Schooling In America: While Some Scream Against Choice, More Quietly Choose

What do you think about our public schools? The answer to that could vary widely depending on whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a taxpayer without a personal connection to the public education system. A new report by EdChoice shines some light on parent and teacher attitudes about the direction of the K-12 education, accountability, and choice programs.

In Schooling in America, the most striking survey finding reveals teachers trust parents about as much as most of us trust Congress to get things done. As a mother, and now, recently, grandmother living in Nashville, I’ve been a keen observer of our public school system over the last several years and parents are treated as an afterthought. I’ve seen how they placate parents with head nods and polite smiles but rarely take them seriously. So the finding makes some sense, but I’m really having a hard time getting my head around it!

In order of trustworthiness, parents rank below the principal, students, union leadership, and district superintendent. To wit, of all the stakeholders listed in the survey, parents ranked at the bottom with elected officials, state and federal bureaucrats. I’m going to take a bit of liberty here, but I believe if parents were asked the same question, teachers would be at the top of the list of stakeholders they most trust. Trust is the most essential building block for any relationship, without it attempts to engage families are cosmetic and futile. 

Equally shocking is how much people actually like programs that expand options for students. In most education conversations I hear, things like charter schools, Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), Tax Credit Scholarships, and Vouchers are akin to four-letter words, but according to Schooling In America when given a description of the program in question, more than two-thirds favor the four choice options. Also, more than half of those surveyed believe K-12 education is going in the wrong the direction. These two facts go hand in hand. If people are dissatisfied with the direction schools are going, it makes sense they’d be open to other options. These results, specifically, confirm what I’ve always believed, information is a parent’s most powerful tool and when provided with good information parents will do whatever it takes for the children’s education.

Perhaps the single most interesting point shows up in the demographic groups with a great majority in favor of the four choice options. According to this report, teachers, African Americans, and Generation X’ers are enthusiastic supporters of choice programs. At a time when every American issue seems to fall prey to partisan politics, choice programs such as Charters, ESAs, and Tax Credit Scholarships rise above the fray.

Public school teachers in the study are not as supportive of vouchers as other programs, but they typically favor programs they believe will not threaten public school funding. Gen X’ers, the generation greatly impacted by desegregation efforts and its unintended consequences, are less inclined to have a narrow perspective as it relates to access to education. Finally, African Americans overwhelmingly support Charters and ESAs which suggests a growing detachment from the system accustomed to the group’s relentless loyalty. 

Schooling In America is both revealing and confirming. Teachers and parents are two of the most vital pieces in a child’s educational career and principals have within their power to create a culture that affirms teachers and respects parents. The principal/teacher/parent trifecta is a necessary framework to establish a powerful support system for students. Lastly, the loudest voices in the education discussion as seen in the media are not necessarily representative of the majority and this report tells us that the parents most in favor of choice programs are not yelling, they are busy making choices.

 

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