Is America’s Educational System Becoming More Pluralistic?

Why has the political response to school closures been so muted? For one, at least 28 percent of students are receiving instruction that is fully in-person, and many reside in Republican-leaning districts. As the political scientists Michael T. Hartney and Leslie K. Fingers recently observed, the best predictor for whether a school district offered in-person learning this fall was Donald Trump’s vote share in that district in 2016. In California, for example, public schools in politically competitive and right-leaning areas such as Fresno, San Diego, and Orange Counties are mostly in-person while schools in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles remain entirely remote. Reopening battles between unionized teachers and parents desperate for in-person learning are mostly taking place in Democratic cities and suburbs.

Moreover, blue-state parents are divided on the question of reopening schools. Though learning loss has been particularly pronounced for low-income students of color receiving instruction remotely, working-class Black and Latino parents are far more reluctant to send their children back to school than white parents and more affluent parents, many of whom are clamoring to do so.

One might therefore conclude that parental outrage over prolonged, evidence-defying school closures is a niche phenomenon, which teachers’ unions and their allies can safely ignore. But that would be a mistake. The upper-middle-income parents who are most exercised by union resistance to school reopenings play a disproportionately large role in shaping the structure of American public education. If a growing number of these parents decide that they have an interest in alternatives to union-dominated district schools, expect the educational landscape to start looking very different.

Consider that support for educational choice among Democratic voters has, for years, followed a bifurcated pattern, in which Black and Latino people’s support for targeted vouchers, universal vouchers, and charter schools has surpassed support among white people. Nevertheless, Black and Latino support for educational choice hasn’t made much of a difference in national Democratic Party politics. One explanation is that the organized and focused power of the teachers’ unions has proved more meaningful in Democratic primary elections than the diffuse sentiments of working-class parents of color, many of whom do not vote.

Yet the teachers’ unions have been at their strongest when they’ve had grassroots support. More often than not, that support has come from upper-middle-income parents who are deeply invested, literally and figuratively, in their suburban district schools. In an age of civic decline, district schools remain a powerful tool for fostering social ties and a sense of shared purpose among parents in a given community, as the Dartmouth economist William A. Fischel argued in Making the Grade.

Next Post

Fort Bend ISD closes, opens schools amid COVID-19 pandemic

Mon Feb 8 , 2021
MISSOURI CITY, Texas – This week, President Biden plans to address getting kids back in the classroom as early as Wednesday. This comes as Fort Bend ISD once again is closing some schools and opening others. The district also sent an email to parents on Friday saying if their student […]