By Daniel Ersparmer for RealClearPolicy
Last week, Tyton Partners released a landmark report – the first of three based on a nationwide longitudinal study entitled "School Disrupted: The Impact of COVID-19 on Parent Agency and the K-12 Ecosystem".
The study looks in depth at the declines in enrollment in public and private schools reported across the country over the past year, focusing not only on where students went when they left their school, but also why and how their families made these decisions.
The report examines an important factor in this phenomenon known as the 'parent agency'. This is the parents' ability to track changes in their child's education when they feel that change is warranted.
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Louisiana was certainly not immune from the effects of COVID-19 on K-12 education, seeing nearly 17,000 students drop out of the public school system, particularly in elementary school classes. These findings inform and lead to a deeper analysis of the Louisiana K-12 ecosystem and the agency Louisiana families have in meeting the needs of their children.
Unfortunately, while the main finding of the Tyton Report isn't all that surprising, it is astonishing as the data confirms our worst fears: parenting representation is a function of family income.
Nearly 15 percent of respondents said they will make significant changes to their children's education (50 percent higher than before the pandemic), at a cost of nearly $ 20 billion on an annual basis. But it was who made the changes, and how this revealed the haves and have-nots in relation to parenting.
Parents with higher incomes took part in alternative school activities significantly more often than parents with lower incomes, changed their child's school, received personal learning, attended non-public school as the primary form of education, participated in complementary learning processes and / or used extracurricular activities and resources .
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Lower-income families did so at lower rates and reported spending less to support the quality of these options. A limited awareness of and access to alternative and newly emerging learning models also significantly hampered the ability of lower-income parents to act.
At the national level, enrollment in public and private schools decreased by approximately 2.6 million students, while charter schools, home schools, learning capsules and micro-schools saw net increases in student numbers.
While the Louisiana Department of Education has reported an impact on enrollment in the public school system, little has been reported about private or home schooling, nor has local child welfare and attendance officials received much attention over the past year.
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Given Louisiana’s large network of private and parish schools and mild home schooling regulations, we expect a corresponding increase in private school enrollments or approved home schooling, with some families starting to experiment with learning capsules and microschools as the primary method of instruction.
We should hope so, because aside from these options, the only other likely scenario would be truancy, a much bigger problem.
We don't know much about how the K-12 ecosystem in Louisiana has changed over the past year, and taxpayers deserve these numbers analyzed and reported. We do know, however, that the same injustices of parent representation exist in Louisiana, possibly even worse than the Tyton report at the national level.
Because of this, lawmakers and governors have put in place programs specifically designed to assist low-income families with this agency, including charter schools, government-funded scholarships or "vouchers", tax credits for nonprofit organizations that award scholarships to students, and tuition grants for families with children with special needs.
The problem is that there are not enough of them, and the state is not doing enough, to alert parents to innovative, high-quality non-traditional education opportunities.
There are strong foundations for building a nationwide system that is actively working to strengthen parent representation – not just existing school election programs, but recent work by the state to identify science-based early literacy strategies, teacher-led reviews, and curriculum assessments coordinate and build a network of recognized private providers of core and additional education services.
All of this work should be used to build parents' ability to make high quality, financially feasible decisions about their children's education, be it through existing school offerings or through new innovative approaches such as learning capsules, micro-schools, educational savings accounts and the choice of public schools.
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It is good news that Louisiana is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic, and only time will tell if the recent changes in our state K-12 ecosystem will persist. One thing is for sure – parents will not be quick to forget about the ongoing impact this pandemic has on their children's education and ability to do something about it.
Their demand for options has never been so strong, and Louisiana policymakers and education leaders would do well to listen and respond.
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.
Daniel Erspamer is the CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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