by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A new Gallup poll that surveyed parents with school-aged kids has startling results, much more because of how opinions are split than the opinions themselves. Given the COVID-19 threat, 36 percent of parents want their children to receive fully in-person education, 36 percent want an in-person/distance hybrid, and 28 percent want all distance. Each mode was preferred by essentially one-third of parents, neatly capturing a now undeniable reality: families need school choice.
The basic problem is that diverse people have different needs, but a school district is unitary. This is always trouble — diverse people are stuck with one dress code, history curriculum, etc. — but COVID-19 makes the stakes far higher and more immediate than usual. You might be willing to engage in a protracted school board battle to improve curricula, but COVID-19 could put your child’s life, or basic education, in potentially huge danger right now.
In many places, the public schools have taken the side of maximum COVID caution. The school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago, and elsewhere will, at least to start the year, only offer distance education.
That may be fine for kids who learn better at home, have medical conditions that make them high-risk, or who live with elderly relatives. But it is a huge hit to children with poor internet connectivity, learning disabilities, or those who simply thrive in a physical classroom.
It appears that a spontaneous, nationwide eruption of parent-driven, in-person education is the response to such closings. The “pod” phenomenon is perhaps the most buzzy sign of this, generating both fascinated and skeptical coverage in major media outlets. Basically, parents are pooling their money to hire teachers and create closed learning communities for their kids.
We may also be seeing more families moving to traditional private schools. …