Parental Rights and a Day of Reckoning in American Education

On May 1, 2023, Denis Smith, a former advisor to the Ohio Department of Education published a commentary in the Ohio Capital Journal defending traditional public schools.  It is linked below:

Vouchers aren’t about education and freedom, but they are about disunion – Ohio Capital Journal

There is considerable irony in this essay.  Smith argues that an altered educational system distorts the culture, and that “(t)he easiest way to break apart a society long-term without using violence is to establish separate educational systems for the groups to be broken apart.”  Can anyone look at public schools today and not see the distorted and broken culture they are helping create?  Schools have often been the drivers of social change.  Desegregating schools was a monumental achievement and more remains to be done.  The issues facing schools today are very different.  The issues in education today are not about civil or human rights, they are about parental rights and the coercive power of government. 

In many ways the author makes a strong argument in favor of freedom and educational choice.  An educational system that “passes down the folkways and knowledge of one generation to subsequent generations” and “a recognizable continuity of basic values and behavioral patterns that distinguish it from other cultures” is beneficial to society.  Unfortunately, the traditional American public educational system no longer does that. American schools no longer promote valyes and behavioral patterns that distinguish American culture from other cultures. Just the opposide it occurring. Many are teaching homiginized, global cultural values that destroy the uniqueness of the American system. They also deliberately distorts ‘folkways and knowledge’ and ‘basic values and behavioral patterns’ in ways that promote division so much that parents are demanding choice and demanding the dollars the governments have coercively taken from them.

The author notes that 15 states have some type of voucher program and that many more states are expected to offer them.  Parents (of all ethnicities and races and economic classes) want what is best for their children.  Clearly many feel the public schools are not that.  The primary measure for student and school success is student performance on standardized tests.  Although that is a terrible measure, and there are better performance measurement systems out there, it is what is often used in the United States.  Based on that measure, public schools are at best producing mediocre success, especially when compared to other nations.  Performance gaps between racial groups continue with little change in decades.  Data on student performance is available here Including the performance gaps between public and private schools is available here: NDE Core Web (  Recent data indicates that about 85.2% of high school students graduate nationally.  This means 1 in 6 do not.  Is that acceptable?  Would we accept a doctor who killed one in six patients?  Would we buy a car that exploded in flames one is six times it is driven? 

Choice schools are certainly not immune to these problems.  There are bad choice schools in every city, but a parent is not coercively forced to send their child to that school through a financial taking of their income.  Even if choice schools are not considerably better than traditional public schools (the data is not conclusive one way or the other), to argue that traditional schools today are promoting a continuation of ‘basic values and behavioral patterns’ ignores reality of contemporary public education.  If that were true, thousands of parents would not be protesting school board meetings, seeking to replace school board members, and taking their children out of the public schools.

Many (not all) public schools are promoting cultural division, not culturally agreed upon values.  Teachers are caught in the middle of these battles.  They are not at fault.  A day of reckoning is coming in American Public Education.  States are increasing parental rights and allowing them access to funding for a school they feel best meets their child’s educational needs.  Weak school boards and weak administrators have created this problem.  As they continue to give in to the loudest in the crowd, despite the message they are shouting, and schools continue to produce a mediocre product, parents will continue to flee the public schools, as they should.  

My latest book talks about these and other issues. School choice and the impact of COVID-19: Parent frustration, accountability, and a time of reckoning for American public schools will be available for pre-order from Routledge, Amazon, and other resellers on July 10, 2023