Rep Thinks Parents Are Unqualified

We routinely send our analysis and recommendations to all NH Representatives and Senators before their votes. Last weekend one legislator, Representative John Mann from Alstead, replied saying that in general parents are too uninformed and disengaged to direct their children’s education. Below is his email to us and our response.

March 18, 2017

I beg to disagree with your apparent belief that “choice” is necessary or even relevant for excellence in education.  Admittedly, my only teaching experience has been in suburban high schools, but the parents in those public school areas were very active, the school administration and department heads committed to excellence, and poorer teachers were put with mentors who could help them.  While I think it is a constant chore to keep up excellent standards, this is no different than any business or family.

Moreover, while the notion that parents can “direct their children’s education” and “make decisions that best fit their children’s needs” is surely relevant to children that are “outliers” e.g. especially high or low IQ’s, disabilities, autism spectrum, etc., it is in my opinion ludicrous to think parents in general are well informed about education, and I think too many parents are not even especially concerned.

Maybe what distinguishes the suburban-Boston schools from what people are complaining about in NH is that the former enjoy not only strong parental participation but also strong taxpayer support at both state and local levels.  The idea that “choice” is the magic answer seems to me to be another example of the NH attitude that there must be an inexpensive way to do anything, or it isn’t worth doing.

Pulling support in a general manner from public schools is a great way to weaken schools, with the unintended result that someone will then be able to say they are not performing well enough.

John Mann
Alstead, NH
M.A.T. from Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1969

Dear Rep. Mann,

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the benefits of school choice.

While traditional public schools may be a good educational fit for some students, it certainly isn’t for all. And it is indeed parents who are the best to make that decision for they know their children best and are vested to pursue the best possible educational outcomes.

Over the years several studies have examined the impact of choice on students and communities. A meta-study was completed in May 2016. Their key findings are as follows:

  • Eighteen empirical studies have examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the gold standard of social science. Of those, 14 find choice improves student outcomes: six find all students benefit and eight find some benefit and some are not visibly affected. Two studies find no visible effect, and two studies find Louisiana’s voucher program—where most of the eligible private schools were scared away from the program by an expectation of hostile future action from regulators—had a negative effect.
  • Thirty-three empirical studies (including all methods) have examined school choice’s effect on students’ academic outcomes in public schools. Of those, 31 find choice improved public schools. One finds no visible effect. One finds a negative effect.
  • Twenty-eight empirical studies have examined school choice’s fiscal impact on taxpayers and public schools. Of these, 25 find school choice programs save money. Three find the programs they study are revenue neutral. No empirical study has found a negative fiscal impact.

It is also inaccurate to claim that choice programs drain funds from public schools. In New Hampshire, the participation and costs affiliated with school choice are nominal — only 0.1%. In larger states with more options, it is typically only 2-3% of their public school expenses.

Taxpayers understandably want to know money is spent wisely. To that end, states may require testing on the premise that tests can guarantee an adequate education or that the purpose of education is to do well on these tests. But parents are interested in  more than scores. Parents consider many factors including a school’s reputation, course offerings, teacher skills, school discipline, safety, student respect for teachers, the inculcation of moral values and religious traditions, class size, teacher-parent relations, college acceptance rates, and more. Schools held directly accountable to parents have to take all of these elements into account.

Children have one chance at a Kindergarten through 12th grade education that meets their needs and it is our obligation to empower parents with an array of options so that every child has the opportunity for success and every parent the opportunity to hold their child’s school accountable to the highest standard. So why limit these opportunities to just the wealthy? Isn’t it a better moral argument to support educational options for all families regardless of their income or zip code? Shouldn’t all families be trusted to make choices that best fit their children’s educational needs?

Michelle Levell
School Choice for NH

Unfortunately this is a common attitude among some elected officials, education bureaucrats, and elitists. This intellectual pretentiousness presumes that ordinary people — those who don’t meet their arbitrary standards — are incapable of making decisions for themselves and their families.

We think parents are the best people to determine what is best for meeting their children’s educational needs. School choice is not just for the wealthy, intellectually gifted, or academically acclaimed. In fact, school choice closes the achievement gap and increases diversity in schools. If people want to make a meaningful impact on children, especially those who are socio-economically disenfranchised, then school choice merits more support.

When a child is in a program that “fits” them — everyone wins… the child, the family, and the community.