Frederick Hess and Michael McShane assess current opportunities for conservative education reform.

Since the Reagan era, the right’s education reformers have repeatedly fallen victim to the siren songs of compromise, swallowing their principles and endorsing heavy-handed government schemes in the service of not-so-bipartisan bipartisanship. Meanwhile, populists have kept the receipts, fueling frustration and justifiable distrust.

We’ll be blunt: American education is a remarkably left-leaning place. Surrounded by a world of progressive advocates, funders, education schools, and unions, right-leaning reformers feel immense pressure to “be reasonable.” In K–12, even lifelong Democrats get blasted as right-wing zealots if they suggest that parents have a right to choose their child’s school. In higher education, the left-leaning tilt is so severe that conservative professors share tips for living in the shadows. Major education foundations, associations, and advocacy groups rarely employ conservatives. Media coverage of current disputes in education, ranging from Critical Race Theory to student loan forgiveness, is deeply biased against conservatives.

This makes it all the more crucial that a conservative vision of education reform be principled, disciplined, and coherent. Unfortunately, for most of the past forty years, conservative efforts rarely met these criteria. Outside of school choice in K–12, the right’s agenda mostly consisted of ineffectual grumbling. When prominent conservatives did embrace something more concrete—whether that was Congressional Republicans and federal student loans or George W. Bush and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act—it usually involved providing bipartisan cover to the ambitious schemes of the technocratic left.

Today, however, growing concern about the direction of education has created a remarkable opportunity for the right to lead. After all, the left is the party of government, faculty lounges, and the teachers’ unions. Between school closures, Critical Race Theory, gender radicalism, student-loan forgiveness, Ivy League hypocrisy on free speech, and the rest, the left is now weighed down by a strong “you broke it, you bought it” vibe.