the 2020-21 school year fast approaching, teachers’ unions have demanded that schools remain closed, at least until voters and taxpayers accede to fantastical lists of demands. Teaching school is alleged to be unreasonably dangerous, even though there is not a single documented case in the world of a student transmitting COVID to a teacher, and even though clerks at Total Wine stores–to name just one example–are brave enough to work. So schools across the country are remaining closed for the foreseeable future.

This could be seen as a disaster, or perhaps as an opportunity. Parents who have been abandoned by the public schools are looking for alternatives. Some are home schooling; some are putting their kids in private schools; some are forming neighborhood groups to hire tutors. There is, in short, a powerful movement brewing to liberate parents and students from the failed public school system and, above all, from the teachers’ unions.

Shamefully, some union zealots and establishment figures are trying to prevent parents from responding appropriately to their abandonment by the public school system. At AmericanExperiment.org, my colleague Catrin Wigfall documents one such attempt: “MN professors tell white parents to keep kids in public schools to show they aren’t racist.”

Abby Rombalski (University of Minnesota) and Anita Chikkatur (Carleton College) opined in MinnPost that white parents should “keep your children enrolled in their current or local public school” to show “anti-racism.”

…[W]hite America owes Black students a large educational debt, and funding public schools is one part of paying back that debt.

Well-resourced, culturally relevant public schools are an important facet of society that values Black lives and BIPOC children. … Leaning into your local public school is an anti-racist move to support schools through enrollment, advocacy, and community building.

Hmm. It’s curious Rombalski and Chikkatur so strongly believe that public schools are “paying back” students of color by providing them with the education they need. Despite research that shows Minnesota is one of the most generous states in the nation with regard to funding for districts with high populations of low-income students and students of color, the state’s public school system has failed to meet the educational needs of these student populations for decades.

The link goes to Catrin’s own just-published paper, titled “ALLERGIC TO ACCOUNTABILITY: Minnesota’s public schools have little to show for decades of increased spending.” The paper demonstrates that despite lavish funding, Minnesota’s public schools achieve mediocre, and declining, results. In particular, they fail the state’s African-American children.

The paper’s most striking finding, in my opinion, is that black public school children in Mississippi significantly outperform black public school children in Minnesota on objective tests, despite far less spending on education. And the gap is growing; the performance of black children in Mississippi is improving, while the performance of black children in Minnesota is getting worse.

A mountain of empirical data shows that there is no correlation between spending on public schools and educational attainment. (See Catrin’s linked paper.) Given the terrible performance of America’s public schools, the teachers’ unions’ insistence that they be shut down indefinitely should be seen mostly as an opportunity. The time has come for parents, students and taxpayers to declare independence. The alternatives to the public school system that they pursue can only be an improvement.

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