Today’s school debates present what appears to be a paradox: Americans are reporting burnout with school reform from almost all sides, even if a large number of parents express their appetite for new options such as choosing a private school, home schooling and âlearning modulesâ.
What is happening? How can parents simultaneously be exhausted by the reform and hungry for options?
Let’s start with why Americans can be reform exhausted. It is fair to say that most parents and communities have had less than good experiences with âschool reformâ and the reformers who pursue it. From the wreckage of the Common Core State Standards train to the revival of post-Katrina New Orleans, school reform has often been felt to be something that affluent residents of Silicon Valley or Washington visit to parents and educators. local whether they like it or not.
In fact, from a parent’s perspective, Big “R” Reform– in which reformers pursue ambitious reforms in search of sweeping slogans (“closing the achievement gap” or “university for all”) – generally feels far removed from things that will have a direct impact on their child. Big R Reform may leave parents wondering how this addresses their pressing concerns about student safety, dirty technology, or overly easy reading homework. But instead of offering practical answers to practical problems, reformers end up encouraging parents to email state lawmakers or wear brightly colored T-shirts in the state capital. , in the hope that this will eventually contribute to the adoption of the four point plan.
For low-income families in particular, school reform has often taken the form of another out-of-town funder pursuing another ambitious reform agenda concocted by a mix of confident researchers. , young people in their twenties and foundation leaders. In a story that has been told time and time again, these families end up feeling left out and misused for the sake of an outsider’s vision of “reform.” While each new wave of reform is led by reformers who promise “this time will be different”, it rarely happens that way.
Meanwhile, middle-class families in the suburbs have realized that school reform is not at all for them or their children. For three decades, school choice reforms have been designed and marketed as a tool to serve low-income urban core children. When suburban parents worried about No Child Left Behind-inspired cuts in the arts, world languages, and gifted classes, they were told to worry less about their own children and more about what “those others.” children ‘needed.
So it’s hard to blame a parent, especially after a year and a half, for not wanting more âreformistâ disturbances. It’s easy to see why parents who have the resources and the know-how prefer to call a principal to reassign their child from Teacher A to Teacher B or ask a school board member to help them enroll their child. child in a program.
This understandable tendency to focus on solving specific problems rather than wading through the miasma of system change helps explain the increased appetite for more and better school options. For millions of families, the âchoice of schoolâ has shifted from abstraction to the potential solution.
This applies to parents frustrated that local public schools have tended to stay closed last year while many private schools have safely opened.. Parents who found themselves in charge of home schooling when school districts closed and who now wish to retain some of the benefits through âhybrid home schoolingâ. To third parents who are in a learning module or say they are interested in joining one, including more than half of black parents and 45% of Latino parents. And to parents who have doubled the country’s home school population to 1 in 10 students. These parents are not looking to reform their schools; they’re just looking for options that are right for them.
So the apparent paradox is not that paradoxical after all. Parents are skeptical of the reform because they are skeptical that it will help their children; the new options are attractive because parents believe they will actually benefit their children. A useful reality test for educators, policy makers and aspiring reformers.