Schools

Private Schools Are Adapting to Lockdown Better Than the Public School Monopoly

A new survey finds parents are substantially more satisfied with private and charter schools’ responses to the pandemic than they were with those of traditional public schools.

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More than 120,000 American schools have closed since March, a change affecting more than 55 million students. As we approach August, an intense debate about reopening schools has been brewing. One side argues that schools should reopen so that families can return to work and children can receive the education taxpayers have paid for. The other side says that schools cannot reopen safely without $116 billion more in federal funding, on top of the $13 billion already allocated to states to reopen schools.

This debate wouldn't be so contentious if we funded students instead of school systems. The funding could follow children to wherever their families feel they would receive an effective education, be it a district-run school, a charter school, a private school, or a home setting. In that situation, if an individual school decided not to reopen—or if it reopened unsafely or inadequately—families could take their children's education dollars elsewhere.

That is how food stamp funding currently works. If a neighborhood grocery store refuses to reopen, it may be inconvenient, but families wouldn't be devastated; they could take their money elsewhere. Imagine if you were forced to pay your neighborhood Walmart the same amount of money each week regardless of whether they provided your family with any groceries. The store would have little incentive to reopen in an effective or timely manner.

It sounds absurd. But you have essentially just imagined today's compulsory K–12 school system.

And it's even worse than that. Even if the institution were required to provide goods and services through online or other platforms, it would still have weak incentives to get things right, because families would still be powerless.

New data show that's precisely what happened with the K–12 school system during the lockdown. 

A nationally representative survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs found that private and charter schools were substantially more likely to continue providing students with meaningful education services during the lockdown than traditional public schools.

The survey found that private and charter school teachers were more than twice as likely to meet with students daily than teachers at district-run schools. Private and charter schools were about 20 percent more likely to introduce new content to their students during the lockdown. About 1 in every 4 traditional public schools simply provided review material for what students had already learned before the closures. Arlington Public Schools, for example, decided in April not to teach students any new material for the rest of the school year.

Another national survey, this one conducted by Common Sense Media, found similar results. Private school students were more than twice as likely to connect with their teachers each day, and about 1.5 times as likely to attend online classes during the closures.

A recent report by the Center for Reinventing Public Education found that only 1 in 3 school districts examined required teachers to deliver instruction during the lockdown, and less than half of all districts expected teachers to take attendance or check in with students regularly.

And just yesterday, The New York Times reported that in many towns, private schools are reopening while public schools are staying closed.

Traditional school systems' failure to adapt to COVID-19 helps explain why many families are turning toward homeschooling. A new nationally representative survey by EdChoice and Morning Consult just found that the pandemic has made families about 2.4 times as likely to have a more favorable view of homeschooling as they are to have a less favorable view. Another national poll, this one by RealClear Opinion Research, found that 40 percent of American families say they are now "more likely" to homeschool after the lockdowns end. So many families in North Carolina committed to homeschooling this month that they crashed the state government's website.

This might also explain why the new national Education Next survey found that parents were substantially more satisfied with private and charter schools' responses to the pandemic than they were with those of district-run schools. Parents of children in private and charter schools were at least 50 percent more likely to report being "very satisfied" with the instruction provided during the lockdown than parents of children in traditional public schools.

These results aren't surprising. Private schools can adapt to change more effectively because they are less hampered down by onerous regulations than their government-run counterparts. Choice schools also have real incentives to provide meaningful educations to their students while reopening safely. Private and charter schools know that their customers—families—can walk away and take their money with them if they fail to meet their needs.

K–12 students have been getting the short end of the stick for far too long. But it doesn't have to be this way: We could fund students directly and truly empower families. Legislators in Pennsylvania and Maryland have already made proposals to partially fund families directly in the fall. Hopefully they'll succeed—and hopefully more states will follow.

NEXT: Good News: COVID-19 Vaccines Stimulate the Production of Both Antibodies and T-Cells

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  2. “A new survey finds parents are substantially more satisfied with private and charter schools’ responses to the pandemic than they were with those of traditional public schools. ”

    A survey you say? Well, I’ll be damned.

    Jesu’ Cristo, this Covid nonsense is so fucking tedious.

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  4. the Intergalactic Jester proclaims this conformity factory CLOSED!

    1. The PTA has disbanded!

      1. no, friend the PTA has not disbanded!

        [couldn’t believe there was no clip for the closing of the conformity factory … there’s always a clip]

        1. Probably was flagged by Youtube as promoting violence towards teachers.

        2. Not even the one in Harper Valley?

  5. “That is how food stamp funding currently works.”

    It’s also rife with fraud, but the waste of that would still probably be far less than the waste of public schools

    1. Ya, I think so. Medicare, which has been around for a long long time, has $100B of fraud every year, according to the government itself, and if they admit that much, it’s undoubtedly a lot worse. I kinda doubt government schools are any more honest and efficient.

      1. Pretty much, I know someone who works for the USDA and says they only pursue the really big cases of fraud (at least 200k, I think he said) I imagine it’s like that with the other departments that investigate entitlements abuse

  6. Private everything is adapting better than public anything. Duh.
    But I must point out that this article completely ignores the needs of the teacher’s unions, the teacher’s pensions, and the politicians.
    Does Reason really take the position that after years of supporting the unions and the politicians selected by those union leaders, that teachers should suddenly be expected to begin giving a damn one way or the other? Or that democrats should have to suddenly, and without any training of any kind, start to give a damn about the taxpayers?
    And further, this article seems to think that parents, rather than trained professionals, should be involved in the indoctrination of their kids. Shocking!

    1. Don’t be so alarmist. Teacher unions and pensions are the same thing. You are just amping up the excitement for better alarmism. You can’t fool me!

    2. Home schooling is the obvious answer. No teachers no unions no pensions no pay.

      1. And excellent student – teacher ratios!

      2. Teachers are overpaid government whores.

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  8. You mean schools which parents actively choose and pay extra for do better than schools where the customers are forced to pay no matter what? Schools that have to offer something to attract students or else they have no students are better.

    Wow who would have figured that out?

    1. The owners of private nursing facilities?

  9. Or just home school the kids and be done with it altogether.

    No wait that must be white supremacy or some bullshit. It’s not OK to be independent and rational. You must respond with extreme emotion and abuse to be sufficient anti-racist. And if someone gets burned well that was their fault for getting in your way.

  10. Legislators in Pennsylvania and Maryland have already made proposals to partially fund families directly in the fall. Hopefully they’ll succeed—and hopefully more states will follow.

    Don’t know about Pennsylvania, but the Maryland one will be DOA. It was proposed by a Republican and the Democrat majority won’t go for it.

  11. Get ready for the teachers’ unions to start pressuring private schools to close.

  12. De Blasios plan, and it sounds like california may follow, is to keep schools close but then have community centers and libraries open for the same exact clustering of kids as schools, just without the education. It is so laughably stupid.

  13. This debate wouldn’t be so contentious if we funded students instead of school systems. The funding could follow children to wherever their families feel they would receive an effective education, be it a district-run school, a charter school, a private school, or a home setting. In that situation, if an individual school decided not to reopen—or if it reopened unsafely or inadequately—families could take their children’s education dollars elsewhere.

    AMEN. This is the type of stuff that libertarians should solidly get behind. Out of all of the flavors of libertarianism out there, I don’t think you’d find any of them who would favor the current public education status quo.

    I hope JoJo makes education reform along with entitlement reform and ending the drug war as pillars of her campaign and makes it heard far and wide.

  14. How are private nursing homes doing? A more important question because the elderly are more likely to suffer from the virus than school children. Private nursing homes also have an incentive to keep their residents alive and disease free.

  15. If disaffected clingers who hate public schools think that conservatives’ handling of the pandemic is going to make their anti-social position more popular, they’re at least as delusional as their belief in fairy tales indicates.

    1. Rev., I’m pretty sure this is a libertarian publication. As such, it (typically) espouses a free market free minds approach. Most libertarians, 99.9%, realized conservatives screw things up too. Of course, they don’t screw things up as much as leftist/progs do.

  16. Public school teachers in our area were out on social media bragging that they weren’t requiring anything from students. Asking them to learn would just be “testing privilege”.

    Meantime my kid’s parish school expected him to be online everyday attending classes and turning in homework.

    I’ll cling to that.

    1. I homeschooled my daughter for 8th grade because she fell behind in 6th and 7th grade attending a charter school that turns out was more focused on social justice indoctrination than math and science. She started 9th grade this year and made it into honors algebra and was invited to join AP history next year because of the work we did last year. She was able to transition seamlessly into remote learning and now says she would rather go back to homeschooling in the fall because she learned more with me. But our situation is unique. I work remotely and shes an only child.

      I’m a former parochial school kid. So I feel for the kids whose parents can’t teach them or can’t afford private school. And that’s the majority of students.

  17. If it’s a monopoly then who exactly are the private schools teaching?

    1. If you get paid even when the customers took their business elsewhere, you are a monopoly.

  18. This is no surprise to anyone. Anytime you have a monopoly it never works very well. The schools are only one example. An even worse example is our government bodies who have the same issues as schools. It’s a miracle that anything gets done at all and if so the results stink.

    The fact is that with the civil service rules and unions are the worst thing ever created. I grew up in a democratic union home. My first job was in a union shop. I was very quickly informed by my union rep that I could only to so much work in order to get more people on the payroll to do as little as possible. So much for working hard and efficiently.

    What should happen is that the civil service rules and unions should be banned in the public sector. Develop a capitalist system where merit is a basis for hiring.

    The results of the current system gives you this: 1. too many “workers” doing too little very slowly. 2. always increasing salaries and pensions without increasing skill sets, work and work outputs. 3. massive corruption throughout the organization where one hand washes the other and THE ORGANIZATION NO LONGER PRODUCES ANYTHING OF VALUE, ONLY MORE PEOPLE AND COSTS.

    Iron Law of Bureaucracy[edit]
    Pournelle suggested several “laws”. His first use of the term “Pournelle’s law” appears to be for the expression “one user, one CPU.” He has also used “Pournelle’s law” to apply to the importance of checking cable connections when diagnosing computer problems. His best-known “law” is “Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy”:
    In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.[42]
    He “Pournelle” eventually restated it as:
    …in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.[43]

    1. I’m not sure that the teacher’s union representatives are the ones in the second category. At least some of the time the union reps are also teachers. I think the “those who work for the organization itself” in the public school category are some of the administrators. Employee unions don’t manage school district budgets. They just cover some of the employee conditions and compensation. They don’t cover student conditions; as far as I know there’s no “student’s bill of rights.” Negotiations between the districts and the unions can get everyone backed into a corner, but I am also concerned about the textbook publishers and those who design and sell curriculum to states. There’s a vast industry there. In between the curriculum publishers, the weird funding formulas and career administrators, teachers’ unions don’t usually have enough clout to even get the teachers stuff they need, let alone get the students things they need.
      I agree though that the system at this point exists to perpetuate itself.

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  20. Is anyone who has any brain cells surprised at this?

    1. The California governor has told most districts that they have to remain online when they reopen. The LA schools are among those.

      Covid makes public schools look like an inertial anti-poverty program rather than a place for young people to gain information. I am actually not against redistribution of resources, especially when done willingly, but sticking it all on the school has made it terribly unwieldy. Do a little reading in between the food lines and games.

      It’s like when the daycare provider tells you your kids have so much fun after you leave; then in the evenings the kids start telling you how scary it is when the provider hits the babies. Or the special ed department shows me my child’s illegible one-sentence “essay,” says he obviously doesn’t need additional help and then says he tests well. All my neurons are screaming “this will never fly in the real world” while I’m told that what he actually needs is what is the easiest to fit in their schedule.

      Online learning and the discovery of the “growth mindset” are game changers. I hope for the better.

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  24. Private schools are better than the public ones
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  28. The child’s immunity is low.Until the outbreak is fully contained, schools and parents are advised not to let down their guard!

  29. If the public schools are forced to close just furlough all the employees without pay like any other business. Give the parents vouchers for the money saved to spend on the educational option of their choice. Simple, sensible solution, that’s why it has no chance.

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