Joe Biden’s inaugural speech on Jan. 20 stressed “unity” or a variant of the term 11 times. This unity evidently doesn’t include the broad swath of Americans, including some traditional Democratic constituencies, who support school choice. The latest poll on the topic, conducted by the Democratic polling firm Beck Research, found that 65 percent of K-12 parents back school choice. Moreover, 74 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of Latinos, groups that stand to gain the most from choice, are staunch supporters as well.
Less than 36 hours after President Biden took the oath of office, however, First Lady Jill Biden feted union leaders at the White House, reminding them of her promise that teachers unions “will always have a seat at the table” in the administration. Around the same time, Biden announced his choice for deputy secretary of Education: San Diego Unified School District superintendent Cindy Marten, who has aligned herself with the California Teachers Association in trying to halt the growth of charter schools. Even the San Diego branch of the NAACP failed to see the “unity” in this pick, releasing a statement referring to Marten as an “ineffective leader when it comes to the academic advancement of African American children in San Diego public schools.”
If unity is truly Biden’s goal, he should recognize not just the public support for school choice but also the evidence for its positive outcomes for children. For example, he could acknowledge a new study on “the effects of school choice on mental health.” Researchers Corey DeAngelis and Angela Dills analyzed the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades, finding that “states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10 percent decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds.” DeAngelis and Dills also found that laws supporting private-school vouchers were “associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers.”
Additionally, according to recent survey data, 62 percent of public school kids started classes this fall on Zoom, while just 5 percent of private schools were virtual this fall. Thanks to union-mandated public school shutdowns, an entire generation can expect a drop in lifetime earnings of 5 to 10 percent. No wonder that the percentage of Americans who think that the union-dominated education system is going in the “right direction” has dropped to a meager 23 percent.
Biden should also acknowledge the research of Greg Forster, who reports that in 32 of 34 empirical studies, “school choice improves academic outcomes in public schools affected by the program, while one finds no visible difference and one finds a negative impact.” Forster’s study also found that school choice has an overwhelmingly positive effect on taxpayers (it saves them money), ethnic integration, and civic values and practices — not to mention on academic outcomes.
Thus far, however, Biden has shown no concern for the growing consensus in favor of school choice, preferring instead to spend his early presidency catering to teachers union bosses and promoting their ruinous one-size-fits-all approach to education. Thus far, anyway, for children and parents, there’s no seat at the Bidens’ table.
Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. This piece first appeared in City Journal.