By Connie Pillsbury

Sometimes when you are in the middle of a giant windstorm, you don’t notice the change in the rate of the breezes. But there is a windstorm blowing through public education in the United States that has been picking up speed for about thirty years.  

The first signs were when families started “homeschooling” in the 1980s, considered at first a ‘fringe phenomenon’ but now the fastest growing form of education in America. In 1983 the number was 93,000, jumping to one million in 1997 and 2.5 million in 2019. That number doubled by January of this year, with now 4-5 million (7-9 percent of school-age children) in grades K-12 being homeschooled.

Along with homeschooling, another route gathering speed is the number of families seeking charter schools. 

Getting through this together, Atascadero

This surge also began in the 1980s, with inner-city minority families pulling their children out of undisciplined and disorganized schools to put them in charter schools. In early 2020, before the pandemic, there were over one million students on charter school waiting lists in the US (Charter Schools and their Enemies by Thomas Sowell, 2020).  

The big picture created by these 30-year trends is that parents are losing faith in the public school system’s ability to educate their children and produce capable citizens. “Parents have shifted to the place where they feel they need more direct involvement and greater responsibility for what happens with their children. We are in a major shift from how we thought about teaching children and running schools for the past 100 years.” (Dr. Joseph Murphy, Vanderbilt University)  

This ‘major shift’ also creates strong gusts of momentum for school choice vouchers. Consider this number: the state, with taxpayers’ money, spends an average of $14,270 per pupil annually in public schools. Currently, public schools hold a monopoly on those funds, i.e., hold exclusive possession of all aspects of K-12 education. The only families that actually have a choice in what is taught and values transmitted are those who homeschool, pod-school, waitlist for a charter school, or pay for a micro-school or private school.  

Interestingly, the pandemic has accelerated the pace of this 30-year shift away from public education. The extended school closures have opened Pandora’s box revealing the lopsided level of teachers’ union control. Not only do the unions oppose re-opening, they strongly resist homeschooling, charter schools, and school choice through vouchers. In some cases, the unions are using the closure for their own gains. When asked last week why Chicago teachers would threaten a strike rather than return to in-person teaching, Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, answered, “money.” Bingo.

But teachers’ unions’ efforts cannot stop the ongoing winds of change. Parents feel abandoned by the schools that have been supported by their tax dollars. Data released last week show California K-12 public schools have dropped by 155,000 students, a record. “In North Carolina, the state’s homeschool website crashed on the first day of enrollment, when more than 18,800 families filed to operate a home school for 2021-22. Connecticut recorded a fivefold jump in those who left public schools for homeschool. Nebraska saw a 56 percent rise in homeschooling.” (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 31, 2021) Charter school waiting lists have doubled while private schools, 60 percent open to in-person learning since fall, are at maximum capacity.

Parents aren’t waiting for districts to stop haggling with unions about when to open schools. And they’re not hopeful that failure of the public school system to educate is going to change. They are saying, “We’ve really tried for a year to do what the districts are asking, but we just can’t do this anymore.” All over the country, they’re setting their sails and charting a new course.  

Watch the wind blow.

Connie Pillsbury is an independent opinion columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email her at conniepillsbury22@gmail.com

Sources Used: NHERI; Research Facts on Homeschooling,Bad Teaching is Tearing America Apart; The Weekend Covid-19 Pandemic Pushes More Parents to Go All In for Homeschooling; Standing Up to Goliath Charter Schools and Their Enemies; The Year Teachers Unions Killed the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg you can read all sources online at atascaderonews.com/Parents Across the Nation Are Charting a New Course: Setting Sail from Public Education