Our one-size-fits-all public education model simply isn’t up to the challenges faced by a post-pandemic world. Although, to be fair, it wasn’t exactly knocking it out of the park prior to the pandemic either. Nonetheless, the seismic disruptions to our world—economically, socially and culturally—are demonstrating the full extent of such a system’s shortcomings.
As usual, government-run enterprises have been laggards in the evolutionary race to offer real solutions to parents and students. As a new school year begins, and we finally open up to in-person learning, the inflexibility we saw plague the system during the shutdowns isn’t going to suddenly become irrelevant.
We’re already seeing political disagreements about masks, curriculum and limited school closures causing serious contention throughout various communities. The academic failings of some of our traditional public schools aside, the political disagreements about how and what children should be taught has become an increasingly contentious issue—with many parents still feeling decidedly disenfranchised by last year’s protracted chaos.
From mask policies to flirtations with “Critical Race Theory” in the curriculum, school board meetings across the nation are getting more tense as ever more parents voice their outrage with a system that has been exposed as unaccountable to the very communities it was ostensibly designed to serve.
It’s no wonder dissatisfaction with the status quo has resulted in many parents finding ways to flee the system—notwithstanding the extremely limited alternatives many families have to neighborhood public schools here in Nevada. From homeschooling, to micro-schools to charter schools, parents have been grasping at any alternative in an attempt to reclaim control over their children’s education from a political and bureaucratic monopoly.
And while it might be tempting to blame the last year of closures, chaos and confusion for the current wave of educational choice we see in other corners of the nation, the truth is that public schooling, in and of itself, inherently fuels much of the deeper conflict playing out in board meetings and parent groups. After all, such conflict is virtually inevitable when forcing diverse people into a single (politically run) system.
In other words, in an increasingly diverse and ideologically disparate culture, a “one-size-fits-all” solution simply isn’t going to please everyone. Even in the best of times, the politicians and administrators running our public education apparatus wouldn’t be capable of catering to the vast array of personal preferences and concerns made by families facing their own unique set of challenges. During a time as uncertain, chaotic and politically divisive as now, those shortcomings are even more pronounced.
Which explains the currently growing chorus of support for educational choice throughout the nation—and it’s popularity here in Nevada. After all, the primary advantage of choice is that government, an inherently political enterprise, wouldn’t be solely responsible for providing a single “answer” to the disparate concerns of families. The sheer diversity offered by a competitive and robust marketplace would guarantee that someone, somewhere, will offer solutions that government simply doesn’t.
And that—not merely last year’s COVID shutdowns or ongoing curriculum disputes—is what has doomed the traditional public education monopoly. Even if education officials were able to identify and successfully implement “the best” framework for education, there would still be countless families desperate to take their children (and education dollars) elsewhere if given the opportunity. After all, as the old saying goes, “it’s impossible to please everyone.”
And maybe that’s why the current monopoly system has worked so tirelessly to decimate even modest proposals for increasing access to education alternatives. They know many families would utilize such alternatives, regardless of what education “fixes” are promised by school districts or lawmakers. And, because fewer families in public classrooms could mean fewer educational dollars for the establishment, the system’s stalwart opposition to choice programs makes fiscal sense.
However, desperately clinging to a one-size-fits-all system, is a position doomed to fail countless students, even under the best of times. Doing so in this current moment is an even graver injustice. And while teacher unions, public-education insiders and other anti-choice forces might continue to hold sway in Carson City, they’re rapidly losing influence over the people who should actually matter the most in education policy: parents themselves.
Michael Schaus is Communications Director at Nevada Policy Research Institute