American families are opting out of public education

Published on April 26, 2019

More and more American families are looking at traditional schooling through the rear view window and waving goodbye.

Still, education touches more lives than any other industry in America. Even if you don’t have school-aged children, a substantial chunk of your local, state and federal taxes is used to fund public schooling. If you own or manage a business, your ability to hire qualified employees is tied to it. If you are one of the 11.5 million workers in the US employed in education, your financial well-being depends on it.

If you follow the mainstream news, you may hear heated political arguments about school choice or combining the Departments of Education and Labor into a single agency. Your local news may tell you about teacher pedophiles or guns found on campus. However, policy wonks and crime story reporters are ignoring the big story in education. People are walking away from public education and they may not be coming back.

One quarter of all school-aged children currently do not attend a traditional public school. These students left to find a better learning experience. Whether out of safety concerns or just the desire to have a say-so in their child’s education, American parents are pulling their kids out of public schools.

In the United States, four million children are homeschooled or unschooled, 3.2 million are enrolled in charters, and 5.7 million  are in private schools.

And, those numbers may not tell the whole story. According to data from the World Education Forum USA, there are actually 6 million children in the U.S. who are not enrolled in public or private schools. Even if this data includes all homeschoolers and unschoolers, it still brings the number of children not in traditional public schools to 14.9 million. That’s more than a quarter of all school-aged children. As a result, some school districts have experienced as much as a 30 percent loss in enrollment.

In fact, consumers are now spending more on learning materials than all the schools put together. Last year, U.S. schools spent  $10.5 billion on digital learning materials, while consumers spent $18 billion, a 20 percent increase over the previous year.

In her book, The Consumerization of Learning, author Leilani Cauthen points out that education is becoming “consumerized.” Like every other industry, education consumers now expect an experience and consumer-like choice online.

Today’s learners are smart and digitally savvy. We can’t expect them to live in a world of amazing video games and professional media at home and then ask them to step into an archaic world of 40-student classrooms at school. Some of the smartest kids are dropping out from sheer boredom, and their teachers are leaving as well.

In South Carolina last year, 25 percent of new teachers left after their first year. Other states are experiencing similar retention challenges.

In 20 years, technology, automation, and robotics are expected to eliminate 50 percent of our current jobs. Yet, schools still function much like they did 20 years ago. Warehousing children and forcing them to memorize facts to be regurgitated on tests will do little to prepare them for the coming economy.

Children need to be prepared to be critical thinkers, independent and entrepreneurial. They need to choose their own learning paths. It is a given that few of our children are going to work for only two or three companies in their lives. Many will work as independent contractors for multiple companies or run their own businesses from home. Almost all companies will be Internet companies. Technology skills will be a necessity.

Writing, mathematics and independent thinking will be crucial as well.

Public schools tend to focus on the accumulation of a certain body of predetermined knowledge. If a child can acquire this knowledge, he or she is considered “educated.”

But they are not prepared. It’s a different world now.

Many parents recognize this change and are taking matters into their own hands. The consumer-grade learning software they use is sophisticated and exceeds what many schools offer. To accommodate parents, some school districts have begun hybrid programs, where children have the option to learn at home and still socialize by attending school trips, participating in school athletics and attending the school prom.

Eventually, schools will land in the same place as other industries; whether from home or in a central location, school will be a consumer experience, dictated by the customer.



Charles Sosnik is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is an education journalist and editor living in picturesque Gastonia, North Carolina. He is an education fellow at the EP3 Foundation and frequent writer and columnist for some of the most influential media in education including The Learning Counsel, NSBA Journal, EdNews Daily and edCircuit.

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