To empower parents, reinvent the school
Armed with recent gains in Virginia and New Jersey, Republicans see an opportunity to win back suburban voters by stoking public anger over what is happening in their public schools. To Fox News big title says it all: âParents across the United States are revolting against school boards over masks, critical race theory and gender issues.
While Fox’s claim is generally hyperbolic, the issue of parental control over child rearing has large loom in republican Glenn youngkinGlenn YoungkinNRCC Raises About $ 1 Million at Annual Dinner Featuring Trump US Elections Become Less Predictable; There’s a reason Winsome Sears is starting a new historic chapter as Lieutenant Virginia. governor PLUSvictory over Terry McAuliffeTerry McAuliffe Democrats worried about Abrams’ silence on Georgia governor have offered Winsome Sears to start a historic new chapter as Virginia lieutenant. governor Five questions that will define the months to mid-term READ MORE in the contest for governor of Virginia. From GOP strategists Think of it as the blueprint for next year’s midterm elections, the K-12 schools seemed destined to become the new central front in the country’s culture wars.
Across the country, pissed off parents are storming normally sleepy school board meetings and targeting members for abuse and online threats. In Washington, the Republicans concocted a “Declaration of parents’ rights” campaign next year. Teacher unions and their political allies call for a counter-mobilization to win school board races across the country.
Before putting on their armor, however, Democrats should recognize a political trap Republicans are setting for them. By filling the air with the usual noxious haze of fear, conspiracy theories and racial denial, they hope to spur Democrats to line up with a K-12 establishment opposed to change.
Instead of defending the status quo, Democrats should come up with a progressive vision for modernizing America’s public schools and empowering parents. Designed for the industrial age, our old school model has failed to provide equal educational opportunity to millions of low-income and minority students. american students far behind their counterparts in China and others who perform better in international reading, math and science tests. And the âone-size-fits-allâ model for public schools is misaligned with how our diverse population learns and acquires professional skills valuable in the knowledge economy.
Rather than focusing on these fundamental flaws, conservatives prefer to stoke white fears by focusing on “critical race theory” (CRT). Democrats are absolutely right to oppose their demands to erase school lessons of references to the ugly history of racial prejudice and subjugation in the United States, simply because they might be disconcerting. some white students.
However, while insisting on flawless historical accuracy, Democrats do not need to endorse trendy academic theories and books on “white privilege” and “systemic racism” that seek to delegitimize founding ideals. of America and to cool an honest public debate on race. Our children are not legitimate targets for ideological indoctrination campaigns, whether pushed by the Trumpian right or the identity left.
In addition to the CRT, Republicans are denouncing mandates for vaccines and masks, sexually explicit books in school libraries, and attempts by principals to welcome transgender students. More difficult to dismiss as cultural trolling is the widespread complaint that school closures linked to the pandemic have lasted longer here than in other advanced countries.
Moreover, it is not only conservative parents who oppose lower standards in the name of equity and diversity, for example by eliminating âgifted and talentedâ programs or eliminating entrance exams for academically rigorous schools. And many low-income black and Hispanic parents resentment attempts by white progressives to limit choice of school.
It should be remembered that, until recently, Democrats paved the way by requiring a wider parental choice of schools; higher academic standards and diverse study programs; and real accountability for schools that continually fail to reduce achievement gaps between races and classes.
For example, President Clinton has championed Parents’ Choice for low-income families who cannot afford to relocate to the suburbs to find a decent school. He launched the first federal charter school program and worked with governors to raise academic standards across the country. One of president obamaBarack Hussein Obama Those on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be at the heart of his solution The memo: Trump judges appear poised to restrict abortion Minorities and women lead the red wave MORERace to the Top’s most creative initiatives, which sparked a national competition to develop innovative schools that expand choices for minority and low-income parents.
Sadly, the Biden administration has done little to build on these reforms, despite compelling evidence that they often deliver better educational outcomes for disadvantaged and minority children. In fact, Democrats at all levels of government today seem more responsive to teachers’ unions than to parents.
In this void of political leadership, today’s right-wing demagoguery flourishes. Many conservatives tell parents that public education has become a culturally alien business that they should either resume or abandon. They are encouraging the growth of home schooling during the pandemic and doubling the demands for vouchers to privatize public education.
The best way for Democrats to defend the ideal of public education is to reinvent our old K-12 model, which is too centralized, standardized, bureaucratic, and unresponsive to parents. Successful prototypes for change exist in New Orleans, Indianapolis, Washington, DC, Newark and other cities where pioneering efforts to create more innovative and effective public schools have reached critical mass.
They signal an emergence 21st century school architecture based on autonomy, responsibility and parental choice. The new model decentralizes key decisions, including budgeting and the hiring and firing of staff, from the central office to on-site principals. It offers more varied teaching programs, adapted to the different learning styles of the students. This not only allows public authorities to close schools that continually fail to succeed, but also compels them. And it starts to soften the school-to-work transition connecting students with employers and work-learning opportunities before graduation.
This is the real âparenting powerâ agenda – one that can trump Republicans âcore billsâ and make Democrats the party of radically pragmatic change in American public schools.
Will Marshall is President and Founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).