Since 2020, parents have been motivated to act upon their educational preferences. They have removed their children from district schools at record rates, turning instead to homeschooling, charter schools, and private schools which all saw enrollment gains.
These educational preferences preceded the pandemic response. According to EdChoice’s 2019 Schooling in America Survey: “More than four out of five students attend a public district school, but less than half of public school teachers and less than a third of current school parents would prefer to send their children to a district school.”
Parents were less than dazzled by district schooling prior to 2020, but the education disruption caused by prolonged school closures and ongoing virus policies gave them the nudge they needed to seriously explore other learning options and make a change.
Charter schools, in particular, saw a seven percent leap in enrollment during the 2020/2021 academic year. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded and tuition-free for parents but are privately operated, typically by non-profit organizations. Students are admitted through a lottery system and charter schools often have more autonomy and flexibility than district schools. They are also more accountable to parents because if they don’t satisfy parents’ expectations, parents will leave and the charter school will close.
Many parents were disappointed with how district schools responded to the pandemic over the past two years, and some have grown increasingly disillusioned with their district school’s curriculum plans and pedagogy. These parents are looking for other learning options, and charter schools are expanding to meet the demand.
A charter school network that is growing in popularity and reach is the one affiliated with Hillsdale College that emphasizes a classical education philosophy. These classical charter schools have opened in 12 states, as parents gravitate to a curriculum approach that is based on a traditional exploration of the liberal arts and sciences, including emphasizing core subject matter and the teaching of Latin.
Hillsdale’s charter school initiative has been met with criticism, including from media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, with the Times stating that “the Hillsdale schools could be something of a publicly funded off-ramp for conservative parents who think their local schools misinterpret history and push a socially progressive agenda on issues from race and diversity to sexuality and gender.”
Encouraging the creation of a vibrant ecosystem of education options enables families to choose the education philosophy and approach that is most aligned with their preferences and needs. Rather than being forced to attend a local district school, parents with access to charter schools and school choice policies that enable education funding to follow students have greater freedom to choose their preferred educational setting.
This freedom has long been available to more affluent families who choose schools and learning settings for their children that are aligned with their preferences and needs. School choice policies and the growth of charter schools extend that freedom to all families.
Some families will choose charter schools like those connected to Hillsdale because they appreciate a classical education approach. Other families might choose a charter school like those run by the fast-growing Wildflower network that is rooted in the child-centered Montessori educational philosophy. In addition to its private Montessori schools, Wildflower currently operates charter schools in several cities, including New York City, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis. A wide assortment of charter school options, reflecting different educational philosophies and approaches, provides greater choice for families.
I spoke recently with Dr. Kathleen O’Toole who runs Hillsdale’s K-12 education programs, including overseeing its charter school initiative. She explained that their charter schools are transparent with parents regarding their classical education curriculum, encouraging parents to make a choice that is right for them. “You as a parent can make a choice whether this is an education that will be suitable for you, and your family, and your child,” Dr. O’Toole told me in the latest episode of the LiberatED podcast.
For some parents, a classical education will be most suitable. For other parents, it will be Montessori, or Waldorf, or unschooling, or college prep, or faith-based education, or a whole host of other educational methods from which they can choose.
Access to a panoply of educational choices means that families will be able to find a learning setting that reflects their preferences, teachers will be able to work in settings that they find most fulfilling, and learners will be able to flourish in their optimal educational environment.