And so it begins. School districts are announcing their plans for how they will reopen, and the protests have begun. Parents in Rockwood, Missouri protested because they want more in-person schooling than the district is offering. Parents in the St. Louis Public School District want more virtual schooling than the district is offering. (And the St. Louis teachers union just declared that the district must start the year completely virtual.) Virginia parents protested because they didn’t like only having a single option of two days in person and three days of virtual instruction per week. Some Washington state parents are unhappy with the lack of details in their district’s plan. Public schooling is currently a mess.
Unhappy parents everywhere are pulling their children out of public schools. In Nebraska, requests to homeschool are up 21 percent. With textbook Toquevillian can-do attitudes, parents across the country are getting together with friends and neighbors and creating micro-schools. Parent unions are forming and some are calling for a “break up” with traditional education.
What could, or should, Missouri be doing during this upheaval? Number one, we need leadership. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has only released reopening health guidelines. Should we expect that all 520 school districts simply figure out a great plan on their own? Meanwhile, Nebraska has created a website (Launch Nebraska) with comprehensive planning guides and toolkits.
Number two, we should be making several easily accessed choices available to parents. At least one district, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, is allowing parents who want a virtual education to enroll their students with one of the state-approved virtual providers under the Missouri Course Access Program (MOCAP). Other districts should follow its lead. This is not a year for inventing things from scratch. Parents should also be able to easily choose in-person enrollment at a private school. There are a number of apps, such as Classroom Wallet, that the state could use to provide parents with funds to purchase tuition. This is not a good year to settle the public versus private debate. This is a year to get kids back to learning.
Third, accountability and transparency must not be allowed to fall to the wayside. For the past six months, public school districts have been held harmless from consequences. If this continues much longer, children will be the ones to suffer and achievement gaps will grow.
Parents were put in the driver’s seat last spring whether they liked it or not. And now they’re supposed to give the wheel back to public school districts that seem to not even know how to start the car. It’s not at all surprising that they’re fed up.