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With Parent and Teacher Groups at Odds, School Choice May Be the Winner

With parent and teacher groups at odds, school choice may be the winner as states expand opportunities for students. (Commentary)

by J.D. Tuccille
Conservative Parents Make Waves

“The activist group Moms for Liberty has become the loudest voice in the culture wars around education,” The Guardian reports. “After forming in 2021, Moms for Liberty spread across the United States, exploiting the Republican-led moral panic over a ‘woke ideology’ that is supposedly sweeping public schools and ‘indoctrinating’ children. At present, the group counts 285 chapters in 45 states.”

ABC News adds that “Moms for Liberty started with three Florida moms fighting COVID-19 restrictions in 2021” and that “in 2022, slightly more than half of the 500 school board candidates it endorsed across the country won.” The headlines, organizational explosion (an estimated 120,000 members), and election victories are signs of rapid success for a new grassroots group.

So is the pushback against Moms for Liberty’s gains. Many news stories about the organization feature extensive use of scare quotes, as well as adjectives like “extremist,” and “far-right.” The Southern Poverty Law Center, once a civil rights organization that now exists to feeds the fears of the dwindling ranks that still take it seriously, describes Moms for Liberty as “antigovernment” (allegedly a bad thing) and “conspiracy propagandist, anti-LGBTQ and anti-gender identity, and anti-inclusive curriculum.”

It’s true that, as you’d expect from a grassroots organization that experienced rapid growth, the group’s ranks contain some cranks and loose cannons who engage in harassment and commit the classic mistake of quoting Hitler (rarely a good idea no matter the intent). But most of what they do is advocate for implementing their ideas in public schools that they see as under the control of ideological opponents in teachers’ unions. They have a good point to make about the power of organized labor.

Teachers’ Unions Battled Parents Over Closures

“The empirical research suggests that teachers’ unions slowed fall school reopening decisions during a worldwide pandemic, and media accounts suggest their efforts continued as schools returned from winter break,” the Brookings Institution pointed out in 2021 about a dynamic that was obvious to all.

That’s a problem because closed schools, most of which implemented remote learning very poorly, resulted in serious learning losses for children.

“These results are sobering,” Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told The Washington Post. “It’s clear that COVID-19 shocked American education and stunted the academic growth of this age group.”

Well, depriving public school students of instruction in a panicked response to the virus (most charters, private schools, and homeschoolers made their own decisions with better results) stunted academic growth. And many parents blamed teachers’ unions for the disaster. To this day, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten is fighting a furious rearguard action to revise her history of advocacy for school closures. Her efforts aren’t convincing, but they’re amusing to watch.

Teachers unions also made their own very significant contributions to the ongoing debate over lessons infused with controversial takes on race, gender, culture, and history.

Teachers’ Unions Picked a Fight Over Curricula

“It is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory,” the National Education Association resolved at its 2021 annual meeting. The organization also decided to “join with Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project to call for a rally this year on October 14—George Floyd’s birthday—as a national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression.”

Agree or disagree with those ideas, they are explicitly ideological positions adopted by a labor union representing public school teachers. They invite opposition from parents with opposing views.

In fact, fracture lines were appearing between parents and teachers even before COVID-19. #RedForEd teachers’ strikes in 2018 initially drew support from some parents, but they inconvenienced a lot of families. “By alienating parents, this walk out will empower the opponents of public education and hurt K-12 schools in the long run,” columnist Linda Valdez warned in the Arizona Republic.

Then came pandemic closures, curriculum battles, and arrogant hand-waving by union leaders. “There is no such thing as learning loss,” the head of United Teachers Los Angeles sniffed to Los Angeles magazine.

Republican Glenn Youngkin won a victory in Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial race fueled by what The New York Times called “frustration with schooling” and public “hostility toward teachers’ unions.”

Since then, belated outreach by teachers’ unions to families has not gone well.

“In 2019, the NEA [National Education Association] opened up a ‘community ally’ category for non-educators, who could be parents or other supporters of its work,” EducationWeek reported this month. “The union had expected to enroll 6,300 community allies by this fiscal year—but instead, the number is closer to 150.”

The NEA’s draw to teachers is eroding, too. “The NEA lost about 115,500 members who are working teachers and school support staff from the fall of 2017 to the fall of 2022,” says EducationWeek.

Opportunity for Everybody in the Battle Over Schools

What all of this means is not just an opening for conservative parents opposed to progressive teachers, but for parents of every conceivable viewpoint who want to guide their children’s education. With Moms for Liberty breaking unions’ grip on education policy, there’s potential benefit here for everybody, no matter their beliefs about how schools should handle public health concerns or what ideas should be taught. In fact, there’s been a boom in state-level school choice legislation, with an emphasis on education savings accounts (ESA) that fund students however their families choose for them to learn.

“Florida is the fourth state in 2023 to expand its existing ESA program to cover all students,” Ballotpedia reported in March. “Utah, Iowa, and Arkansas did so as well. Arizona and West Virginia expanded their ESA programs to all students in 2022.”

The real victors of the struggle for a say in school policy need not be Moms for Liberty or the teachers’ unions, but anybody who cares to make their own decisions about education.

Originally published by Reason Foundation. Republished with permission.

For more School Reform News.

J.D. Tuccille
J.D. Tuccille
J.D. Tuccille is a former managing editor of and current contributing editor.


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