The pandemic has revealed something many of us have believed for a long time: Parents want more choice and more voice in their child’s education.
A new survey released last week shows public support is increasing for school choice and more schooling options amid the pandemic. EdChoice, which conducts its Schooling in America survey each spring, conducted a second survey this fall to gauge how the pandemic has changed perceptions and attitudes towards education in the U.S. The survey was conducted between September 30 and October 20.
At a time when many schools have closed for in-person instruction and transitioned to remote learning, parents are indicating they want more options for their children. EdChoice’s fall survey recorded 81% public support for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), the highest level ever recorded in the eight years the organization has polled the public policy. Less than one-in-five American parents said they oppose the idea. Support and opposition to school voucher programs also recorded all-time highs in the fall survey and tax-credit scholarships received 78% public support.
Interestingly, the survey shows support for homeschooling is increasing. More than half of parents (55%) said they have more favorable views of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic. This figure represents an increase of 12 percentage points over the organization’s spring survey. The results also indicate students who are homeschooled are less stressed than their peers who attend public district schools, charter schools or private schools.
Another education innovation gaining steam among families during the pandemic is learning pods. A learning pod is typically a group of 10 or fewer students who learn together in-person but outside of a classroom setting. The pods are typically led by parents or a teacher/tutor who is hired by the families to instruct the children in the pod.
Almost one-in-five parents said their children are currently participating in a learning pod, though the arrangement is more common among students who attend charter and private schools. Despite the benefits learning pods can deliver for children during the pandemic, high-income parents are three times more likely than low-income families to have their children participating in learning pods. This underscores the disparity in opportunity between students of low- and high-income households. Allowing parents to direct the education funding allotted for their child to the service or institution of their choice could help close this gap.
More than three-in-five American parents (63%) indicated K-12 education is on the wrong track, a seven percent increase over EdChoice’s spring survey. Establishing an innovative education system that adequately responds to the needs of families during the pandemic would likely produce more favorable results.
Unfortunately, the Maine Legislature moved in the wrong direction on school choice in the 129th Legislature, placing strict limitations on the options available to Maine families. At the behest of the Maine Teachers Association, Maine’s largest teachers union, lawmakers permanently capped at 10 the number of charter schools permitted to operate in the state. They also placed a permanent enrollment cap on Maine’s two virtual charter schools, allowing only 1,000 students to attend these institutions while also preventing them from expanding their services to new grade levels.
How foolish this decision looks today amid the pandemic. Lawmakers should right this wrong in the coming session by expanding, not limiting, educational options for Maine families. Students shouldn’t be forced into schooling arrangements that hinder their ability to learn and future success. The pandemic has exposed the incredible need for change and innovation in our public education system.