Parents—The Ultimate Education Reform

Parents—The Ultimate Education Reform

A father helps his daughter with schoolwork at home in San Anselmo, Calif., on March 18, 2020. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Lance Christensen

Lance Christensen

3/4/2024

Updated: 3/7/2024

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Commentary
Canadian writer Grant Allen once lamented, “What a misfortune it is that we should thus be compelled to let our boys’ schooling interfere with their education!” These words, often attributed to Mark Twain, encapsulate a sentiment that education transcends the walls of a schoolhouse, echoing the belief that learning should not be confined to a classroom.
Increasingly, parents feel a need to regain control over their children’s education from a virtual government monopoly. In a 2022 survey, investment banking firm Tyton Partners found “that 52 [percent] of parents now prefer to direct and curate their child’s education rather than rely on their local school system and 79 [percent] of parents believe learning can and should happen everywhere as opposed to in school alone.”
The enduring presumption that the only place where children will receive a satisfactory education is at the foot of academic experts is receding. Yet, research unequivocally demonstrates that parental involvement correlates positively with academic achievement. As parents foster a conducive learning environment at home and actively engage in their children’s education, lessons learned at home can be reinforced in the classroom, as demonstrated by the continued success of the Khan Academy’s inverted classroom approach.
It’s imperative that parents reconnect with the responsibility of being their children’s primary educators.
Fewer parents mindlessly subcontracting their children’s schooling to the lowest bidder without active participation and constant negotiation will lead to thriving adults.
Every child is unique, possessing distinct strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Indeed, parental control over education enables them to tailor learning experiences to suit their children’s individual needs and learning styles. By taking an active interest in their education, parents can identify areas where they excel and areas where they may require additional support. Personalized instruction not only enhances academic performance but also nurtures children’s sense of self-confidence and autonomy.
The California State Constitution underscores the importance of education by emphasizing the necessity of diffusing knowledge and intelligence “to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” However, compulsory “common schools” (as they were called), born out of the progressive era, are not so free. In a one-size-fits-all system, excellence in education is limited and isolated.
Children are neither commodities nor dollar signs. Yet, when we monetize enrollment numbers at scale and essentially shuttle children through school on a conveyor belt, government produces interchangeable automatons and widgets. It has become the business of government schools to be more concerned with bodies at desks rather than knowledge in brains.
The idea that tax dollars should “fund students, not systems”—a phrase popularized by school choice evangelist Corey DeAngelis—is overshadowed by powerful teachers unions that focus more on their self-interest than educational outcomes. Despite subsidized preschool and college grants, unions don’t want to risk losing out on billions of dollars of leverage if parents have more control over their own children’s K-12 educational funding choices.
Even so, we’ve also created an educational-industrial complex and sub-economy that takes a considerable amount of federal, state, and local tax dollars to feed an insatiable bureaucracy that the unions protect. It’s an untenable system ripe for collapse. To be clear, calling out rapacious teachers unions is not an indictment of millions of talented, dedicated, and sincere teachers and administrators in public schools who care deeply about education, even if they are union members.
Critics may argue that excessive parental control can stifle a child’s independence and creativity. They may even believe that many children are in danger at home. However, true parental involvement is about striking a balance—offering guidance and support to their children while also fostering independence and self-reliance. It is about being a facilitator rather than a dictator, allowing children to take ownership of their learning journey while providing the necessary scaffolding to ensure success.
The rise of community schools threatens to further diminish the parental prerogative. Yes, we must deal with bad parents who abuse and neglect their children. But as schools diminish instructional hours and gradually encroach upon nearly every aspect of a child’s life, parents have no choice but to reclaim their role as primary drivers in their children’s lives. We cannot allow nostalgia for an idealized past to blind us to the realities of the present.
If government-funded schools are to persist, taxpayers—with or without children in the system—must critically assess their efficacy. Are we subsidizing a day care program that fails to produce competent graduates capable of mastering the complexities of the modern world?
Ultimately, parents deserve the freedom to choose the educational path that best suits their children’s needs. As stewards of our children’s future, we must advocate for a system that values individuality, fosters excellence, and empowers parents to make informed choices about their children’s education. It’s the only reform that can truly fulfill the promise of a brighter future for our kids now and for generations to come.
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Lance Christensen

Lance Christensen

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Lance Christensen is the vice president of education policy and government affairs at the California Policy Center and former candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.

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