By Kerry McDonald

Parents in the Granite State and across the country are clamoring for more educational choices, and greater access to those choices, so that they can find the learning environment that is the best fit for their child’s distinct needs and interests. As a longtime New Hampshire homeschooling mom, Kathryn Michelotti has seen the statewide growth of both homeschooling and other, more personalized education options over the past decade. Recognizing this mounting demand, Michelotti and fellow homeschooling mom Sharon Osborne opened Latitude Learning, a homeschool learning center, in Manchester in 2019.

Latitude Learning began as a small learning collaborative with a la carte classes and activities for local homeschoolers, but in the wake of widespread pandemic school closures and remote learning in 2020, Latitude rapidly expanded. The program quickly outgrew its small space and moved to a larger facility in Derry, where Latitude now serves 120 students, ages four to 17, by offering daily classes and clubs.

Seeing the success of Latitude Learning and the continued parent desire for more learning options in New Hampshire, Michelotti and Osborne are planning to scale their program statewide. “We hope to have a few more Latitudes around New Hampshire so more learners can thrive the way our students do,” Michelotti said. “I’d love to see a future where each child is involved in a learning center or school that reaches them, instructs in their individual learning style, and encourages them to develop their strengths and talents while supporting their individuality and promoting personal responsibility.”

This vision recently led Latitude Learning to be recognized as a quarter-finalist for the prestigious Yass Prize that rewards education entrepreneurs across the U.S. who are building innovative learning models. As an acknowledgement of their efforts, and to help further their expansion goals, Latitude Learning won a $100,000 grant this fall from the Yass Foundation.

“To be recognized and even awarded for what we are doing shows that others see we are on the right path,” Michelotti said. “Of course, we already knew this because we can see how happy our students are, but an outside organization like the Yass Foundation for Education’s acknowledgement of our mission is incredibly validating.”

New Hampshire is a national leader in both school choice programs and education entrepreneurship, helping to increase learning options for families. The state’s tax-credit scholarship program and new Education Freedom Accounts (EFA) enable income-eligible families to exit an assigned district school for a private education option that may work better for their child.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurial parents and educators, such as Michelotti and Osborne, are building new learning models and launching new educational programs that broaden the supply of available options. Most of these new educational programs are low-cost, but many of them also participate in the scholarship and EFA programs, enabling greater access.

Latitude Learning, for example, charges $600 for a 16-week semester of one-day-per-week classes, which is less than $40 per day. Families can choose how many days per week to attend. Latitude is also an approved provider for both the New Hampshire EFA program and the tax-credit scholarship program, making it more widely accessible to more families.

Encouraging the proliferation of low-cost, innovative education solutions throughout New Hampshire will enable more families to find and access just the right learning environment for their child. Unfortunately, regulatory hurdles and related bureaucratic barriers can make it difficult for education entrepreneurs to start and scale their small businesses.

For Becky Owens in Chester, trying to offer sporadic homeschool programs on her farm property turned into a regulatory headache that likely would have deterred many other aspiring education entrepreneurs from moving forward. Owens had been homeschooling her own five children for several years, after pulling her oldest son from the local public elementary school because it wasn’t a good fit for her shy, sensitive boy. She wanted a more personalized educational environment for him and her other children that would be responsive to their individual learning needs and styles.

A college professor for 15 years with a Ph.D. in education, Owens decided to create that personalized learning environment, and eventually expand her offerings to other children in her community. In 2020, she decided to host occasional nature hikes on her property for small groups of local homeschoolers. She had a handful of students register for one of her hikes, and she placed a chalkboard sign in front of her house with the words “Farm Rich Nature Hike” so families could find her.

This simple gesture set off a cascade of events involving the local building inspector, who issued her a “cease and desist” letter for her farm walks. Over the subsequent weeks, Owens had to prepare numerous documents for local officials, including an aerial view of her property, and appear before the planning board to ask for permission to operate as a home-based business. She also had a property inspection from the local fire chief, even though her program was held entirely outside. All of this was required just so Owens could welcome a few children to her property for a nature walk. Her walks never exceeded 10 kids.

Eventually, Owens received approval to operate as a home-based business. “As long as I was completely outside, with no more than four cars at a time, and the kids were not being dropped off on the street, then I could continue,” said Owens, who was granted permission to run a home-based residential business but was told any growth would be limited.

“I can’t hire staff because the building inspector said I can’t. If I hire just one person, I am no longer considered a home-based business,” she said.

Owens offers periodic nature hikes, as well as a program called “Pony Pals,” that provides horse-themed interdisciplinary academic work for children once a week for two hours at a time. Additionally, she offers a once a week program for foster kids that focuses on life skills. (Owens and her husband are also foster parents.) Per her home-based business approval, all of these programs are completely outdoors.

In 2021, however, Owens discovered that the fast-growing national microschool network, Prenda, was entering New Hampshire, and that the state was using a portion of its federal COVID relief funds to make Prenda learning pods available tuition-free for New Hampshire families. Owens gravitated to Prenda, appreciating its small, mixed-age model and focus on individualized learning. She signed up as a recognized Prenda guide, able to host these learning pods at her home.

Today, Owens leads two Prenda pods on alternating days and times throughout the week, each with a maximum of 10 children in kindergarten through sixth grade. A few hundred New Hampshire children are enrolled in Prenda pods throughout the state.

As a hired guide for a national microschool network, Owens is able to operate her indoor learning pod program out of her home, but she is barred from running a similar, independent microschool program on her property.

This discrepancy, triggered by local ordinances that often prohibit the creation and expansion of home-based businesses—and especially of education-related businesses—can block home-grown educational solutions in New Hampshire. It can dissuade entrepreneurial educators and parents from offering educational programming that nearby families may want, and it can tilt the scale away from local, entrepreneurial offerings.

“Something needs to be done,” Owens said. “These local roadblocks need to go away.”

Cultivating a low-tax, low-regulation landscape in New Hampshire that encourages small business has long been a priority for Granite State voters. The emergence of a new sector of education entrepreneurship, catalyzed in large part by the state’s growing school choice programs and increasing parent demand for new and different learning options, could be encouraged and accelerated by exempting non-traditional educational offerings from outdated and often irrelevant regulations. Home education is already exempted from state statutes that define education as occurring in “schools.” But today there are many more educational programs in New Hampshire and across the U.S. that don’t fit into the category of “school” or “homeschool,” and often run into regulatory snares as a result.

Providing broad regulatory exemptions for all non-traditional educational organizations in New Hampshire would encourage education innovation and experimentation. Devising this education-focused “regulatory sandbox” could help unleash the supply of more education options for families by prompting entrepreneurial parents and educators to build new and varied learning organizations.

Additionally, modifying local zoning ordinances to allow educational services by default in residential and commercial zones would enable more learning pods, microschools, and similar non-traditional educational models to emerge.

These common regulatory barriers to entry and scale impact education entrepreneurs nationwide, as my new report for State Policy Network describes. They preclude creative education solutions from being invented and extended, and limit the assortment of education options available to families. New Hampshire is well-positioned to lessen the regulatory burden on education entrepreneurs, and encourage the introduction of an array of educational possibilities. Parent demand for more education options continues to grow, and school choice policies such as EFAs and tax-credit scholarships continue to support that demand.

Now, state and local policymakers can encourage the supply of these diverse learning options by removing regulatory hurdles that prevent or limit education entrepreneurship throughout New Hampshire. Who knows what New Hampshire’s next award-winning learning model will be?

Kerry McDonald is an education policy fellow at State Policy Network and a senior education fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education. She is the author of the book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom.

Students are heading back to school, and based on media reports you might expect them to be sitting in classrooms without a teacher. News organizations nationwide have published stories raising alarms about dire school staffing shortages.

So why do hiring and staffing data tell a completely different story?

The New Hampshire Department of Education announced in July that teacher credential renewals were up this year, not down. 

The state renewed 8,350 educator credentials through mid-July 2022, vs. 8,232 at the same point last year. Since 2020, the number of credentialed teachers in the state has increased by about 300.

Nationwide, researchers also find no evidence of a dire teacher shortage.

There is no national teacher shortage,” The Atlantic reported last week. 

The magazine cited news stories blaring alarmist headlines about a national teacher shortage:

The Washington Post has warned of a “catastrophic teacher shortage.” ABC World News Tonight called it a new “growing crisis,” and Rebecca Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, called it a “five-alarm” fire. 

And yet, reporter Derek Thompson checked the numbers and found…

In parts of the country, schools are struggling to hire staff. But they are mostly the same districts that have been struggling for years to fill the same positions, such as substitute and special-ed roles. In the big picture, the new and catastrophic national teacher shortage is neither newly catastrophic nor, in any meaningful sense, national. Under one interpretation of the murky data, the country might even have a teacher surplus on its hands, because so many parents have pulled their children out of public schools since the pandemic began.

Researchers who study education data debunked the media narrative.

“There has not been a mass exodus of teachers across the country,” Heather Schwartz, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, told me. Chad Aldeman, who writes about education finance at Edunomics Lab, agrees. “The public narrative has gotten way ahead of the data and is even misleading in most cases,” he told me.

A new study from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University has found that teacher turnover rates are about the same as they were before the pandemic. 

“After roughly a half-decade of steady growth, total public school jobs decreased by roughly 9% through May 2020. The initial drop represented more than twice the number of positions erased during the financial crisis of 2008,” education news website The 74 reported on Monday.

“But the data also suggested that those positions were disproportionately cut from non-teaching ranks. Occupational records from both national and state sources showed measured declines among nurses, administrative support staff, paraprofessionals and other predominantly non-instructional employees.”

So, if there’s no national teacher shortage, and no statewide teacher shortage, why have there been so many stories that give the opposite impression?

Journalists are trained to gather anecdotes, not data. They interview a few people in a few districts who say it’s been really hard to find staff. And — voila! — there’s a big shortage. 

Unfortunately, journalists are less inclined to double check anecdotes that appear to confirm conventional wisdom or a generally left-of-center narrative. And most journalists aren’t well trained to gather and analyze data on their own. 

That leads to a lot of bad reporting about trends. Maybe some reporters need to go back to school too. 

 

Speaking in favor of Senate Bill 432, a bill to eliminate New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program, Sen. Rebecca Whitley, D-Hopkinton, argued that state education aid should not go to help lower-income students purchase educational services outside of their assigned school districts, but should directly aid their districts instead.

“We clearly have a problem with the way that education funding is distributed, public funds are distributed to our schools,” she said. “But the solution is not to send that money to private and religious schools. The answer is to send funding in a way that districts and the students with the greatest challenges receive the funding that they need. That’s where we should be focusing our efforts, not sending dollars to private and religious schools. 

“A fair school funding system must deliver more funds to those most in need, and those are our school districts with high concentrations of poverty that require additional resources to serve their students. That’s where we should be focusing on.”

Regarding the formula for distributing state aid to local school districts, Sen. Whitley is right. The state should be able to give more adequacy aid to lower-income districts than it gives to higher-income districts. 

But it can’t.

In its Claremont rulings (here and here), the state Supreme Court’s declared large disparities in state aid to school districts unconstitutional. The court held that state adequate education aid must be uniform statewide in pursuit of the state’s duty to fully fund an adequate public education.

The state is allowed to give additional aid for lower-income and special-education students on top of the base adequacy aid. But it may not, say, give property-poor districts $10,000 in adequacy aid per student while giving property-rich districts $2,000, or nothing at all.

The Claremont lawsuit was sold as a way to “level the playing field” between poorer and richer districts. But as critics pointed out at the time, Claremont would not do that, and could make those inequities worse, unless the court or the Legislature also prohibited local taxpayers from spending any local money on public schools. 

That, of course, did not happen. The court refused to rule local contributions to public education unconstitutional, and no Legislature would pass such a law. So instead of the state reducing funding disparities by giving more aid to poorer districts and less aid to richer districts, the Claremont ruling forced taxpayers statewide to subsidize all districts equally. Such equal state funding maintains preexisting disparities, and possibly makes them worse. 

Post-Claremont, the Legislature is forced to subsidize public schools in the state’s wealthiest communities even though everyone knows this sends to rich towns money that otherwise would go to poor towns.

As currently structured, New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account program sort of gets around that. Only families with incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty level qualify for Education Freedom Accounts. So through this program the state can give lower-income families the ability to leave their assigned public schools and find an alternative that might work better for their children.

Unfortunately, that leaves out students who struggle in their assigned schools but who don’t meet the income threshold. Educational fit is highly personal and is not dictated by income. 

A better way would be to make all options available to all students, let families choose whichever option works best for their children, and let the state vary the size of aid based on criteria such as income or a student’s individual needs. 

But as long as the state distributes aid directly to school districts, it should have the discretion to do as Sen. Whitley suggests: send significantly more aid to poorer districts. The Josiah Bartlett Center has advocated this for decades (see here and here, for example.) It’s good public policy. But it’s not allowed under current Supreme Court jurisprudence. 

Perhaps Sen. Whitley and other likeminded legislators would be interested in introducing a constitutional amendment to fix that in the future. Such amendments have failed in the past, but that doesn’t diminish the need to fix this problem created by the Claremont rulings, and only a constitutional amendment will do the trick.   

In New Hampshire, School Choice Week 2022 (Jan. 24-28) highlighted some reasons why parents pursue educational options beyond their assigned public school. 

On Monday, School Choice Week kicked off with a new policy at Newmarket Junior-Senior High School: Unmasked students are to be removed from class, given detention, then suspended if they continue to attend school without wearing a mask. 

Recognizing the blowback such a policy would create, the principal told parents in a letter days earlier that if they didn’t like it they could switch their children to another school.

“We recognize that there are some who oppose the wearing of masks in schools,” the principal wrote. “In order to better meet the needs of these families, the New Hampshire Department of Education continues to provide alternative options for learning that can take place in the home through (Virtual Learning Academy Charter School) enrollment.”

So School Choice Week started with a public school principal urging parents to choose an alternative school.

The next day came the news that students in a Derry middle school would face detention for not wearing “properly-fitted” masks. In detention, they would be re-educated. 

“We will use this time in concert with our school nurse to provide more education for students to stress the importance of compliance,” the school principal wrote.

The same week these severe masking policies were implemented, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New York Times and National Public Radio ran pieces that called into question the efficacy and wisdom of school mask mandates.

This disconnect between some district policies and the evolving research on COVID mitigation protocols and practices has exacerbated tensions and frustrations, leading to additional pressure for families to have multiple educational options. 

Though masking happened to the the issue that blew up during School Choice Week this year, parents have expressed numerous other reasons for seeking alternative educational options for their children. 

In January, more than half of parents (52%) said they considered or are considering finding a different school for at least one of their children this year. Eighteen percent of parents said they did choose a new school for at least one of their children in the past year. 

The top reasons for considering a different school were higher quality education (36%), COVID disruptions (34%), safety or bullying (26%), the child is unhappy at school (23%). 

Before the pandemic, demand for educational alternatives was lower, but was still strong.

The National Center for Education Statistics’ Parent and Family Involvement in Education survey for the 2018-19 school year found that 36% of students had parents who indicated they had considered multiple schools for their child. Among that group, 92% listed quality of school staff as a factor, 74% said curriculum focus or academic programs, and 69% said safety.

Research by EdChoice shows that parental educational preferences differ from actual student enrollment. Though 36% of parents nationwide say they prefer to enroll their children in a district public school, that’s where 83% of students are enrolled. Though 40% of parents say they would prefer to enroll their children in a private school, only 5% of students are enrolled in one. Though 13% of parents say they’d prefer a charter school, only 8% of students are enrolled in one. 

Choice programs such as charter schools and New Hampshire’s Educational Freedom Accounts (EFAs) are designed to maximize family options so parents can use their own discretion to choose a school that best matches their children’s needs. 

EFAs have proven unexpectedly popular, with 1,837 students enrolling in the program by the time School Choice Week arrived, according to Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, which administers the program.

Yet as  families took advantage of the EFA opportunity, legislators introduced bills to weaken, limit, and even abolish the EFA program. 

Several of those bills will be heard in the  House and Senate Education Committees this week and next. The anti-EFA bills include the following:

  • House Bill 1115 would eliminate student assessment options currently included in the EFA program and require students to take state assessment tests (which might not be aligned with the curricula EFA students are being taught). 
  • House Bill 1120 would require an education service provider chosen by an EFA recipient be a state-approved non-public school education program and to have been in business for at least a year prior to receiving funding. 
  • House Bill 1637 would, as a condition of receiving an EFA, require parents to answer a survey detailing their reasons for wanting to leave their public school.
  • House Bill 1669 would move administration for the EFA program to the Department of Education. Current law has it administered by a private scholarship organization. The bill also would limit the amount of money parents can roll over in their EFA accounts. 
  • House Bill 1670 would prohibit families from keeping their EFA accounts open if a student returns to a public school, and would require unused funds to be collected by the state. It would require annual audits of all EFAs and terminate an EFA account if a parent spent a substantial portion of funds on unapproved expenses, even accidentally.
  • House Bill 1283 would repeal the provision in the EFA law that holds the EFA contributions to be tax-exempt. 
  • House Bill 1516 would prohibit local education dollars from ever being used for EFAs. 
  • Senate Bill 351 would require burdensome, detailed financial and other reporting for any private school that accepts an EFA student. 
  • Senate Bill 237 would make families prove that their income is below 300% of the federal poverty level each year to be eligible for an EFA.
  • House Bill 1684 would limit funding for the EFA program to $129,000 in this fiscal year and $3.3 million next fiscal year, those being early estimates for the state cost of the program. Currently, 1,837 students are enrolled in the EFA program. Were this bill to pass, approximately 1,811 children would lose their scholarships this year, and 1,120 children who have scholarships now would be unable to get them next year. (The average scholarship amount is $4,600.)
  • House Bill 1683 and Senate Bill 432 would repeal the EFA program. If either of these bills passed, 1,837 students would lose their scholarships, and the program would be killed, denying all students this option in the future. 

Efforts to limit and control educational options for families this year face an inevitable collision with the preferences of increasing numbers of parents.

Gallup’s tracking poll on education satisfaction last year found that 54% of Americans were dissatisfied with the quality of K-12 education. That’s not an anomaly. Only three times in 23 years has the poll found that a majority of Americans were satisfied with the quality of K-12 education.

A Real Clear Opinion poll last year found that 74% of Americans support school choice, and that includes more than 70% of Asian, black, Hispanic, and white Americans.

The poll also asked whether people would support giving parents a portion of K-12 public education funds “to use for home, virtual, or private education expenses.” Two-thirds said yes, and the breakdown among Republicans and Democrats was identical, with 66% of each party saying yes. 

Last October, as education became a top national political issue, school choice grew in popularity. Eighty percent of parents with school-age children said they supported Education Savings Accounts like New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts.

The Josiah Bartlett Center’s poll of New Hampshire voters last year found a plurality of voters in favor of EFAs. 

Partly because of the record popularity of school choice, last year 18 states either established or expanded a school choice program. 

All indications are that the school choice moment has arrived. At this point, the smart political move is to find ways to accommodate that demand. Fighting it by attempting to legislate away parental options is like standing on the shore firing a squirt gun at a tsunami. 

As School Choice Week kicks off, it’s worth considering why there’s no such thing as Grocery Choice Week. Or Clothing Choice Week. Or Home Choice Week. 

When it comes to the basic necessities of life — food, clothing and shelter — Americans have the freedom to choose from among whatever options the market provides. (Government limits housing choices, but not as much as it limits K-12 education choices.)

Education is a service provided by state and local governments, so of course it’s more limited, one might argue. But why is it provided by government, as opposed to funded by government?

Government finances or subsidizes some goods and services — food (through food stamps), medical care (through Medicaid and Medicare), higher education (through Pell Grants & other aid) — without providing the service itself. It’s perfectly feasible to do the same with K-12 education. 

There’s no reason government can’t convert what it currently spends on public education (about $20,000 per pupil per year in New Hampshire) into grants or scholarships that parents could use to purchase educational services from approved providers — including public schools.

One argument against this approach is that public schools are an important transmitter of community standards, values and beliefs from one generation to the next. But is this still true?

Parents are being told in no uncertain terms that they may not control the content of their children’s education. They are told that they have no say over what library books their children can access or what ideas, beliefs and facts their children are taught. 

This goes double for non-parents. Community members who object to what is being taught in their name are rarely taken seriously and invited to help ensure that schools uphold community standards. 

On top of this, COVID-19 has shown the damage that can be done by one-size-fits-all school policies that don’t meed families’ needs. Forced remote instruction has had devastating academic and psychological consequences. 

In New Hampshire, more than 8,000 students left the public school system in 2020, and they haven’t come back. That represents 4.5% of the entire student population. Though private school enrollment in New Hampshire for years has tracked closely with public school enrollment, that changed during the pandemic. Private school enrollment shot up as public school enrollment plunged. 

That indicates that parents fled a system that left them with no satisfactory options. Private schools mostly stayed open, attracting thousands of families who weren’t getting what they needed from their local public schools.  

Nationwide, most parents said in a January poll that they’re looking for a new school for their children. If local public school systems offered families a variety of educational options, this number likely would be much lower. Parents don’t leave systems that are meeting their children’s needs. They leave when they feel like those needs aren’t being met.  

Opponents of school choice fear the consequences of giving families control over their education dollars. They claim it would destroy the public education system. But the opposite is true. 

Making the system more responsive to individual student needs will strengthen it in the long run. This is how market forces work. They prompt adaptation. 

Some public schools already operate this way. Charter schools cannot force the children who live near them to attend. These public schools have to attract students. They do this by offering programs that parents want. And it works. Some attract students from dozens of towns. Charters prove that public schools absolutely can compete successfully with private schools. 

The only thing keeping traditional public schools from functioning in a similar way is the design of the system. As long as district schools don’t have to attract nearby students, but can essentially conscript them, reform is going to be extremely difficult to achieve. 

Let families have more control over their education dollars, and schools will improve quickly. This isn’t just theory. It’s already happening in states that have school choice. 

School choice empowers families and improves student outcomes, even for students who remain in traditional schools. It’s the most powerful and effective education improvement method for the simple reason that it’s the only one to match each individual student with the specific services he or she needs. 

New Hampshire voters would have the option of creating local Education Freedom Accounts under a bill scheduled for consideration in the House this week.

Building on the popularity of the state’s new Education Freedom Account program, House Bill 607 would empower the voters in each school district to create a local EFA option for their own students. 

Earlier last year, the bill was written off as all but dead on arrival. But it cleared the House Education Committee in November, and it has some insider buzz going into this week’s vote. 

Under the bill, if 25 registered voters, or 2 percent of the registered voters in a school district, whichever is less, ask the district to create a local EFA program, the district would be required to put the question to voters at the next town meeting.

A 3/5 majority of town meeting voters would be needed to approve a program.

These local EFA programs would be similar to the existing state version, with some key differences. Notably, there is no income cap on participation in the local programs, and students enrolled in private schools would not be eligible. Also, eligibility would be limited to public school and home-schooled pupils who live in the district. 

Funding for the program would come from the local portion of the district’s public education expenditures. 

Opponents characterize the bill as defunding public schools. As with the original EFA legislation, this misunderstands the premise behind the proposal. 

Communities fund public schools for the purpose of educating children. But a lot of children struggle to succeed in the current system. 

The state’s own data show that 38% of New Hampshire students scored proficient or above in math in 2020 (down from 48% in 2019), and 52% scored proficient or above in reading in 2020 (down from 56% in 2019). 

HB 607 would allow local voters to decide whether to let parents spend some of the money set aside for educating their children on services offered outside of their assigned public school. 

The funds would have to be used for their intended purpose: to educate children. The difference is that families would have the choice of keeping their children in the assigned public school or spending their allotted education dollars on services offered by other providers.

Either way, the money goes to educate children. At issue is who decides which education services to purchase. Do school district officials decide, or do parents?

Initially, political prospects for the bill were considered dim, in large part because the EFA concept was so new in New Hampshire. But the state’s new EFA program has experienced higher-than-expected demand. More than 1,600 students chose an EFA this past fall. 

There’s now a proven interest in education alternatives in New Hampshire. And because the bill would not mandate local EFAs, but would merely let voters choose whether to adopt them, it might have a stronger chance of passage than originally believed. 

School districts that offered less in-person instruction last year saw fewer students pass end-of-year standardized tests, a new academic study of student performance in 12 states has found. 

Pass rates declined across the board compared to prior years, but “these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction,” conclude researchers from Brown University, M.I.T., and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. 

During the 2020-21 school year, passing rates in math declined by 14.2 percentage points on average, and passing rates in English Language Arts declined by 6.3 percentage points on average, in the 12 studied states (which included Massachusetts, but not New Hampshire).

However, “offering full in-person instruction rather than fully hybrid or virtual instruction reduces test score losses in math by 10.1 percentage points (on the base of 14.2 percentage points). In ELA, the loss is reduced in fully in-person settings by 3.2 percentage points.”

Moreover, academic losses in English Language Arts were more pronounced in districts with larger populations of minority students.

“Specifically, among districts with a larger share of Black and Hispanic students, districts with less in-person schooling saw a greater decline in ELA test scores than those with more in-person schooling. Although the impact of schooling mode on ELA is fairly small for districts which are majority white, it is large for those districts with a majority of students of color. Meanwhile, the impact of access to in-person learning had a similar effect on math scores for all districts, regardless of their racial composition.”

The results support the conclusion that in-person instruction produces larger learning gains, on average, than hybrid and remote instruction, the authors write.

“…our analyses demonstrate that virtual or distanced schooling modes cannot support student learning in the same way as in-person schooling. As such, educational impacts of schooling mode on students’ learning outcomes should be a critical factor in policy responses to future pandemics or other large-scale schooling disruptions,” they conclude.

The authors are Emily Oster and Clare Halloran of Brown University, James Okun of M.I.T., and Rebecca jack of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

The study is not the first to find that remote and hybrid instruction produced large drops in academic performance. 

One from the Netherlands in April found that “students made little or no progress while learning from home.”

A meta-analysis this fall of 11 studies of COVID-related school closures on student performance found “a negative effect of school closures on student achievement, specifically in younger students and students from families with low socioeconomic status.”

These findings suggest that school closures probably were a significant factor in the drop in student test scores in New Hampshire last year. New Hampshire scores in math and reading dropped by percentages similar to those in other states. 

On September 28, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said in a debate, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Before that debate, McAuliffe had led Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin in every poll but one. The day after the debate, the Youngkin campaign released its first ad featuring McAuliffe’s quote. A month later, Youngkin was leading in all polls. He won, with parental authority in education being a defining issue of the race. 

The issue wasn’t new for Virginians. In his term as governor, McAuliffe had vetoed a bill to alert parents when sexually explicit material was being taught to their children. This year, he supported COVID-19 vaccination and mask mandates for all schools. 

The issue wasn’t primarily about books or education theory. It was about the nature of public school governance. 

Broadly speaking, some people believe public schools should be more democratic than bureaucratic in nature. That is, they largely should reflect the views of local families and taxpayers and be responsive to parents. Another camp generally views public schools as “government schools.” That is, they exist as a sort of government bureaucracy, the purpose of which is to disseminate whatever content the experts in the field determine is best. 

McAuliffe expressed the latter view, and he paid for it. 

In practice, public schools tend to be a mix of both views, and the question is how far do they tip to one side or the other. McAuliffe refused to acknowledge that a balance exists, and he picked the wrong side of the scale.

A huge amount of trust is necessary for public education to work. When parents put their kids on the bus or drop them at the school door, they are exercising tremendous trust, built in part on the understanding that they have some say in what happens inside the building. If they are told otherwise, trust immediately breaks down. 

A USA Today/Suffolk poll in October found that 50% of voters said parents should have more of an influence over school curricula, while 39% said school boards should. Independents (57%) and Republicans (79%) favored parents, but Democrats favored school boards 70%-16%.

According to exit polls, Youngkin won parents of school-aged children 52%-48%. Just the year before, Joe Biden won that same group of Virginians by 10 points. (Biden also won non-parents by 15 points, and Youngkin won them by 50%-49%.)

Polls before the election showed education surging to become a top 3 issue for voters in the final month. It wasn’t the only reason Youngkin won. But education probably tipped the election to Youngkin — because he expressed the view that the “public” in “public schools” meant citizens, not government. 

Youngkin’s victory was not just a revolt of parents. Americans who don’t have children in public schools have developed a sense of dissatisfaction with public education too. There’s a broad sense of powerlessness that comes through in public polling going back decades. 

In Gallup polling, the public hasn’t reported having a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools since 1987. Confidence in public schools has hovered in the mid-to-low 30s since 2010. Most Americans (54%) this year say they’re dissatisfied with what’s taught in K-12 public schools. 

A FOX News poll last month found that 73% of Americans said they were very concerned about what was being taught in public schools. Again, that’s not new. The figure was 85% in a FOX poll in 2013.

The sense of powerlessness against the bureaucracy was reflected in polling about school closures during COVID, when parents were given limited options. In March, when roughly a third of students had no access to in-person schooling, 79% of parents said they wanted school to be in person. 

That feeling of powerlessness is a big reason why school choice polls so well. Parents educational want options, and the general public agrees they should have options. 

In October, already broad support for school choice rose as parents’ role in education became a national political issue. The national tracking poll by EdChoice found that 70% of Americans support Education Savings Accounts, and 80% of parents do. 

Current controversies such as COVID-19 closures, mask mandates and Critical Race Theory did not create the demand that public schools be more responsive to parental and community concerns. That demand was already there. They made it stronger and broader.

The harder politicians work to keep parents (and citizens) on the outside of the system, the less parents and citizens will trust the system. Lower trust fuels greater demands for alternatives. Politicians who think they’re defending public schools by building walls to keep parents and citizens out are really undermining them by alienating the people they are intended to serve — and who have the power of the vote. 

Academic and behavioral outcomes among traditional public school students improve as their schools face greater competition from school choice, an analysis of Florida’s tax credit scholarship program shows.

As New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Accounts program takes off this fall, this research from Florida’s much older scholarship program shows how the competition created by school choice benefits students who remain in traditional public schools, not just students who take the scholarships.

“We find evidence that as public schools are more exposed to private school choice, their students experience increasing benefits as the program scales up,” the authors write. “In particular, higher levels of private school choice exposure are associated with lower rates of suspensions and absences, and with higher standardized test scores in reading and in math.”

Specifically, “a doubling in the number of students participating in the voucher program increases test scores by 3 to 7 percent of a standard deviation and reduces behavioral problems by 6 to 9 percent” for students who remain in traditional public schools.

And the effects are strongest for lower-income students.

The authors found that “public school students who are most positively affected come from comparatively lower socioeconomic background….”

They found smaller, but statistically significant, gains for higher-income students “who are very unlikely to be targeted by vouchers themselves, suggesting that benefits may come partially through generalized school improvements rather than through improvements targeted solely at voucher-eligible students.”

The study, titled “Effects of Scaling Up Private School Choice Programs on Public School Students,” was conducted by professors David Figlio of Northwestern University, Cassandra Hart of the University of California at Davis, and Krzysztof Karbownik of Emory University.

Previous studies have shown similar benefits for traditional public school students from the creation of school choice programs, but those typically focused on the first few years of the choice program. The authors wanted to see whether those findings would hold as choice programs expanded over many years.

The authors examined student achievement in Florida for the first 16 years of the tax credit scholarship, which began in the 2002-03 school year. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program “provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits to corporations that contribute to nonprofit Scholarship Funding Organizations.”

At the start of the program, students with a household income below 185 percent of the federal poverty line ($33,485 for a family of four) were eligible for up to $3,500 in scholarships. Now the scholarships are an average of $6,815 per student and families that earn up to 260 percent of the FPL ($68,900 for a family of four) are eligible.

Figlio, Hart, and Karbownik looked specifically at Florida-born students between grades 3 and 8 because of consistently available standardized test scores.

The authors summarized their results in an essay for Education Next, where they listed the following findings:

  • “As the scholarship program scaled up, academic and behavioral outcomes improved for students attending traditional public schools.”
  • “Students attending schools with more competitive pressure made larger gains as program enrollment grew statewide than did students at schools with less market competition.”
  • As the number of students using scholarships increases, test scores for public school students increased in reading and math. The number of students being suspended declines and “the proportion of days that students were absent falls.”
  • “Reading and math scores at schools in markets with more competitive pressure increase by about 14.5 percent of a standard deviation by 2014, as compared to schools facing less competition.”
  • Schools that later faced greater competition from school choice programs started with lower outcomes than other public schools. The competition from school choice programs raised student outcomes in those schools, narrowing the achievement gap between the lower-performing and higher-performing schools.
  • Positive impacts were greater for lower income students, but also affected more affluent students.

More students using scholarships to attend private schools would increase competition for public schools and result in higher academic and behavioral outcomes and positive behavioral outcomes for non-scholarship students, the authors conclude.

For more information on New Hampshire’s Tax Credit Scholarship and Education Freedom Account programs, visit Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire, which administers the programs.

To read our study on the new Education Freedom Account program, go here.

Previous studies that have also found improved public school outcomes after the introduction of school choice programs can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As education policy moved to the forefront of our national political discourse this fall, support for school choice programs increased in October, Morning Consult’s monthly school choice tracking poll for EdChoice shows.

Far from being “controversial,” school choice programs remain strongly popular nationwide and gained popularity as the debate over the role of parents in education intensified.

Nationally, 80 percent of parents with school age children expressed support for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in October.  Seventy-six percent support voucher programs and 75 percent support charter schools.

Among adults, strong majorities also supported school choice programs, with 70 percent supporting ESAs, 64 percent supporting vouchers, and 67 percent supporting charter schools.

Support for ESAs in New Hampshire remains high, with support from 71 percent of parents and 67 percent of the public favoring them, according to the poll.

This fall, New Hampshire launched a new Education Savings Account program, called Education Freedom Accounts. With an Education Freedom Account, a family can use a state grant to pay for the educational services they choose. That can be tuition at another public or private school, home-education materials, tutoring, community college courses, online classes, special education services, or other approved educational services.

You cam learn more about EFAs, and how to apply, at the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

For more information about school choice in New Hampshire, including EFAs, see the Education section of our website.

For more details on the Morning Consult Polling, visit https://edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com/