Education Reform

There Is Hope for Education

I haven’t had much hope for public education in America these last five years—that is until I read a recent speech by Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers union in America.

She gave this speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on March 28, 2023.  Actually, I wouldn’t call it a speech. It’s more of a cry in desperation. Weingarten frames the issues through the lens of an attack on our nation’s government schools. (I like the term “government schools” to describe public schools because that is what they are. Schools run by the government, not the public.) “Attacks on public education are not new. The difference today is that the attacks are intended to destroy.” Expanding school choice, scrutiny of curriculum containing critical race theory, parental rights legislation, academic transparency laws, banning sexually explicit books from school libraries and classrooms—Randi sees all this as a threat to the far-left teachers unions’ control over what goes on in the classroom.

I see this as a victory. And if Weingarten is worried, I see cause for hope.

School Choice Is Expanding

She laments that many states have passed school choice laws, allowing parents to take their tax dollars elsewhere if the public school in their area is incompetent, doesn’t match their values, is unsafe, is overcrowded, and so on. “This year alone, 29 state legislatures are considering bills to either create or expand existing voucher programs. This is on top of the 72 voucher and tax credit programs in 33 states already subsidizing private and homeschooling, costing billions every year.” This is true. More state legislatures are passing school voucher programs because their voters demand it. Parents are fed up with only one choice of where to educate their child for seven hours a day. The pandemic opened the classroom to parents’ eyes, and many did not like what they saw.

Of course, when a state implements a school voucher program, parents can continue to place their child in public education if that is the best their town has to offer, but often it’s not. Weingarten is afraid of the competition school choice creates and, ultimately, the decreased amount of influence these powerful unions have over the education of our nation’s children:

The Betsy DeVos wing of the school privatization movement is methodically working its plan: Starve public schools of the funds they need to succeed. Criticize them for their shortcomings. Erode trust in public schools by stoking fear and division, including an attempt to pit parents against teachers. Replace them with private, religious, online, and home schools.

She knows that fewer parents will choose public education as voucher programs expand. But she is also peddling a false narrative that school choice starves public schools of funding when it does the opposite. States with school choice vouchers see an increase in per-pupil funding for public schools because private schools, on average, charge less per-pupil than public schools spend.

Woke Education

She then asserts that parents voicing legitimate concerns at school board meetings nationwide are really just fear-mongering campaigns. “False claims that elementary and secondary schools are teaching critical race theory; disgusting unfounded claims that teachers are grooming and indoctrinating students; and pronouncements that public schools push a “woke” agenda.” As if parents, who are suddenly deciding to stand up to what’s going on in the classroom, are simply misled by imaginary delusions!

As someone who has been in public schools for 15 years, I can assure you these are not delusions. I’ve seen the lessons containing critical race theory. I’ve seen the after-school grooming with rainbow clubs and leftist teachers itching to have private conversations about sexual orientation with their students. I’ve seen the “woke agendas” with students being asked to recite Black Lives Matter chants and left-leaning teachers helping students organize walkouts and protests for climate change or some other left-leaning cause. The American people got a rare glimpse at what happens in the average left-leaning classroom, and now Weingarten wants us to deny the evidence we see with our own eyes.

But her panic gives me hope. As if it wasn’t already apparent that she is afraid of losing, she goes on to share a startling statistic about the steep decline in teacher satisfaction. “The percent of teachers who were “very satisfied” fell from 62 percent in 2008 to just 12 percent in 2022.” The teachers unions and their leaders are failing their members. Maybe they should spend less time focusing on all their, as she said, “woke agendas” and more time on their role in leading to this alarming demise of teacher satisfaction.

Close to 400,000 teachers are leaving the profession every year. Every year. I was one of them in 2021. Let’s rewind to what it was like to teach in 2008 when we didn’t have to worry about being fired for not using the correct pronouns, being called a racist for suspending a defiant black student, or being unprotected because school resource officers were still on our campus. We didn’t have to worry about male genitals in female lockers rooms or students missing class because they were protesting climate change. And so on.

If we could return to the time before this madness, I’d be back in the classroom in a heartbeat. I miss it. But the unions haven’t been fighting these crazy changes since 2008; they have been fueling it!

Hope for Education

Weingarten is worried, and so for that reason alone, I’m optimistic. I have hope that the “attacks” she fears are harbingers of a rising movement to take the education of our nation’s children back from the hands of radical leftists and enact the reforms we need to fix this broken system. I have hope today, perhaps not for the government schools alone, but for the nation’s education system in general: homeschools, private schools, and the reforms on public schools. American education is not lost. It can be saved, especially if we keep doing what makes union leaders like Weingarten scream that she is worried.

Kali Fontanilla

Kali is serving as CRC’s Senior fellow, particularly focusing on topics related to K-12 public education. She has 15 years of experience as a credentialed educator working in public and…
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