School Choice Progress During Pandemic

School choice is the issue that crosses partisan lines. The reason is simple; when it comes to their children, parents care more about their education than about political ideology.

The Covid pandemic has brought this issue into focus with greater clarity than ever. The pandemic impact on education was devastating as evidenced by the recent release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP (America’s Schools Are Failing). This report, often referred to as the nation’s report card, has revealed how devastating the school lockdowns were to the educational progress of our nation’s children. This impact was greatest among public school children and lower income families who could not afford tutors and private schools to compensate for lost classroom time.

Jason L. Riley, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, says parents took advantage of education options like never before during the pandemic, to the point where K-12 schooling in the years ahead could look a lot different than it did pre-Covid. According to a new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, enrollment grew 7% at charters between 2019 and 2022, while falling 3.5%, or almost 1.5 million, at traditional public schools over the same period. Catholic schools likewise have seen a boost in attendance, with nationwide enrollment this year up 3.8%, the largest increase in more than two decades.

Parent found other ways to compensate for public school deficiencies, such as creating “learning pods” or “microschools” for their children. This involved bringing together small groups of students who were taught by hired instructors or parent volunteers. The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), a research organization based at Arizona State University, has been studying the phenomenon, and its findings are revealing.

In a report released earlier this year, CRPE noted that 58% of the families who created pods didn’t just prefer them to the remote-learning and hybrid-learning options during the pandemic. They also preferred them to their experience with traditional public schools before the pandemic. Nonwhite families were twice as likely as white families to say the pod improved their child’s overall happiness and attitude toward school, and they trusted the pod instructors more than they did the pre-pandemic teachers in traditional public schools.

This is not surprising, really. There is a long tradition in America of blacks taking education matters into their own hands. Booker T. Washington worked with the philanthropist Julius Rosenwald in the early 20th century to build thousands of quality schools for southern blacks. Black activists in California opened schools in poor sections of Oakland and Los Angeles in the 1960s. Marva Collins started a school for black kids in Chicago in the 1970s, and Geoffrey Canada did so in Harlem in the 1990s.

Some have criticized pod learning, like charter schools, for contributing to school segregation. The original objection to school segregation was that it prevented black children from getting the best education. A public school official in Atlanta wrote in The New York Times that pods “exacerbate inequities, racial segregation and the opportunity gap with schools.”

But Riley, himself an African-American journalist, asks the appropriate question: “Where is the evidence that black children need to sit next to white children to learn?” Some of the highest-performing public schools in the U.S. are public charter schools with student bodies that are overwhelmingly black and Latino. Riley asks, “If racial diversity is so essential to classroom learning, how do children in countries with essentially no such diversity, such as Japan and South Korea, regularly outperform American students on international tests?”

Riley adds, “Black parents who embrace education alternatives understand that a school’s quality doesn’t depend on the racial makeup of the classroom. For today’s Democratic party, however, racial balance is the highest priority, even if it means keeping low-income minorities trapped in violent, low-performing schools with the least-experienced teachers at the head of the classroom.”

It is clear that black parents are waking up to the reality that activist organizations such as the NAACP and the teachers unions have spent the past two years trying to undermine charter-school expansion. Riley points out it is no coincidence that the teachers unions, which oppose school choice, are among the largest donors to the NAACP, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Democrats in general. But the recent election results show that blacks and Latinos are voting Republican in growing numbers and school choice is at the top of the list of reasons for this political change.


The High Cost of School Lockdowns

Last month the nation’s schools received their report card, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. The news wasn’t pretty. The nation’s schools recorded the largest drop in math scores ever this year, with fourth and eighth grade students in nearly every state showing significant declines, according to the Education Department data.

Academic achievement has been in decline for many years, but the Covid pandemic lockdowns accentuated this trend. Low-performing fourth-grade students saw larger declines in both math and reading scores compared with high-performing ones. Black and Hispanic students in the fourth grade saw larger score drops in math than white students.

Now that we know how bad the report card looks, how does this impact the future earning capacity of these same students? A recent study from researchers at Harvard and Dartmouth attempts to answer this question. Using census data and historical changes in performance on the NAEP, the authors say if the recent learning loss can’t be reversed, it would equate to a 1.6% drop in lifetime earnings for the average K-12 student.

That sounds like no big deal. But if you calculate the nationwide impact, the total comes to about $900 billion in lost earnings. The Wall Street Journal editorial board says, “The most recent NAEP results showed a record drop in learning. Not a single state or large school district managed to improve math performance among fourth and eighth graders between 2019 and 2022. It’s an average loss, in present value, of $19,400 per student. Then multiply by the public K-12 enrollment of 48 million.”

They go on to note Harvard economist Thomas Kane used the same method to forecast other outcomes if eighth-grade students fail to recover from this year’s abysmal math scores. For this cohort, he anticipates college enrollment would fall 2.4%, high school dropouts would increase 3.6%, the number of teen mothers by 3.2%, the unemployed by 6.6%, and young men incarcerated by 14.2%. Now you get a feel for the severity of this impact.

Naturally, the impact is disparate, affecting the poor much more than the rich. In districts where 69% or more of students received lunch subsidies, children lost the equivalent of two-thirds of a year of math between 2019 and 2022. To compare, in districts where only 39% or fewer got free or reduced lunch, students fell less than half a year behind.

In North Branford, Conn., where only 21.8% are low-income, students fell a tenth of a year behind in math. Less than 12 miles away in New Haven, where 72.9% receive subsidized lunch, students fell 1.55 years behind. In Massachusetts, students lost slightly over a grade level in Holyoke and 1.3 grade levels in Lynn, two districts where more than 80% of students qualify for subsidized lunch. Fewer than 10% do in Andover and Wellesley, where students fell a little more than a third of a grade level behind.

The personal-finance website WalletHub reports that Falls Church City Public Schools is the second-most affluent district in Virginia, with an average household income of nearly $147,000. There students fell less than 0.3 of a grade level behind in math, according to the Harvard-Stanford data. Compare that to Richmond City Public Schools, where 93% of students qualify for free or reduce lunch, and where children fell 1.96 grade levels behind.

The reason for this disparity is that affluent parents could afford to hire tutors or yank their kids from failing public schools. Poor children too often remained trapped, and that tragedy will continue for years to come unless parents are given the option of choosing the best schools for their children. The solution to this disparity is to give parents the option of choosing the best schools for their children, regardless of their income. This is what School Choice is all about. The future education of our children, and their earning potential, is at stake.

The Cost of Not Working

In my last post, I reported that fewer Americans are working – because the government is paying them not to work (Poverty in America). There are consequences to this cultural shift as we will discuss today.

Andy Kessler is a business columnist who writes for The Wall Street Journal. In a timely article, he writes about the decline of work. He says, “When you slack off and withhold your human capital, you steal from everyone.”

He says that work has become a dirty word. The New York Times just ran an opinion piece titled, “How to Fight Back Against the Inhumanity of Modern Work.” When comparing today to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, Kessler says, “Paper cuts are a bigger risk these days than losing an arm in a loom. Still, I thought the piece would be about dirty jobs – the hardships of coal miners, the plight of burn-out nurses or the inhumanity of waking up at 5 a.m. to milk cows. Nope. The author complained about digital monitoring – coders, cashiers and others being tracked by evil bosses, who are measuring productivity. Gasp! Has society become that spoiled? Apparently so. The prevailing thinking is we’re all Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz wrapping chocolates on a conveyor belt.”

This is not your grandfather’s, or even your father’s, economy. Only 8.4% of U.S. nonfarm payroll positions are in manufacturing. Many of those jobs were exported long ago to cheaper labor markets such as – you guessed it, China. Frankly, if those jobs tried to return to the U.S. many workers aren’t qualified.  Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame said, “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” Combine that with the generous transfer payments from the government and it’s no wonder our labor participation rates are lower than ever. With over 11 million jobs available, there are more than 2 jobs for every person still looking for work.

Kessler says, “Unions want to arm-wrestle value from capital and force higher wage payouts than is economically sound. This blatantly disregards human capital – what workers learn on the job is theirs to keep. We increase productivity and wealth by having workers figure out how to do more with less from the bottom up. So please stop paying people not to work. (emphasis mine) The best antipoverty program is a job because a job’s value comes from this increase in human capital.”

Too many young people are getting meaningless degrees for which there are no jobs, while racking up enormous college debt bills that Joe Biden wants the rest of us to pay. Students should consider other careers in fields with great demand such as electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, or nursing. These are meaningful careers that pay real money and provide real purpose in life.

The bible says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) We’ve turned that biblical advice on its head and taught people they’re fools if they work because the government will pay them more not to work. But there is more to work than the paycheck you take home at the end of the day. There is dignity, self-confidence, self-esteem, and learned skills. None of these come with government hand-outs.

Here’s some advice from Mike Rowe: “Stop looking for the ‘right’ career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable.”

Become indispensable. There’s no way to measure the value of believing you’re indispensable, no matter what field of work you choose. Stop spending your time looking at your cell phone all day and go get a job. Both you and the country will be better off.