Education: Attack on parent choice awakes a sleeping giant

A school bus awaits to pick up children at a California school. (Photo: Debbie Ann Powell, via Shutterstock)

The accumulation of harmful public policy proposals which would have eliminated parent choice in California demonstrates what happens when Sacramento’s public education establishment awakes a sleeping giant.

Largely because of the educational disruptions caused by the pandemic, many California parents saw firsthand the failings of the traditional classroom brought to their kitchen table. School closures and the subsequent classroom zooms started out as a difficult inconvenience, and quickly turned into a huge wake-up call.

In fact, it forced parents to begin paying attention to other details of how their public schools are operating and ask key questions about everything from curriculum to teaching approaches

“During the 2020-21 school year, the pandemic forced schools of all types to close their doors and switch to remote learning.” — NAPCS report

Ultimately, those questions led to one conclusion – parents should determine what education model works best for the child.

A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools validates this latest parent shift,  finding that California’s charter schools appear to have benefitted from the state’s drop in public school attendance.

California charter schools had 15,283 new children enroll in the 2020-2021 school year, a 2.3% increase from the previous year. By contrast, the state’s public schools saw a decline of 175,761 students, a 3.2% drop.”During the 2020-21 school year, the pandemic forced schools of all types to close their doors and switch to remote learning,” the report said.

“Many families were dissatisfied with the quality of what was available to their children. And that dissatisfaction led them to learn more about the other educational options available. For many families, schools’ nimbleness and flexibility made them the right public school choice.”

And it doesn’t just stop with brick-and-mortar charter schools.

In 2019, there were approximately 2.5 million kids statewide learning at home. Today, there are more than 5 million and that number is growing rapidly.

To be clear, this move away from traditional classroom education is not the result of our teachers, most of whom perform their jobs admirably. The failings belong to the system that is resistant to competition and reform.

Unfortunately, the state’s public education establishment has always resisted these alternatives even as many neighborhood public schools have faltered. The California Teachers’ Association (CTA) , for instance, turned to its allies in the state Capitol to limit the choices of parents in subsequent legislative sessions. However, this year, they pushed their luck and ultimately woke the sleeping giant.

Parents are becoming more and more aware of public policy that is counterproductive and harmful to their kids.

During the 2021 legislative session, California witnessed another round of harmful measures seeking to undermine a parent’s ability to access the type of public school best suited for their child. By preventing state funding from following the student, these proposals were the opposite of what parents were demanding.

According to a recent statewide poll conducted by the Good4U coalition, 87 percent of California parents believe that they should be able to choose which public school is best for their children.

There are many different public learning options available to families – from brick-and-mortar charters to virtual school-at-home programs. All have been around for decades with  established, proven track records. Unlike many traditional neighborhood schools, these charter schools did not miss a beat when classroom closures occurred in March 2020. Our teachers continued to teach and our kids continued to learn.

And that’s why purposefully hindering these programs has awaken the sleeping giant. Parents are becoming more and more aware of public policy that is counterproductive and harmful to their kids.

We have become organized, joined social media platforms, and now have the attention of elected leaders in charge of education policy – from local school districts to the State Capitol. As someone who was involved in this effort, I saw firsthand that in all regions, and among all races and creeds, parents wanted to determine what works best for their children.

So here’s my advice to parents. Become involved. Research public policies and join parent coalitions. Embrace the sleeping giant together. We can do this!

Editor’s Note: Janelle Smiley, a Santa Rose resident, is the president of California Parents for Public Virtual Education. She is the mother of two online charter-school graduates.

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