Parents Who Opt Out of Public Schools Don’t Deserve Smears From Teachers Unions

Marta Mac Ban is not a revolutionary. Ashley Ekpo is not disgruntled. And Brooke Hunt does not consider herself better than others. All three women just want the best education possible for their children.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, that has meant taking matters into their own hands. Rather than settling for public school solutions that put students in front of laptops all day, the parents have pulled their kids out of the system and tried alternatives.

The empowerment scares teachers unions, which have a long history of attacking choice. Normally when parents try homeschooling or other options, union allies brand them as weird or extreme. The newest smear is even uglier.

Parents who bring their children together in small learning groups during the pandemic not only get labeled as eccentric, but also as segregationists guilty of promoting racial division in a nation with an ugly history of “separate but equal.”

The National Education Association lays out the talking point in a recent policy paper, and industry insiders have repeated the claim on dozens of platforms. Using loaded terms like “radical” and “unqualified,” they have sounded the alarm about a massive parental revolt.

Popular targets include families that have organized themselves into pandemic pods and microschools—two variations of homeschool co-ops that allow in-person instruction to continue in residential settings while brick-and-mortar classrooms remain closed or restricted.

Union leaders blast the innovation not because it fails, but because it works. They argue that the proliferation of home study groups will widen opportunity gaps and worsen school segregation because well-resourced families will benefit disproportionately. New York University sociologist R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy says pod parents engage in “opportunity hoarding.”

Gregory Hutchings, superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia, warned about the opportunity gaps during a summer meeting with parents. Yet his concern that nobody get ahead during the pandemic applied only to others. Shortly after his lecture, he pulled one of his own children out of the district and enrolled her in a private Catholic school.

The pressure campaign is powerful, but many parents are no longer listening. Rather than worrying about the name-calling, they are reclaiming control.

‘Room Mom’ Opts Out

Marta Mac Ban, an Arizona parent who started homeschooling her 6-year-old daughter during the pandemic, says the jolt from COVID-19 is exactly what the school system needed. “The shakeup has reminded district leaders who their customers really are,” she says. “If you don’t give your customers what they want, they go elsewhere.”

She and her husband did that in 2019 when they moved to Cave Creek, a small community north of Phoenix. They liked the local district, so they relocated as a form of school choice. Then they enrolled their daughter in kindergarten and got involved. Mac Ban volunteered as “room mom,” creating classroom decorations and participating in parties. She also stayed active in the parent-teacher organization, compiling and sending monthly newsletters.

Everything went well until March, when classes switched to Zoom. Mac Ban, who tries to limit her daughter’s screen time, quickly opted out. “She’s not going to sit still for hours at a time staring at a computer,” Mac Ban says.

She and her husband previously had considered homeschooling but were unsure if they had sufficient resources to pull it off. “We were already on the fence,” Mac Ban says. “COVID was the push.” Now she teaches at home, while teaming up with neighbors one day per week in a learning pod.

Despite the switch, Mac Ban does not oppose public schools. She sees many good things in her local district and continues to serve in the parent-teacher organization. What she supports is more choice. “One size does not fit all,” she says. “It’s ironic that they say, ‘No child left behind’ because so many kids are left behind when everyone is forced to go just to the one school.”

Surprised by Success

Prior to the pandemic, Ashley Ekpo and her husband also relocated to find better schools. They switched from Prince George’s County to neighboring Howard County in Maryland. The move extended the work commute for both parents, but they accepted the extra drive time as a sacrifice for their children.

Things went well until the pandemic. The parents initially jumped on board with distance learning through their public school, but soon found themselves overwhelmed with three school-aged children and two younger ones at home. “They were all lined up at the dining room table, and it was basically a nightmare,” Ekpo says.

After a few weeks, she noticed a drop in educational quality, so she started researching options. When she and her husband decided to try homeschooling, they initially saw it as a temporary solution until they felt comfortable sending their children back to the classroom. Now, the parents aren’t sure what they will do in 2021 and beyond. “We’re staying open-minded because we’re having a really good experience with it,” Ekpo says.

A Place for Everyone

Brooke Hunt and her husband like choice so much that they let their older children decide for themselves what they wanted to do during the pandemic. All three opted to remain in public schools, while two younger ones started homeschooling in Mesa, Arizona. “We just made the big, brave decision in August,” says Hunt, who has a degree in early childhood education.

Critics complain that homeschooling can cut children off from diverse classrooms, but Hunt sees the opposite in the co-op that she runs with two other families. Unlike public schools, which segregate students by age, the homeschooling group brings children together at different stages of development. This represents a type of diversity.

Participants in Hunt’s group also come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. “Lack of diversity is never an issue,” she explains. Her only regret is that she cannot help more families in her little operation. “I wish I could open my home to everyone where there’s a need,” Hunt says.

Teachers unions could benefit from the same inclusive mindset. Parents like Mac Ban, Ekpo, and Hunt are not segregationists. They are innovators who should be celebrated, not smeared.

Daryl James and Erica Smith, Reason Magazine

Affluent Families Ditch Public Schools, Widening US Inequality

Affluent Families Ditch Public Schools, Widening US Inequality

One is thriving after switching from online public school to in-person private education. The other is struggling, stuck in her virtual classroom.

The lives of these two girls, Ella Pierick and Afiya Harris, encapsulate the growing divide in U.S. education as more affluent parents flee public schools.

In Connecticut, enrollment fell 3%. Colorado reported a similar decline, with the steepest losses in one of its wealthiest counties. Chicago’s rosters dipped 4.1%, the most in 20 years.

Parents with means are instead homeschooling; joining with other families to hire teachers in so-called pandemic pods; or signing up for private schools. Poor and minority children often have no choice but to attend inferior virtual classrooms, and some are just giving up entirely.

“The pandemic has exposed so many things,” said Amanda Thompson-Rice, a math support specialist in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools. “Our affluent parents, they’ve got what they call pods, they’ve hired teachers or workers to support their kids for the day. They’re paying them like $20 or $30 an hour. Black families are trying to just live.”

A December study by consultant McKinsey & Co. found that students of color in U.S. schools had fallen behind in math by three to five months because of the pandemic; white students trailed by only one to three months. A quarter of kids do not have access to any kind of web-enabled device or broadband at home.

A quarter of kids do not have access to any kind of web-enabled device or broadband at home

Other disadvantaged groups are floundering, too. In Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, the number of middle and high school students earning failing grades in at least two classes nearly doubled to 11% of students, with steeper rises among children with disabilities and those for whom English isn’t their first language.

U.S. public schools educate more than 50 million children, so even modest enrollment declines could add up to hundreds of thousands of kids. National figures won’t be available for a couple of years and class sizes could recover after the pandemic. If a significant number don’t return — or if there’s a lag — it could have an impact on school budgets, which are based on the previous year’s enrollment.

Public schools spent $739 billion in the 2016-2017 school year, or $14,000 per student, 90% from local and state money and most of the rest from the federal government. So schools face a potential challenge: less money to treat students who demand more attention because they’ve fallen behind in virtual classrooms.

“Kids are very likely to return to school needing a great deal of enrichment,” said Kevin Welner, an education professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “That educational issue runs smack into the school finance issue.”

In the village of Oregon, Wisconsin, near the state’s capital, Jessica Pierick did what she could to make sure her daughter Ella didn’t fall behind in third grade. She and her husband work for a small construction company, so they could afford to switch from public to nearby Saint Ann School, a Catholic institution that charges $5,000 a year tuition.

“I really like it there because there’s a lot of new people I get to meet,” Ella said.

In the New York City borough of the Bronx, Afiya Harris, who is 10, still logs on for school on a laptop. Her father is an elevator mechanic. Her mother recently lost her job an administrative assistant at a law firm. Afiya attends Tag Young Scholars, a magnet school for the gifted and talented in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood.

Her parents spend nights tutoring Afiya, and she recently started meeting weekly with a social worker to address her difficulties in concentrating amid computer glitches.

“I have breakdowns because I can’t believe I spent so much time going over this with her,” said her mother, Rasheedah Harris. “I get emotional, because most parents, I know, aren’t able to put in that time.” 

Elsewhere in the Bronx, some students are barely showing up. Leton Hall, a science teacher at predominantly Black and Hispanic Pelham Gardens Middle School, said 10 out of 25 students don’t log-in at all on a typical day. Many who do lose connections because of Wi-Fi problems or don’t turn on their cameras, suggesting they may not be participating.Hall records a video of himself teaching for students who missed live instruction but knows some will fall many grade levels behind. More than the three quarters of students at the school are considered economically disadvantaged and 7% are homeless. 

“We always have contact with students and with parents that are absent, but it’s just different now,” Hall said. “You can call, but there is not much you can really do.”

Bloomberg News

Another example of the complete failure of our government-run education system. It’s our national embarrassment. And, unfortunately, only the affluent are able to drop out of the system. The public schools have done irreperable damage to generations of American students, of every race and ethnic group. It’s child abuse. The people responsible for this should be strung from a lamppost. A/D