Did You Know That Two-Thirds of Families Prefer Full-Time, In-Person Schooling?
In the heated debate over reopening K-12 public schools—and the $200 billion in federal funding being proposed to pry open schoolhouse doors—there is frequently conveyed a misleading impression about parental reluctance to send their kids to school full-time. Here’s an example, care of a recent New York Times valentine to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:
And like teachers, many parents do not feel ready to return students to classrooms. In big cities with partially open schools, like New York and Washington, D.C., the majority of families offered in-person seats have declined them.
Every assertion in those two sentences is true. And yet it is still misleading. Why?
Because the casual reader would naturally infer that the “majority of families” who have declined in-person seats did so because the parents “do not feel ready to return students to classrooms.” This is emphatically not the case.
A majority of public K-12 schools, particularly in large cities, have not included full-time in-person learning as an option. What parents are rejecting is the “hybrid” model—some days in, some days remote, classes or schools always subject to re-close if X number of students or staffers test positive for COVID.
Reason has many such parents. For example, here’s Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, mother of two children in the Washington, D.C., public schools system, explaining her choices in an editorial Slack thread on the topic: “I opted into hybrid for one kid and out for another because of the specifics of what was being offered. And those specifics were dictated exclusively by the teachers unions AND MAKE NO…SENSE for anyone except the teachers union leadership.”
(Forgive Mangu-Ward for being shouty; parents are under a bit of stress these days. Also, check out her great video about exercising her own school choice at the bottom of this post.)
In the same Slack channel came this testimony, from Reason Foundation Development Director Jackie Pyke, mother of two in the Alexandria City Public Schools: “I opted out of hybrid because it sounds horrible (5 kids per class, masks, plexiglass, monitor instead of teacher, remote learning anyway). And they haven’t even started hybrid yet.”
It’s not just that most families are not being offered the choice of five-day instruction, it’s that they’re not even being offered the ability to express that preference when school districts make a show of soliciting parental opinion in advance of formulating attendance options. Here’s what that means in practice:
In July 2020, as the science and worldwide experience was showing overwhelmingly that young kids who attend school or daycare comparatively do not catch, suffer from, or transmit COVID-19, and as the community positivity rate in New York City rested near 1 percent, my daughter’s public middle school sent parents a survey offering four choices:
1) Attend school once every three days, with the rest being remote.
2) Attend once every four days.
3) Once a week, or
4) Fully remote.
See what’s missing there?
“Fully remote” does indeed capture the preferences of some parents who are scared to send their kids back to school (on which more below). But it also describes the option selected by several people I know who decided to either move out of the city or wrestle with a predictable if difficult home-learning schedule rather than subject their calendars to the temporal whims of feckless, unpredictable politicians.
The education establishment, and the teachers unions that heavily influence it in big Democratic cities, is keenly aware of the role that choice architecture can play in steering parents towards decisions that bureaucrats favor. There’s a reason why the most faddish method these days for attempting to achieve racial and socioeconomic numerical balance in pub
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