School Choice Laws and the Parents They Ignore

At least 45 states and the District of Columbia have enacted 102 school choice laws, but those laws barely regard the role of parental rights and responsibilities, according to a new study of education statutes.

In all, the states and nation’s capital have 43 charter school laws, 25 voucher laws, 20 tax-credit laws, 9 tax-deduction laws, and 5 Education Savings Account (ESA) laws on the books, and many of these laws have been beneficial in helping students get out from under the yoke of ineffective education systems.

Nonetheless, says Gerard Robinson, a former commissioner of education for Florida and secretary of education for Virginia, the school choice laws really only pay lip service when it comes to the parents’ rights and responsibilities in their children’s education.

After analyzing results from 20 choice laws in particular, and reviewing 82 other choice laws in general, my research found that regrettably, existing choice laws demonstrate that parental rights and responsibilities in education statutes are little more than a dull roar. More often than not, when ‘parent’ is mentioned in a school choice law, it is about the legal structure of the program or is a brief hat tip toward parents — rather than language that empowers them when it comes to the education of their child.

The reason to involve parents in a child’s education is not just theoretical. Existing research has shown that parent involvement can boost the academic outcomes of students.”

This is not to say that parents are ignored in the laws. Robinson notes that parents are mentioned quite a bit, but mainly in the context of the authority to opt their children in or out of traditional schooling as well as in the funding of Education Savings Accounts.

Those mentions don’t really address the rights and responsibilities of parents in their children’s education, and to hear it told by mass media, students are better off if their parents don’t get involved. Googling “parental expectations” brings up an array of stories about the damage parental expectations can wreak on children’s performance and grades.

But really, that is a lot of hype.

Several studies show that not only do children assimilate better when they have behavioral norms placed on them by parents — punishment for bad behavior and reward for good — but involved parenting actually raises students’ performance in school by as much as four-tenths of a grade point across student age groups.

Several studies have shown how technology can play a role in enabling parents to participate in their children’s education, with a positive outcome. Programs already in existence in some areas include daily text updates to parents or portals for parents to review their kids’ assignments and their progress on curricula.

But the rights and responsibilities question goes beyond merely helping one’s child do his or her homework or keeping an eye on them while they’re out of sight. If parents are to be involved in raising their own children, why would they leave it to the state to determine what level of involvement they should have?

By insisting on greater rights and responsibilities in the educational system, Robinson contends and the evidence supports, schools are better equipped to teach, and parents are one step closer to improving their children’s outcomes.

Read Gerard Robinson’s survey on school choice laws and the acknowledgement of parents’ rights and responsibilities.