The Biden administration is often accused of being hostile to school choice—or at least to choice for families who can’t afford to pay for private tuition on top of taxes for government institutions.
In their defense, the president’s allies say they favor options but want to ensure such schools are held accountable for the dollars they spend and the results they produce. But Biden and company are showing their hand by rejecting the role of parents and students who are best placed to judge what education offers; they prefer rules that make educators accountable to the government instead of families.
You don’t have to look far for evidence of the president’s opposition to school choice. In the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden He said“When we divert public funds to private schools, we undermine the entire public education system. We need to prioritize investing in our public schools, so that every child in America gets a fair chance. That’s why I oppose vouchers.”
“Why are unions and Democrats so opposed to giving poor kids a choice in education?” The Washington Post editorial staff, usually a Biden ally, asked last year. It warns of the danger facing federally funded scholarships to send struggling D.C. kids to private schools with “House Democrats and the Biden administration quietly laying the groundwork to dismantle this valuable program.”
“I’m not a fan of charter schools,” Biden insisted, of publicly funded but independently operated schools, “because it takes away available options and money for public schools.”
More recently, the administration had to drop proposed rules for federal charter grants that would have given traditional school districts veto power over competition. The final rules are less draconian but still intrusive.
When pressed, Biden and company raise barriers to alternatives to holding voucher, charter, and private school recipients accountable for their behavior and results.
“In the context of these rules, we really focused on three goals, exactly, the first is how we think about fiscal responsibility, accountability and transparency,” explained Roberto Rodriguez, assistant secretary of state at the US Department of Education. recent Brookings Institution charter school conference. “These regulations include new efforts to support data-based assessments of community needs.”
“The rulemaking we’ve proposed is not an attempt to eliminate the charter school sector,” Rodriguez insisted.
Charter schools and, presumably, other alternatives are fine then, as long as they justify their existence to the education bureaucracy. But an important point is being missed: all learning options are already accountable, or should be, to the people who see them in action every day.
“16.6 percent of all parents have chosen new schools for their children in the past year, 11.3 percent have considered new schools, and 25.8 percent are currently considering new schools,” the National School Choice Awareness Foundation said in a survey released this week. “A total of 53.7 percent of parents have thought or are thinking about choosing a new school.
Such figures show the constant process of parents evaluating their children’s education and holding educational institutions accountable by considering alternatives. What alternatives are parents considering? Choose.
“Nearly half of parents (45.6 percent) said they were considering traditional public schools in their neighborhood, while 38.2 percent were considering public schools outside their district or zone,” the survey found. “31.5 percent of parents considered public charter schools, 29.1 percent considered private or religious schools, 22.9 percent considered home schooling, 20.8 percent considered regular online schooling, and 4 percent considered micro-schooling or capsule learning.”
Parents don’t need distant data-crunching bureaucrats to assess “community needs” when they make decisions on the fly and determine their own needs. What many of them need, by the way, is more choice: “48.1 percent of parents, including a majority of Hispanic parents (52.8 percent) and young millennial parents (53.4 percent), said their community does not offer enough educational opportunities for families. Only 3.7 percent of all parents said their community offers too many educational opportunities.”
That desire for more educational options and the act of moving kids from one school to another is a better indicator of community needs than you’ll ever get from a Ministry of Education white paper. Plus, substituting accountability to the feds for family preferences isn’t just presumptuous, it is impossible when you consider the various reasons parents have for changing their children’s education.
“In the 2018/19 school year, 36 per cent of students had parents who indicated that they had considered more than one school for their child,” reports the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics. “Among those students, 79 percent had parents who indicated that the quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff was very important. Other factors most parents of students cited as very important included safety (including student discipline) (71 percent) and focus to curriculum or unique academic programs (eg, language immersion, STEM focus) (59 percent).”
“Thirty percent of students in public charter schools have parents who report that they have considered other schools for their child,” NCES adds.
This constant reassessment of the work of schools is real responsibility in action. Parents may be generally satisfied with their children’s education—research shows overall satisfaction among homeschooling families, private school students, charter schools, and public schools. But they are constantly considering options. That’s why, despite the satisfaction, somewhere around 70 percent of the population consistently supports the school choice that Joe Biden has so much doubts about.
Politicians are telling the truth when they claim that the obstacles they put in the way of charter schools, vouchers, scholarships and other options are about accountability. But these obstacles are around disabling responsibility, not promoting it. Real accountability comes when people can decide for themselves what works and what doesn’t and choose accordingly.
Teachers should be accountable to parents and students, not the government.