When it comes to education, Americans are divided on what quality and accountability in our schools actually look like.
Although we’re unlikely to all agree anytime soon, increased school choice could help satisfy everyone.
Two December surveys from leading education research organizations spelled out the reasons for this sharp divide. One report from Echelon Insights found that millennial parents in particular largely disagree on the purpose of education.
“We asked respondents to discuss what they viewed as the purpose of a ‘good education,’” Echelon wrote, but “across all of our focus groups, there was little consensus around any particular answer.”
When Echelon put the question directly to their survey respondents, that disagreement became obvious.
Thirty-eight percent of young parents said the purpose of education was “to prepare students for further learning, like college or trade school.” But others prioritized preparing children for the workforce, developing their social skills, or encouraging them to participate in civic life.
Millennial parents aren’t alone in their divided views on education.
An annual report from education-reform advocacy organization EdChoice found that American parents and teachers as a whole are divided on what education should look like—and especially what educational accountability should entail.
Alternative education options, however, could accommodate those differences and satisfy all Americans.
Education savings accounts, for example, provide parents with savings accounts into which the state government deposits a portion of that state’s public education funding that corresponds to each child. Parents can use these accounts to help pay for private-school tuition, online education programs, therapeutic programs for disabled learners, instructional materials, future college expenses, and other limited education purposes.
These accounts unshackle parents from having to send their children to any one kind of school, allowing parents to select the education options that best fit their vision for a high-quality education.
Today, with such polarized parental views on the meaning of education, programs like education savings accounts are the only way to satisfy everyone.
With education savings accounts, schools are encouraged to compete for parents’ attention, offering opportunities for parents to choose one that matches their varying educational priorities.
“The first thing that me and my husband both look for would be safety,” said Aimee Hairr, a Nevada mother of five adopted children. “Second would the small classroom size for children, and third would be the close-knit community that our private school is offering our son right now.”
With education savings accounts, Hairr and her husband could afford to give their children the school environment that they value most. Without them, the Hairrs’ children are left attending schools they think are unsafe or providing impersonal education—something no child should have to accept.
Meanwhile, Lena Boyd of Charlotte, North Carolina, says she would look for opportunities to use education savings account funding to pay for new learning technology for her two special-needs children.
“My children attend a small private school, and I’m helping pay for extra curriculum and learning tools they need,” Boyd told Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.
“My children are also sharing educational technology, and funds from the [education savings account] would allow us to purchase their own devices,” she said. “This would allow them to do extra one-on-one work outside of school hours.”
But available public education programs are not accommodating Boyd’s family’s unique needs. Education savings accounts certainly would.
Education savings accounts are available in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee, but for the sake of parents like Hairr and Boyd, that number needs to grow.
This year’s EdChoice report found that 76 percent of parents and even 78 percent of public school teachers supported education savings accounts when given a description of the program. That’s the highest level of support since EdChoice began polling on the issue six years ago.
“There are so many families out there that have children that have unique, special needs that they really need to be met,” Hairr said. “And that [education savings accounts] money is an opportunity to change the life of the child, and the trajectory of the child’s future.”
American families should not have to settle on an educational system that fails to meet their varying needs and values. School-choice programs like education savings accounts can provide the flexibility to accommodate everyone.