Public schools

Did You Know That Two-Thirds of Families Prefer Full-Time, In-Person Schooling?

Probably not, if you read the newspaper. Parental preference is one of the most commonly misunderstood factors in the school-reopening debate.


In the heated debate over reopening K-12 public schools—and the $200 billion in federal funding being proposed to pry open schoolhouse doors—there is frequently conveyed a misleading impression about parental reluctance to send their kids to school full-time. Here's an example, care of a recent New York Times valentine to American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:

And like teachers, many parents do not feel ready to return students to classrooms. In big cities with partially open schools, like New York and Washington, D.C., the majority of families offered in-person seats have declined them.

Every assertion in those two sentences is true. And yet it is still misleading. Why?

Because the casual reader would naturally infer that the "majority of families" who have declined in-person seats did so because the parents "do not feel ready to return students to classrooms." This is emphatically not the case.

A majority of public K-12 schools, particularly in large cities, have not included full-time in-person learning as an option. What parents are rejecting is the "hybrid" model—some days in, some days remote, classes or schools always subject to re-close if X number of students or staffers test positive for COVID.

Reason has many such parents. For example, here's Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, mother of two children in the Washington, D.C., public schools system, explaining her choices in an editorial Slack thread on the topic: "I opted into hybrid for one kid and out for another because of the specifics of what was being offered. And those specifics were dictated exclusively by the teachers unions AND MAKE NO…SENSE for anyone except the teachers union leadership."

(Forgive Mangu-Ward for being shouty; parents are under a bit of stress these days. Also, check out her great video about exercising her own school choice at the bottom of this post.)

In the same Slack channel came this testimony, from Reason Foundation Development Director Jackie Pyke, mother of two in the Alexandria City Public Schools: "I opted out of hybrid because it sounds horrible (5 kids per class, masks, plexiglass, monitor instead of teacher, remote learning anyway). And they haven't even started hybrid yet."

It's not just that most families are not being offered the choice of five-day instruction, it's that they're not even being offered the ability to express that preference when school districts make a show of soliciting parental opinion in advance of formulating attendance options. Here's what that means in practice:

In July 2020, as the science and worldwide experience was showing overwhelmingly that young kids who attend school or daycare comparatively do not catch, suffer from, or transmit COVID-19, and as the community positivity rate in New York City rested near 1 percent, my daughter's public middle school sent parents a survey offering four choices:

1) Attend school once every three days, with the rest being remote.

2) Attend once every four days.

3) Once a week, or

4) Fully remote.

See what's missing there?

"Fully remote" does indeed capture the preferences of some parents who are scared to send their kids back to school (on which more below). But it also describes the option selected by several people I know who decided to either move out of the city or wrestle with a predictable if difficult home-learning schedule rather than subject their calendars to the temporal whims of feckless, unpredictable politicians.

The education establishment, and the teachers unions that heavily influence it in big Democratic cities, is keenly aware of the role that choice architecture can play in steering parents towards decisions that bureaucrats favor. There's a reason why the most faddish method these days for attempting to achieve racial and socioeconomic numerical balance in public schools is called "controlled choice"—parents may get to express their priorities, but districts have the final word.

A critical if underexamined negative side-effect of controlled choice is that, in the words of George Mason University education professor emeritus David J. Armor, it tends to "generate controversy and middle-class flight among parents" while failing to produce the intended "significant closing of achievement gaps between higher- and lower-income students."

Controlled choice already helped drive down enrollment in my oldest daughter's middle school district by 7 percent in its first year (the first such decline in nearly a decade), and that was before the pandemic. Now that school systems are consciously limiting choice by taking full-time instruction off the table—in many cities, taking even hybrid instruction off the table for more than 330 consecutive days now—the flight from schools has become a nationwide phenomenon, hitting an estimated 6 percent in just one year.

So what do parents really want? Education Next, a publication by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance, surveyed 2,155 parents of 3,762 students in K-12 (both public and private) in November and December, and found that only 41 percent had been offered the possibility of full-time instruction. "More than two-thirds of students who were presented that option took it," the authors noted.

So no, the majority of families are not afraid to go back to school.

The private/public splits in Education Next's data are striking: 60 percent of private school students attend full-time (out of the 67 percent who say they were given that option), compared to 24 percent attending government-run public school full-time (out 37 percent being offered), and 18 percent of charter schools (out of 35 percent). Such a disproportionate tilt toward closure in the public system has led directly to defections.

"The share of all students reported by parents to be attending schools in [the government-operated K-12 system] has declined by 9 percentage points (from 81% to 72%) between the spring and fall of 2020," the survey finds. "While [those] enrollments have fallen, enrollments in other sectors appear to have increased."

Multidisciplinary survey data since last summer has pointed to another headline-generating split: Richer and whiter families are more likely to be offered—and are more likely to accept—full-time or hybrid instruction, while poorer and blacker families are far less likely to have either the option or the predilection.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study from last July showed a 14-point gap between non-Hispanic white parents and non-Hispanic black parents (57 percent and 43 percent, respectively) about whether they'd be "comfortable" with their kids' school opening at full capacity in the fall, and a 16-point gap (62 percent to 46 percent) on whether schools should reopen for all students. What gives?

Reopening advocate Erika Sanzi of Project Forever Free recently wrote a sensitive essay on the subject, which began like this:

It is becoming increasingly clear that pundits and well-meaning education advocates fail to fully grasp the deep distrust that some parents have long had for their children's schools. A steady stream of articlesop-eds and twitter threads tell us that closed schools are doing the most damage to children of color, children from low income families, and children with special needs. Yet many parents of the children who fall into one or more of those categories do not want their schools to reopen and say that if they do reopen, they will not send them. This is a major head scratcher for people who have never been zoned to an unsafe or chronically underperforming school.

There is a profound lack of understanding between parents who have only known chronically underperforming schools and parent advocates who have never had that experience but are very familiar with academic data and how it breaks down by race and income….There is a blind spot in this question that comes from lack of personal experience with really bad schools.

Teachers unions and their supporters have been promiscuous in portraying the reopening push as an attempt by white power structures to bulldoze the concerns of minorities. In an incendiary New Yorker piece this week, Princeton Assistant Professor of African American Studies Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor attributed the very assertion that poorer minority kids are suffering the most from remote learning to a factually unhinged racism:

Supporters of immediate school reopenings, in Chicago and beyond, point to falling grades, test scores, and other assessments as evidence that the future of poor and working-class Black children is in danger. The dystopian imagery of a "lost generation" of Black youth is redolent of earlier moral panics: the discoveries of "crack babies" in the nineteen-eighties and "super predators" in the nineties were also rooted in anecdote-driven, pseudo-scientific evidence….Both panics were contingent on demonizing Black parents: single mothers who were negligent and fathers who, inevitably, were absent. A similar pattern has developed today, with teachers and teachers' unions serving as proxies to question the intelligence and competence of Black families choosing to keep their kids at home.

Posed in that manner, even without the tendentious interpretation of reopeners' racially based motives (or as Taylor puts it, "This longing for stability on terms that preserve the underlying racism and inequity of the status quo"), the conflict between mayors who want to open schools and unions that do not can be misunderstood as an attempt to remove the choices of remote learners and teachers. But that is the opposite of the truth.

The families that truly have no choice are the ones whose kids have not had the option of setting foot in school for the past 11 months. "More than 75 [percent] of all students in Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, California, Washington and Virginia have only had access to remote learning for the last 10 months, the Burbio data indicates," CBS reported this week.

The reopeners I am familiar with, having followed this issue closely, want those who don't feel safe to maintain the option of teaching and learning remotely. They just want other options, too—preferably including a predictable, full-time schedule. Those fighting to keep the all-remote status quo, meanwhile, eventually let slip that their one size has to fit all the rest of us.

"Pushing for schools to reopen even as the overwhelming majority of Black and Latinx parents opt for remote learning will only undermine remote instruction, all while catering to the disproportionate number of white students who show up in person," Taylor warned.

In fact, 56 percent of black students tracked in the Education Next survey and 67 percent of Hispanics chose in-person instruction once given the option. If school districts and politicians these past seven months had bent their will toward pursuing the goal of full-time schooling, rather than the hybrid-at-best system tens of millions are suffering from today, maybe Democrats wouldn't be experiencing so much internal tumult—and maybe we wouldn't have inflicted so much damage on families for so little return on the investment.

Bonus video: Want to respect the education preferences of families, particularly those less well-off? Give them more choice, says Katherine Mangu-Ward:

NEXT: Study: No COVID-19 Herd Immunity from Previous Common Cold Infections

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  1. Who the fuck cares what families, i.e. commoners think? Now, unions, their pet politicians, media lackeys, and nannies–them’s the important people.

    1. Exactly! Fuck those assholes and their broodlings. What are they going to do about it? Sell their house and move! Fat chance!

      1. Interesting.

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    4. Why does any libertarian have a kid in public school? Kind of tells you why Reason has sold out, becoming just another peddler of conventional wisdom.

      Here’s the truth: 9% or so may have left, but many more have checked out & simply not reported the change to authorities.

      There’s zippo support for reopening because some parents are fine w the status quo; others like it & the rest have LEFT! Sure, some parents hate it, but they are a powerless minority.

      Face it: the world has moved on & 5 days a week in-person will not happen (unless you’ve already got it).

  2. Good they need to get back in school to complete their indoctrination. They should be learning how to be community organizers and how to throw a great protest. Grades are for suckers.

    1. shut your dick-smacker, faggot

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  3. No, I didn’t know that, but if I had thought about it, I would have expected it to be higher than that.

    1. That’s kind of what I was thinking. It’s actually really disappointing that one third of families are too scared to go to school.

      (I know full-time, in-person qualifiers… still)

      1. Not always scared. Sometimes it is recognition that most of what goes on at school is bullshit and that the course materials can be completed in a fraction of the time at home.

        Some schools are simply toxic.

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  4. “Did You Know That Two-Thirds of Families Prefer Full-Time, In-Person Schooling?”

    The whole purpose of progressivism is to use the coercive power of government to force people to do things against their will–ostensibly for their own good or the good of others.

    What part of that makes you think progressives care what two thirds of families prefer? Are you aware that two thirds of families are either racist, misogynist, homophobic, or xenophobic?

    1. They’re all about democratic principles except when these useless fucking herbs don’t vote the right way, that’s when the adults in the room need to step in.

  5. Didn’t know that.
    Really don’t give a damn.

    Anyone who accepts any restrictions under the excuse of an “emergency” while the state sell lottery tickets is getting what they deserve.

    Lottery sales require in person passing of cash and the ticket between two people who by definition are within 6 feet of each other. It is every single thing the fascists say is so deadly that the entire rest of the economy, and an entire year of education must be sacrificed.

    I call bullshit.

    1. It’s possible to buy lottery tickets online now. It’s a little scary actually.

    2. We have lottery vending machines in supermarkets where I live.

    3. Oh come on now. Stop with all the logic and reason. 😀

      1. Lol this guy here above me man 😀 youre so funny dude 😀 😀 😀

  6. Of course schools should be fully open. It’s pathetic that we’re even spending time making these obvious arguments for it. I blame social security and medicare. Because the seniors (who these oppressive restrictions are ostensibly protecting) say, “Gimme my check and y’all can go screw yourselves.” Whereas without these programs they’d have skin in the game and would demand kids go back to school and people get back to work so they could afford to get the care they need. (And of course, fewer of them would have died if they had done that – because the kids would be at school giving them more safe time in the house among many other benefits.)

  7. Wouldn’t two-thirds of families be able to send their children to full-time, in-person schooling if they didn’t have to pay for the public option that isn’t available right now?

    1. I love the subtitle, too.

      Parental preference is one of the most commonly misunderstood factors in the school-reopening debate.

      It’s misunderstood because it’s largely irrelevant. The parents get what the government gives them because they have no other choice, largely because of expenses relating to that aforementioned public option.

      1. Don’t dismiss the miles of *forced* regulation in the game. One can actually loose their kids for not giving them the ‘right’ indoctrination.

  8. Racist!

  9. Huh. I live in a blue part of a blue state (I.e. strong teacher union) and my kids have been in school full time since September. Teachers over a certain age or with certain medical conditions were given the choice to teach the kids whose parents choose to keep them online.

    The school has had maybe a half dozen cases (out of about 200 kids), all of which were connected to events outside of school.

    I’m not even clear on the motivation of the unions that don’t want to send teachers back into the classroom. Teaching online sucks. Actually I am clear, they want some other stuff (money) thrown in if they’re ‘forced’ to go back.

    1. The worst part of teaching is that a lot of parents think of it as state-sponsored daycare. This results in a bunch of unruly children that the teacher has to deal with but is not given the tools to deal with effectively.

      It’s no mystery why they want to stay remote: they no longer have to babysit.

      1. My wife is a public high school teacher (and has a mix of high level and low level classes). She hates online, and hates hybrid even more. Kids can turn off their cameras and play video games or jack off, and then she has to re-teach them the material during ‘extra help’. It’s a giant pain in the balls.

        I see your point about elementary school in particular though.

        1. Funny, back in my day they just *failed* those kids. I forgot that wasn’t an option any longer.

          1. This is the truth.
            You get what you tolerate

        2. Most of the elementary school teacher I work with were very eager to get back in school. The few who were not had individualized reasons… They were caring for immunocompromised relatives, or elderly parents, or had health issues.

          In middle school it is the administrators who are blocking things. I had several teachers and administrators hint around that I need to complain about the principle in writing. But they were clearly terrified of retribution and would only hint.

          I think most teachers want that personal connection. That is what teaching is all about.

          Except the middle school. Those kids are impossible. I have no idea why anyone would voluntarily teach 7th grade. My son’s classes are on the gifted track in the high achieving magnet school. The best among the best.

          I sit in on his virtual classes sometimes. None of the kids have their camera on. Nobody responds to questions. It seems to be a collosal waste of time. I shudder to think what goes on in the worst of the worst classes.

          I heard that a survey showed that 80% of students in Charlotte were simply not logging in to their virtual classes.

          We are really screwing up a whole generation of kids with this quarantine and isolation.

  10. Children should go back to the office, just like their parents will be doing!

  11. Our kids’ private school is full-time in-person, and only about 5% of kids are doing the remote option. Of course, our school has to respond to customer preferences rather than stealing our money and ignoring our needs.

    1. ^Exactly. The very foundation of National Socialism is the Power to Steal your money and ignore your needs and individual liberty. If it didn’t have Gov-Guns it would just be an organization selling what YOU *choose* you need.

  12. You can’t expect the media to care about democracy when unions are at steak!

  13. Today in libertarian news and commentary.

    The trouble with ‘woke’
    Any attempt to define or criticise this movement is dismissed as a ‘right-wing slur’.

    Where there are no shared definitions there can be no possibility of discussion. Such is the dilemma that liberal-minded people face when attempting to reason with those who insist on continually revising the meaning of words. When most of us say ‘social justice’, we mean the concept of equality under the law, opposition to prejudice and discrimination, and equal opportunities for all. When ‘social-justice activists’ say ‘social justice’, they mean an emphasis on group identity over the rights of the individual, a rejection of social liberalism, and the assumption that unequal outcomes are always evidence of structural inequalities. When most of us say that we are ‘anti-racist’, we mean that we are opposed to racism. When ‘anti-racists’ say they are ‘anti-racist’, they mean they are in favour of a rehabilitated form of racism that makes judgements about people first and foremost on the basis of skin colour and the unsubstantiated supposition that our entire society and all human interactions are undergirded by white supremacy. No wonder everyone is confused.

    1. Woke is a decentralized religion without a specifically designated leadership. Therefore, it doesn’t exist and Antifa is innocent.

  14. More libertarian news and commentary.

    Can comedy survive our puritan age?
    We deserve a laugh more than ever. But comedy has become a risky business.

    TV regulator Ofcom, in a report on the BBC, has classed comedy as an ‘at risk’ genre. In the past decade, the amount of original comedy on the BBC has dropped by more than 40 per cent.

    Startling figures, indeed. I recommend reading the British Comedy Guide’s write-up in full. The overwhelming sensation one gets is of a gurgling drop in the stomach – especially, if you were born in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when the sitcom was a staple televisual diet for youngsters and adults alike.

    1. Late night TV says otherwise. Every chanel has a highly paid, party approved comedian.

      Pbbbbt. Comedy is dead.

      No comrad. Comedy is growing up and becoming responsible.

  15. Well it was only a matter of time before the 19th/20th century public school educational model broke down, and looks like coronavirus is going to be the thing that catalyzes the change. For all of the misery that coronavirus has caused, at least one silver lining that might come out of it is a new individual-centric model for education, instead of the mass production factory model of early 20th century schooling. Hopefully we can see some innovations take hold that guide the way.

    1. That’s wishful thinking. Yes a few people will take matters into their own hands (with varying degrees of success) but most will meekly succumb to socialist demands as they are doing today.

      So what’s the answer? The rich will realize they can’t appease or outrun the socialists and so will directy fund paradise.

    2. Not holding my breath for that one.

      1. If not now, when? As Matt Welch is saying, there are a lot of parents out there who are really pissed at the public school establishment and finally realizing that it is more about serving teachers than it is about serving students. I am hopeful that there are some enterprising people out there who are going to take this anger and funnel into it into a constructive direction.

        1. ^YES! EXACTLY THIS; The Demand is there; what’s holding up Supply??? My guess would be mountains of regulation – but gosh if anyone wanted to leap to the Millionaire class; they’ve got plenty of opportunity.

    I’m part of a parents group that put on the pictured protests. Area is 100% reliably lefty, and people are PISSED. It’s funny reading the strategizing – “Stay positive! Don’t get negative! Don’t mention the Union! Focus on the equity issue!”

  17. Keep em locked-up. The USA doesn’t need Gov commie-education. All teachers willing to work; be contractors for your neighborhood.

    A class of 15 would pay you $208/hr on Gov commie-education pay-scale. Really; how hard would it be to compete with that kind of highway-robbery. Tell the government to put down their Gov-Gun ensured monopolies.

  18. Wow, only two thirds of families? I thought it would be much higher. But is it for the education or the free daycare? Actually it’s not free. We all pay for it. Even those who don’t have kids or have kids that are long out of their school years. So I guess it is somewhat free for those who still have kids in school.

  19. Here in Florida, most school systems are somewhat open for in-school instruction. Here in Broward most of the elementary schools have students on campus full-time, with some classes being remote learning.

    Most middle schools seem to be completely dysfunctional. The best have the students in school and changing classes. A major chunk have students either online or coming to school but simply sitting in a proctored room while taking classes online. this describes our son’s school. We opted not to have him go sit in a classroom with 15 or 20 other kids who are all taking different classes than the ones he is taking. Pretty much every other parent in the school opted for the same solution. Less than 10% of the kids are in the school.

    What I did not know was that the rest of the country is not like this. I learned from Biden’s spokes model that they aspire to have 50% of schools open for students by the end of Biden’s hundred days. When pressed as to what open means, she said that they hope to have at least some days of in-person instruction for some of the students. I had no clue that this many schools were completely shut down. They aspire to get half of them open for part-time instruction? What the hell kind of goal is that?

    This administration seems to keep looking for where the dart is flying and trying to move the dart board in front of it. Vaccinations were flying out on a pace to hit a million vaccines a day, so they set a goal of a hundred million vaccines in a hundred days. At least you set a goal that you can reach without changing anything.

    Pressures were already mounting for schools to open. Now the administration announces that they want some schools open some of the time sometime soon.

    Wow! Way to take a stand!

    I guess we save our decisive action for things like increasing discrimination against Asian college applicants.

  20. Thank you for this amazing post.

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  21. Just open FFS.

    If they don’t want to come to work fire them. You’ll find replacements

  22. Did you know that neither your elected officials nor the teacher unions give a damn what you want?

  23. Artie’s infamous “betters” have decided. No need for debate.

  24. Latinx? Come on reason.

  25. Want to respect the education preferences of families, particularly those less well-off? Give them a free market.
    “In all countries, in all centuries, the primary reason for government to set up schools is to undermine the politically weak by convincing their children that the leaders are good and their policies are wise.” ~ Marshall Fritz
    “And what is a good citizen? Simply one who never says, does or thinks anything that is unusual. Schools are maintained in order to bring this uniformity up to the highest possible point. A school is a hopper into which children are heaved while they are still young and tender; therein they are pressed into certain standard shapes and covered from head to heels with official rubber-stamps.” ~ H.L. Mencken
    “Governments have ever been known to hold a high hand over the education of the people. They know, better than anyone else, that their power is based almost entirely on the school. Hence, they monopolize it more and more.” ~ Francisco Ferrer
    “Wherever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

  26. The schools finally offered 2.5 hours a week for the hybrid part. A whole 2.5 hours, the bravery of the teachers is astounding – heroes indeed! Honestly, I’m glad my kid can’t be in the classroom there’s none of the pronoun nonsense taking place which has been detrimental to so many of the kids. If home schooling hadn’t taken place she probably would never be exposed to the classics like MacBeth, East of Eden or dare I say Atlas Shrugged. It’s been a challenge, this is her final year in HS so missed all of the fun, but she’s probably learned more in the last year than she has for the previous 11.

  27. Another factor is that a lot of parents don’t want their kids wearing masks. That might be changing, but in Pennsylvania there was a huge surge in enrollment at public cyber charters as soon as Governor Wolf announced that the mask mandate applies to schools.

    “Demand started to spike in early July, Mr. Hayden said, when the governor announced that all children in Pennsylvania would be required to wear masks in school.

    “Our lower grades filled up much faster,” Mr. Hayden said. “They didn’t see their young child attending school all day in a mask.””

    Not saying that’s right. Just saying that even people who HAVE been offered full-time, in-person learning, but have rejected it, might have reasons other than, “It’s not safe to go back.”

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