Most parents send their children to public school. The National Center for Educational Statistics expected “50.7 million students in public schools” in 2020. “5.7 million students in private schools” for the same period and “1.6 million students in home schools.”1 The CORONA lock-down increased the homeschool numbers by 11%. Nobody says whether these 176,000 students came from the public or private schools. Even in this extreme situation where families use distance learning, most families still choose public distance learning by at least a factor of 10. These parents spent 2020 as glorified teacher’s aides.
Most parents did not know what else to do. Their only experience is with public schools. Shutdown came with directions on schooling, so most families followed along. Education is compulsory and public school provides the easiest path. Private school costs too much. Home school brings unfamiliar challenges. Educators argue that American Public Schools provide the best education on Earth. It is irrelevant that children in public schools do not learn enough, learn the wrong things, or are driven away from natural human curiosity. Public schools set many social expectations successfully. Most private and parochial schools set the same goals, measure with the same tests, and emulate the basic methods of public education, but they have higher expectations. Private schools claim to do a better job with the same material. They do.
Most Parents Want the Certification
Only a few of the most elite institutions focus the curriculum toward traditionally liberal learning. Public schools do not try to offer this in public education. They offer certifiable progress instead. Parents consciously understand the difference between learning and certification. Successful public education offers certification at several levels. A high school diploma, a university degree, and professional certification for doctors, lawyers, and engineers.
Public schools are government funded, that is tax funded. Parents already pay for the public school on the corner. Choosing another path will not lower that expense. The federal, state, and local governments each have a plan for spending money on the child. Every educator understands the goals set for public education. They work to sustain the system. Hundreds of thousands of people go to work every day to provide public education to America’s young. This happens even if the taxpayer chooses not to use public school.
Parents see value in standards. MacDonald’s may not be the best meal, but it will be the same anywhere. Public education shows regional differences, but educators across the country strive to offer the same high quality. The plan begins with federal guidelines. States mandate particular goals in the curricula. School Boards, the local point-of-presence, plan the program for districts. Districts impose standards on schools that principals and other administrators enforce on the classroom teachers. The teachers arrive in the morning with more than guidelines. The teachers create lesson plans that often reflect specific details of the federal and state mandates. The plan that public schools have for the child contains a detailed social policy implemented so uniformly that a fifth grader can move from California to Colorado with barely a blip in the educational experience.
Parents also recognize the experts in public education. A massive infrastructure of publishers, consultants, educators, and bureaucrats have a vested interest in keeping the child moving down the steps of the plan. Not all, or even most of the plan includes learning anything beyond how to succeed in the system. That is enough. An authority is granted at the end, a certificate, that says specifically what the child has accomplished. This authority is recognized by other schools and employers. They grant access to university, to graduate school, or to a job. Certification is the educational participation trophy.
Parents know that academic milestones matters more than learning. Each milestone means something different. The child can leave after the compulsory years and go to work. A high school diploma opens more doors. A college diploma opens still more doors. A university degree or a graduate degree the golden ring. That is the idea anyway. Modern society is stratified to allow access at various points. The Walmart clerk is different from a surgeon according to the appropriate certifying authority.
Parents also want socialization from the school. Socialization is the behavioral goal for public education policy, so parents are in luck. Fourteen years of attending some institution from K-12 prepares students for every future institutional human interaction. A certified High School Graduate works at McDonald’s, at the Department of Interior, on the new GM factory floor, or in any major corporation from the sales to the loading dock without chafing. Four more years prepares the individual for a mid-level white-collar job, to manage a Quik Mart, to supervise at the DMV, or as corporate operations manager. Two more years will give the student an executive position, or to become an educator, a lawyer, or a large corporate box store manager. A few more for most professions, doctors, professors, and scientists. The longer the socialization, the higher in the system the educated person should land.
Parents understand the implied threat that dropouts go to jail. The institution sells this failure message. Schools will never tell the success stories about dropout entrepreneurs who lead exemplary lives, who go into business and spend the high school and college years earning money. Fear of the loss of certification is the stick.
Parents usually make the final decision for access to free daycare. Public school is designed to mirror the standard work day for the parent. This allows single parents and two income families to have child care during working hours. The parent often needs this most of all. Public school is designed to provide it.
The Broken System
For the parents of 50 million kids these benefits outweigh any arguments against public school. Most parents want the certification. Remember? The COVID Year has changed some calculations. The increase in homeschool is a recalculation from the parents who find themselves saddled with stay-at-home distance learning from the school.
The parents are wrong. The Millennial Generation knows it. They believe the system is not working, no matter what their parents thought. The value of an education no longer dispenses a ticket into work. It dispenses a certification. The jobs quit appearing years ago. Today more than just the humanities graduates cannot find work.
Commercial and Technical Certification
Fortunately, new ways of making a living come with the gig economy and digital society. Some people make money gaming or brand influencing. More find merit jobs online that do not care about schooling. Entrepreneurship is rampant and growing. Companies like Google now provide a path past the public school system. Technical Certifications bypass the usual school-to-job system.
This has been true for many years for technical workers. Oracle https://education.oracle.com/
All these companies offer certifications that lead to employment more quickly than any BS in Computer Science from university, and for less cost. This is the result of the tech sector needing workers with specific skills that schools are not providing. Google has now taken this a step further with grow.google.com. Google offers training and certification in not just technology, but also retail, finance, and more. Google is just the leading indicator of a trend toward alternative education. Most parents want the certification, but maybe public school is not the right certification for students who want jobs.
1National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/