The Heritage Foundation has released a new report calling 2023 the ‘Year of Education Freedom,’ citing three ways education reforms are being pushed by parents at the state level.
“The Gallup polling on parents’ satisfaction with K-12 education shows that parents are far less satisfied today than they were in 2020, before the pandemic,” says one of the authors, Jonathan Butcher, the Will Skillman senior research fellow in education policy at Heritage. Co-author Jason Bedrick is also a research fellow at the center.
Butcher told The Lion that test scores declining to historically low levels, combined with the inclusion of radical ideology on gender and race, have pushed parents to the point of not just dissatisfaction but outright opposition.
The result has been a groundswell of grassroots support for changes in education that have manifested themselves in three different ways, according to the report.
The first way is through school choice programs and expansions passed by some state legislatures around the country this year, giving parents the means to pick the best educational option for their children.
Seven states passed new school choice options and eight states expanded existing school choice options to make them more universal, said the report.
“Four states enacted new universal choice policies (Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah) and two states expanded existing policies to all students (Florida and Ohio), joining Arizona and West Virginia to bring the total number of states with universal choice to eight,” wrote Heritage.
The second way is parental bills of rights which have been passed into law, recognizing parents as the paramount decision makers for their children, and stopping the encroachment of public schools as decision makers.
“Legislators in more than a dozen states had adopted parent bills of rights before the 2023 legislative session,” wrote Heritage. “In general, these proposals state that a parent is a child’s primary caregiver and prohibit state officials from interfering with a parent’s role without a compelling government interest, and which is furthered with the least invasive methods possible.”
The third area of progress in education freedom, the report concludes, is related to efforts to curtail racial prejudice in the form of diversity equity and inclusion offices (DEI), helping put the spotlight back on academics.
That’s in part because DEI has failed so miserably in its core mission of creating a more tolerant school environment, and instead, has polarized people.
Heritage found that DEI programs promote racial discrimination, do not improve individual attitudes or make people more tolerant, and have limited the diversity of ideas discussed at postsecondary institutions.
“In fact, campus surveys demonstrate that students are fearful of speaking their minds,” because DEI programs stifle free thought and expression, said the report.
Taken together, “All these reforms, including efforts to eliminate the racial prejudice caused by DEI offices on college campuses, are crucial changes that will give every student a greater chance to succeed in school and in life,” said the report.
Butcher also told The Lion that the debate over values and academics in public education is nothing new.
He noted that there was a strong Protestant reaction against Catholic influence in public schools during the 1930s. In the 1950s he said there was a great debate over why “Johnny can’t read right.”
There were debates about social studies and civics education in the 1990s, and in the 2000’s there was the debate over Common Core.
All those debates had heated opposition, but this time it’s a little different.
Butcher said that whether these liberal organizations did it consciously or not, progressive social interest groups tried to use the COVID-19 crisis “to obtain more power.”
The result has been a spectacular backfire courtesy of angry parents.
“But now, the debate about culture, and race, and gender in particular, has set parents to a new level of what I would argue has gone from dissatisfaction to opposition to what the public school system is doing,” Butcher told The Lion.
Butcher said that radical progressive groups such as the teachers’ unions, Black Lives Matter, and the Southern Poverty Law Center “have overstepped their bounds,” and “have gone beyond what the American conscience is willing to accept.”
“I don’t think that Americans are willing to accept the idea that racism defines who we are, nor do I think that Americans are willing to accept the idea that you can call yourself a girl if you’re a boy, and we just have to live with it,” Butcher added.
The result has been a year of revolutionary changes in the education system that have been pushed from below by parents and have taken expression in what Heritage calls the “Year of Education Freedom.”
“So when you put all these things together, you find that parents have reasons to be dissatisfied for academic reasons. And they have reasons to be dissatisfied for cultural and values related reasons. And so that covers a lot of ground,” he said.
The complete Heritage report can be downloaded here.