The following excerpt is from the introductory chapter of Kerry McDonald’s free e-book, The 2021 Curious Parent’s Guide to Education Options, published by the Foundation for Economic Education.
Options vs. Assignments
My neighbor recently opted out of “Zoom schooling.” In March 2021, after a year of remote schooling and a slow move to a hybrid classroom model, this mom was fed up with the low quality of education her daughter was receiving from the public school system. So, she decided to take advantage of other options. She unenrolled her child from the district school and registered her as a homeschooler, with plans for private school in the fall.
A couple of weeks later, another neighbor did the same thing, although she isn’t sure what the fall will look like for her child’s learning.
These aren’t just anecdotes. They are part of a larger trend. Over the past year, all across the country, “pandemic schooling” has driven concerned parents to rediscover something long-neglected in the domain of education: the freedom to choose among options.
As parents, options are incredibly important to us. During pregnancy and birth, we take great care to choose the right doctor and/or midwife, the right birthing environment, and which medical procedures we will undergo. When our children are infants, we are highly selective about how and what to feed them, where they sleep, what clothes they wear, what sunscreen to buy, and so on. As they grow, we offer them a variety of toys and expose them to diverse experiences—choosing from an abundance of options: camps, lessons, play groups, etc. We also learn from each other. We find parenting circles or social media groups that fit our parenting style, and buy books or read articles that help us to fine-tune our parenting philosophy. We explore and experiment.
This is how it works in a free society with a free market. We all have unique preferences and perspectives. We all have different wants and needs. The marketplace meets these diverse desires in extraordinary ways, offering us a proliferation of options among goods and services.
Yet, when it comes to education, options are suddenly considered inappropriate. Instead, we have a one-size-fits-all government system of compulsory schooling. Parents make one key choice: where their family lives. And based on that, almost everything else about their children’s education is decided for them.
Instead of options, they are given assignments.
The child is assigned to a certain school by district officials, to a certain classroom by school administrators, and to certain schoolwork by school teachers, often based on a centralized standard curriculum.
By and large, parents have acquiesced to this system in spite of its lack of options. But many have become so dissatisfied, that they, like my neighbors, have opted out of the compulsory schooling system entirely.
This “opt-out” trend has grown as the quality of education provided by the public school system has worsened over the decades. And in the past year, it has rapidly accelerated in the wake of COVID.
For many parents, “pandemic schooling” has laid bare what a raw deal they are getting with “free” government-provided education for their children. The public school system’s response to the disease has been a disaster of its own. And many parents are finding the system’s “back-to-school” plans for the fall to be murky and grim.
Given this backdrop, more parents than ever are looking for alternatives to a compulsory schooling system that has failed their children one too many times. If you are one of those curious parents, this guide is for you.
In this ebook, you will get a closer look at the current state of American government schooling at the K-12 level, and the growing range of alternatives to it. This system was failing many students and families long before COVID-19 hit, and its flaws have been amplified over the past year. As parents have gained a front-row seat to their children’s classrooms through remote learning, many of them are not impressed. A dumbed-down curriculum, lots of busy work, disrespect of each child’s individuality and creativity, and a growing emphasis on identity politics and “wokeness” have prompted parents to consider other learning models.
Indeed, school shutdowns and related pandemic policies have fundamentally transformed education for the first time since compulsory schooling began in the mid-nineteenth century. Schooling may never look the same again—and that could be a positive change for many learners and their families. This ebook briefly traces the origins of our current compulsory schooling model and shows how the pandemic response has created opportunities for disruptive innovation in education that will likely be long-lasting. Many of these new learning models challenge an outdated industrial system of schooling with new prototypes and methods that are more relevant for 21st-century learners.
From exploring innovative, low-cost private schools and charter schools, to identifying successful virtual learning programs, to discovering an assortment of homeschooling approaches, this ebook shares a wide range of education choices that can be both meaningful and accessible. It also looks specifically at learning opportunities for teens to help them take charge of their own success, and encourages parents to be entrepreneurial by creating and expanding free-market schooling alternatives.
With the next school year looking as uncertain as the last, it’s never been a better time to consider the surprisingly rich range of options beyond what the compulsory schooling system has assigned to you and your child.
Read more and download the free e-book at FEE.org.