Captives or Consumers? Public Education Could Be Facing a Major Change

Below is my column in the Hill on moves by some states to create greater choice and control for parents over the education of their children. The move to use funding to change the status quo could soon be used in higher education. Not only are alumni beginning to withhold contributions to schools with little or no diversity or tolerance on their faculties, but states could reduce their levels of support.

Here is the column:

What if they offered public education and no one came? That question, similar to the anti-war slogan popularized by Charlotte E. Keyes, is becoming more poignant by the day.

This month, Florida is moving to allow all residents the choice to go to private or public schools. Other states like Utah are moving toward a similar alternative with school vouchers. I oppose such moves away from public schools, but I have lost faith in the willingness of most schools to restore educational priorities and standards.

Faced with school boards and teacher unions resisting parental objections to school policies over curriculum and social issues, states are on the brink of a transformative change. For years, boards and teacher unions have treated parents as unwelcome interlopers in their children’s education.

That view was captured this week in the comment of Iowa school board member Rachel Wall, who said: “The purpose of a public ed is to not teach kids what the parents want. It is to teach them what society needs them to know. The client is not the parent, but the community.”

State Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Wis.) tweeted: “If parents want to ‘have a say’ in their child’s education, they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their family budget.”

Now legislators are moving to do precisely that — but with public funds. It could be a game-changer. Parents overwhelmingly appear to support a classical education focused on core subjects rather than “social change.” They overwhelmingly support parental notice when their children engage in gender transitioning or other major decisions.

Many parents also are angered by teachers, unions and boards shutting down schools during the pandemic despite other countries keeping them open and studies that showed children were not at high risk. The United States experienced soaring mental illness rates and plunging test scores.

Parents who questioned those policies were treated as extremists.

Michelle Leete, vice president of training at the Virginia PTA and vice president of communications for the Fairfax County PTA, said parents would not force them to reverse their agenda: “Let them die. Don’t let these uncomfortable people deter us from our bold march forward.”

Many of us have advocated for public education for decades. I sent my children to public schools, and I still hope we can turn this around without wholesale voucher systems. Yet teachers and boards are killing the institution of public education by treating children and parents more like captives than consumers. They are force-feeding social and political priorities, including passes for engaging in approved protests.

As public schools continue to produce abysmal scores, particularly for minority students, board and union officials have called for lowering or suspending proficiency standards or declared meritocracy to be a form of “white supremacy.” Gifted and talented programs are being eliminated in the name of “equity.”

Once parents have a choice, these teachers lose a virtual monopoly over many families, and these districts could lose billions in states like Florida.

While I remain concerned how vouchers could be the death of public primary and secondary education, I believe states need to use the power of the purse to reform higher education.

Despite years of complaints over a rising orthodoxy at schools, most universities have reduced conservative and libertarian faculty to rare oddities. Some schools have virtually no Republican faculty. Faculty have created political echo-chambers that advance their own views while excluding alternative voices. As a result, polls show a high number of students are fearful about sharing their views in classes.

I oppose laws prohibiting certain theories from being taught in universities, but I also believe academics can no longer show open contempt for the half of this country with conservative, libertarian or independent views. At many public universities, the message is that you need to give universities not only total deference but total support in excluding conservative views and maintaining intolerant ideological environments.

It may be too late for private universities, which are likely to continue to exclude all but a tiny number of conservatives or libertarians. They have the support of many in the media. Above the Law’s senior editor, Joe Patrice, defended “predominantly liberal faculties” and argued that hiring a conservative academic is akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism — the idea that the sun orbits the earth — to teach.

While some private schools like the University of Chicago have stood firm in support of free speech, most of the schools on the top of a recent ranking were public universities. That is no surprise. As state schools, these universities are subject to First Amendment protections and there is greater ability to contest the current academic orthodoxy. Indeed, courts repeatedly rule against universities. Yet administrators have an incentive to yield to the mob, even at the cost of millions in litigation costs. And few academics have an incentive to fight for greater political diversity on campus and risk being tagged in cancel campaigns.

This is why public universities could be the final line of defense for free speech in higher education.

States are no more captive to these schools than are parents. Why should conservatives and independents continue to pay taxes for universities that actively exclude faculty who share their values or viewpoints? Half of this country funds schools that have little tolerance for their values or voices; they can reduce their support and let such universities seek private funding if they insist on making a “liberal education” a literal goal.

We need public universities to offer a free-speech alternative. If we can maintain that protection, we may find that public universities become the primary choice of many who want to learn in politically diverse, tolerant environments.

For elementary, middle and high schools, voucher programs may allow parents to speak with their feet. I hope we do not come to that — but the opposition to vouchers is telling. The alarm is based on the recognition that, given a choice, many families would not choose what public schools are offering. This includes many minority families who want to escape from a cycle of education that leaves many students barely literate and lost. They likely would prefer an alternative to a system like Baltimore’s, where a student failed all but three classes and still graduated in the top half of his class.

I worry about how voucher systems will impact public schools because many districts would fare poorly in a competitive market. However, these proposals are a shot across the bow to all such districts. They could easily find themselves with an agenda-packed curriculum but far fewer students to teach.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

244 thoughts on “Captives or Consumers? Public Education Could Be Facing a Major Change”

  1. Schools often hold back to school nights where you can meet the teacher, learn about the curriculum and student expecations, find out how to contact the teacher and get class updates and assignments, and how to join the PTA. I found parent particiation low at the event however so was wondering how it is now (been a while) and whether part of the solution is for parents to take advantage of existing opportinuties for parental involvement in their child’s education.

  2. Here’s the plan. If we take it to its logical conclusion the amount we pay to the high school drop out should be exactly the same as we pay the people the writer for Salon Magazine. This should be the goal if we truly believe in equity. Why should anyone get payed more just because he understands the proper use of the English language? I guess some should receive more equity than others everything being equal and all.

  3. k-12 is destroying america. after a few years in single mother households where girls are taught that they are a princess who should hate their country and boys learn how to hate their father the little darlings are sent to k-12 where 96% of teachers and admin are feminists and the other 4% are weak minded beta male enabling eunuchs. their tool box is made up of soy, ritalin, estrogen, title 1X, feminism, revisionist history and the ever popular war on boys/men. by the time they turn eighteen they don’t have clue what is going on……fubar.

  4. The exclusion of normal, common sense thought (now branded “conservative” because if you believe there are two sexes you must be a Trump supporter) from private universities is happening contemporaneously with a push to get rid of merit-based entry, and, inevitably, merit-based everything else. Meaning that in 20 years these institutions will be surpassed in prestige and intellectual rigor by Ronald McDonald University. I’m not worried. These things have a tendency to right themselves. It just takes time. If “Biden” doesn’t manage to completely destroy the country, market law will prevail. But anyone still sending their kids to ivy league schools in 2023 may end up wishing they had invested the money in something of value, such as eggs.

  5. k-12 is destroying america. 96% of k-12 teachers and k-12 administrations are feminist and the other 4% are weak-minded beta male enabling eunuchs. their tool box is ritalin, soy, estrogen, title 1X, feminism, revisionist history and the never ending war on white boys/men. these kids arrive after four years in single mother households where they’re taught to hate their father and their country then it’s off to k-12 where the feminist teachers finish the job. fubar.

  6. Ultimately, just like any monopoly the public school system is broken. Since it has a 100% claim on taxpayer money there is no incentive to perform. A better system would be to completely separate the school board from the school, and make it their job to evaluate competing bids from various educational organization to award a contract to hire teachers and run the school district. If at the end of the contract based on whatever metrics of performance are agreed upon the students excel, then the contract is renewed. If not, fire them and bring in someone else.

    Why is it that in any other government contract an RFP is published and competing bids invited except for schools?

    1. ” Since it has a 100% claim on taxpayer money there is no incentive to perform.”

      Not true. Taxpayers voice their opinions on the use of their tax dollars, if they are paying attention. Taxpayers provide a pretty good incentive–listen to us or we will replace you.

      We are a government of the people. We decide this through our representatives. We provide input and watch them. If our representatives perform badly, we vote them out of office. Maybe we encourage them to remove poorly performing bureaucrats/administrators.

  7. “…and I still hope we can turn this around without wholesale voucher systems.”

    No. It is not possible.

    The existing system cannot possibly be “fixed,” because it is BROKEN BY DESIGN.

    “Central Planning” is never the solution, it is always the problem. So long as the edifice exists, the very BEST we can hope for is that it will perpetually be a political “prize” to be fought over, and never long possessed. Rarely in life do we see best results, and in this country unfortunately those in control have predominately been the totalitarians (Democrats) seeking to indoctrinate the next generation to abandon our Liberty and Constitution, and to meekly accept totalitarianism.

    The only way to stop the fight is to abolish the prize. Period.

    1. No. Do not treat it as a “prize” to be won. It is to be shared by the community as a place for all people.

      The dastardly Democrats seek totalitarianism, but aparrently Republicans would tear apart a foundational element of our republic to replace it with corporations and privatization, which is just another way of removing representational self-governance from we the people.

  8. American “Public” schools have become a cesspool of cultural rot , and a money pit. My wife and I home schooled our son the last 6 years of his school time as I had enough of lieberal teachers , unionzed incompetence therein , the lies and their total condescension of any opinion not theirs , or the NEA’s. My public schooling experience was never like the indoctrination my son was forced to sit through.
    American public education across the board has morphed into a job security gig for unionized and incompetent teachers with all the culture rot indoctrination they can cram in there. Our school systems are barely teaching students adequate skills my generation took for granted being taught.
    The majority of Americans are for this trend of getting out of public indoctrination and getting their children a sound and real common sense education and not dimwitted SJW’s that cant even fathom basic math or real world skills.

    1. Phergus, teacher unions are nothing new. Almost every baby boomer who went to public schools had union teachers. No one in their right mind would want to teach today in a non-union capacity. Not with creeps like DeSantis wanting to charge teachers with felonies for letting kids see the ‘wrong books’.

    2. Lay a huge share of the blame on Republicans and No Child Left Behind. Top down control, terrible “incentives”.

      Then blame Democrats for Race to the Top and Common Core, which, again, reinforced top down control and written “incentives”.

      Foolish legislators handed more power to the imperial executive and corporations that offered to help “fix” the problems better left to locals.

  9. Watch for the coming litigation against private schools where they are treated in some states like the Colorado baker.
    The school will have policies desired by parents relating to morality, sex, behavior, dress, identity and some parent will send their kid there in order to bring a lawsuit to force the school to kowtow to the leftist nonsense that they are trying to flee.
    They have persecuted the Colorado baker with lawsuits and the same will happen to these private schools.
    The U.S. Supreme Court will face increasing questions about the right of free association. This battle lies in the future, but not the far future.

    1. Yep. The left is evil. They see the law as something to get around when it suits them and something to use to punish those they disagree with by filing ridiculous lawsuits.

  10. If a student is ranked 62 out of 120 students, that student is in the bottom half of the class, not the top half.
    Prof. Turley links to a Fox News Baltimore article; the headline states the student ‘ranks near top half of class’.
    The article is dated March 4, 2021, nearly two years ago.

    1. At 62/120, the student is nearly in the top half. It would be difficult to be nearer to the top half; only one other student could be closer to the top half without actually being in the top half.
      I remember this story, or one very similar, with the student graduating high school with a GPA of less than 1.0. The school bears some responsibility for having allowed this student to advance to the next grade despite his inability to perform at grade level. Mom was shocked, but I don’t see how she should’ve been shocked. Mom must have never asked to see her child’s report cards or expressed an interest in her child’s education.

    1. Totally agree. What teaching goes on in the public education is garbage in and garbage out. A generation kneecapped with the useless SJW mentality that cant even tie their shoes, write , and barely read.

      1. No. This blanket statement is excessive. Blame AP and the College Board then, too, which effectively sets the curriculum for those classes.

        Get the Federal and State governments and corporations and NGOs out of the business of steering education.

  11. “The lunatics have taken over the asylum.”

    – Richard A. Rowland

    “The individuals who should be overseen or regulated are running the show. The term appears to have been first used in 1919, when the four most powerful figures in the American film industry—Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith—decided to found their own distribution company, called United Artists. In response the producer Richard Rowland remarked, “’The lunatics have taken over the asylum.’”

    – thefreedictionary

    And the teachers unions decided to run their own schools, aka propagandization, indoctrination and re-education centers.

    Why in the world would Americans give up their entire country, including its children and schools?

    “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

    – Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

  12. “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.”

    – Vladimir Lenin

    Unions are the antithesis and adversary of constitutional government, private property rights and free enterprise.

    Americans are free to accept or reject employment.

    Teachers unions are unconstitutional and illegal and must be eliminated.

    Unions are criminal organizations that have no reason for existence and no bargaining position other than violence and the threat of violence.

    Teachers unions illicitly usurp the power of elected officials and the power of the electorate.

    American educators must be teaching the Three R’s.

    American educators must not be teaching communism.

    American educators must not be teaching “…fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

    American unionized educators are direct and mortal enemies of the American thesis, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Americans and America.

    Unions are decaying rot at the foundation of America.

  13. If Parents Know So Much..

    Why Are Their Kids Failing?

    Here Professor Turley presumes that public schools are failing because, ‘Teachers are preoccupied with liberal social agendas’, or something to that effect.

    But there’s an old and very true saying that encompasses this situation: “Parents are a child’s first teachers’.

    If the parents are Q’Anon zombies and vaccine deniers, for instance, they may not be suitable teachers for their children. Therefore the child might already be ‘lost’ before they even reach school age.

    What’s more, Bernie Bro Millennials are equally as vacuous as Q’Anon zombies. Millennial parents, in fact, have already distinguished themselves as the most meddling parents teachers have ever dealt with.

    Therefore this assumption that ‘parents know best’ is a fallacy of epic proportions. Obesity rates alone should tell us parents are largely irresponsible.

    Schools are not department stores where, ‘The customer is always right’. Many parents are stupid!

    One should note that Teaching and Policing are two professions where everyone presumes to know more than actual professionals.

    1. You must be a teacher or do not have children. I sent my children to private schools due to the lack of teaching skills of the basic R’s. It cost yes, but I have no regrets. My children have excelled in life and not from any social teaching that a school board or teacher forced on them. I say good to getting rid of public schools. At this point, teachers care nothing for teaching but everything about indoctrination.

    2. So Anonymous, according to you anyone who does not agree with your agenda is a vac denier or a Q’Anon zombie. Parents are indeed responsible for the education of their children until they begin going to school. However, after children enter the public schools the children spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents. Who then do you think would have more influence on the student? Your arguments always stoop to name calling. Now you say that the police are experts that should always be listened to but you and your friends want to defund the police. You are the one who doesn’t want oral sex manuals to be banned in schools. I don’t have to be an expert to understand that oral sex instruction in Junior High School is bad for my child. I also do not have to be an expert to know that putting a shaming on my eight year old for being white is dangerous to his well being. The pictures in your mind are truly something to behold but certainly not with adoration.

    3. “Many parents are stupid”. I’m sure the connection to the issue is lost on you. As a society we encourage those least capable of being quality parents to have even more kids. In the process, families also get disrupted. Most of this is from the moral decay caused by liberal policies. Are there some Q parents that are fools? Sure. Is that the majority of those objecting to the content? NO. It is a small percentage. Parents are increasingly viewed with disdain and are not even allowed to volunteer in classrooms. Parents are being denied even seeing the teaching materials. Liberals are in complete control of the educational system at virtually all levels. The decline is on them. Parents are at fault for trusting that schools now are doing the same level of teaching they did when they were in school. They are NOT. This is really hard for me given I was smarter than my teachers by about 5th grade. I have substantially increased my knowledge base since then and teachers are more poorly trained now than in the 80’s. I’ve moved to a combination of online and homeschooling my kids. I watched a Duke Pesta video just yesterday. He is an English professor at UW-Oshkosh. He says it is rare to have English majors take his course who can read above an 8th grade level. This is what happens when schools concentrate on sociology over actual education.

    4. Therefore this assumption that ‘parents know best’ is a fallacy of epic proportions.
      Except for the fact, Education colleges have been in charge of content, and method for 50 years. Today somewhere near 40% of students are failing to read at grade level.

      Obesity rates alone should tell us parents are largely irresponsible.
      Take a look at the Food pyramid. A product of the Federal Govt, not parents. 1970’s vintage

  14. It comes as no surprise that the leftists don’t want to let you see what they are teaching your children in the government schools. WARNING, the following is adult material that was found on a high school bookshelf In Minnesota. I sucked him deeper into my mouth, almost to the base. And just when he moaned, I released him, gliding my tongue along the long, hard length of him, until his d**k was glistening.”
    “F**k yeah, Canning’s hips began to rock as I took him in my mouth again. I licked the crown of his c**k, teasing, savoring, then taking him deep again.”
    “I tease and caress for several long moments before slipping my finger inside. My other hand grips his erection. I’m selfish, but I don’t want him to come until I’m very deep inside him. So I don’t take him in my mouth or jerk him as hard as I know he wants. Slow, feather-light strokes is all he gets as I work my finger into his tight hole. When a second finger joins the party, his brows draw together. Beads of sweat break out on his forehead. Mine too. Loosening him up is one of the hottest thing I’ve ever done. It takes all my concentration.” The book is “Him”. It is not a banned book and is available for purchase on Amazon. This is what they will teach your kids if you are kept in the dark. I’m sorry about the graphic nature of this post but without displaying them you might not be aware of what the mind benders are trying to do to your kids. You should be aware.

    1. That’s in a high school. Lol!!! High school kids read and see such things on their phones any time. Even pornhub is freely available to browse. By the time they are in 10th grade they pretty much know a lot more than you think. It shouldn’t be shocking.

      My generation had playboy and penthouse forums, either from a friend or parent’s “secret” stash.

      High school is not what you once thought it was. What you posted is not shocking to high school teens.

      1. Svelaz, your response is always the same. You say that kids will see pornography anyway so don’t worry about it if they see it in the schools. According to your reasoning we should have Hustler magazine or the man boy love newsletter in the Junior High library because they can find it on the internet anyway. How about The Tie That Binds which is a sado masochism magazine on the school book shelves because the kids can just find it on the internet. Svelaz says, it all just logical.

      2. My copy of Plaboy came from my moms end table next to her chair.
        Everything you every wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask. Was passed around constantly.
        A buddy of mine provided copies of Lady Chatterley Lover, and Fanny Hill.

        But we never did book reports on them.

        Teaching from smut is not even on the same planet as being able to sneak access to smut.

        We always had 5 cases of beer in the garage fridge also. Doesn’t mean us kids were allowed to drink it.

    2. TiT,
      Yeah, that should not be in high school libraries.
      I know, some will insist that is not happening. But then we have Project Veritas with the videos of teachers saying it is happening. Then there is Libs of TikToc who say it themselves for all to see.

    3. Think through,

      I just read 4 different articles regarding “Him” and the controversy it caused in Saint Paul Minnesota. All 4 articles say that no one knows how this book got in the school library. No student ever checked this book out.

      But one suspects that Thinkthrough enjoys telling us what’s in this book. His perspective, we can be sure, is not just that of a righteous scold.

      1. Anonymous, of course no one admits that the book ended up on a school bookshelf. It must have just magically appeared. Then again maybe it was placed there by someone with an LBGT++++ world view. There are teachers who have admitted that they teach such material in their classroom. This is not the first such incident. Here’s an example from Iowa. How could we possibly think that your reaction to such material of this nature in schools would be denial that its happening. Color me flabbergasted.

      2. Anonymous, since your in denial about sexual indoctrination in schools here’s another one for you. This book is recommended for 9-13 year olds. It’s a story about two ten year old boys performing oral sex on one another. The author says the book wasn’t meant to be read by minors. Who then was it meant for. Adults with an interest in sex between children? Excuse me while I gag. Thanks for letting us know that this is just your contribution to the education of our kids.

  15. A college computer science major who does not know that ten dimes equal a dollar. A college graduate who thinks that the only thing that is Fiji is a bottle of water. High school and college kids that can’t tell time on a ‘normal’ clock. College students working as cashiers who cannot make change without a calculator. College students in the School of Ed who can’t figure out long division (I helped them with the problems while in the check out line, I’m 75). High school and college students who can’t figure out percentages. I could go on and on. The problems start at the grammar school level and continue through the years. We are in deep doo doo as a country. God forbid someone lets loose with an EMP and knocks out all the electronics cuz you would have millions of zombies wandering around not knowing how to function. Educators no longer teach kids to rely on their brains, how to think. Then again The Government will take care of you, not to worry.

    1. As a mechanical engineer, it is shocking how mechanically un-inclined fresh out of college ME’s are. It’s as if they have never taken anything apart or played with stuff in their lives. They are only book smart.

      1. LOL. Sometimes I wish it was the 70s. At least then my kids were taught to read, how to do basic math, how to write, geography, etc. Then we didn’t have to worry about what pronoun you used or if one day your friends thought they were girls and the next day were boys.

  16. The statements by elected people that are quoted in this article make it clear that they are talking about GOVERNMENT schools and GOVERNMENT education — not “public” schools or education. Such are the attitudes and strongly held beliefs that would focus teaching on what GOVERNMENT decrees to be education; unfortunately folks such as these have been elected to do a job they do not understand to be a job for the “public.”.

  17. I spent three years as a public school educator in an at risk school when I just graduated with my undergraduate degree in the 1980s. My principal and the majority of teachers were committed to the success of each student.

    We were given a list of objectives that were required for the exit testing at the end of the year. In the 1980s the CTBS was administered to 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders. The teachers were given a great deal of latitude in how they taught their subjects. It is tough work and funding is often scarce.

    I have the deepest respect for classroom teachers who are called to this noble profession. I have the deepest regret for the environment they now face, some with parents, some with students but mostly the toxic leadership (or lack of leadership) and the devastating politics.

    Students must be prepared with foundational skills in order to succeed, not to be indoctrinated with bizarre agendas. These are children!!

    1. “These are children!!”
      Yes, they are but they are treated as pawns in a maniacal, political game designed to subvert their character, desire and will. Which is in stark contrast to the goal of our society.
      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

  18. It would seem to me that anyone who has kids in K-12 should be able to take their school taxes and use that towards a school of their choice. Once their kids our all graduated, they would then return to paying their school taxes to the govt. controlled monopoly.

    Also, since school taxes are based on property value, then when the economy is down and property values drop, so should the budgets for the government controlled monopy.

Leave a Reply