The Howard County Public School System recently voted to adopt a “hybrid” approach to instruction for the remainder of the 2021 school year. In a 5-2 vote (Christina Delmont-Small and Yun Lu voted “no”), the motion passed. So what do we get now? A half-assed political gesture representative of the last 12 months. Starting on March 1st, a phased-in approach will grant most kids the opportunity to go to school for 1 or 2 days; a small few will have the chance to go back for 5 days.  All children will have the option to continue 100% virtual.

First, let me say that I do believe the board members are trying the best they can by the light they have. Sadly, some of them live in darkness.  Dr. Martirano? He too, I’m sure, is trying the best he knows how, but he is blinded by politics. The teachers, well, the vast majority of the teachers, have worked tremendously hard to teach in a way they have not been trained to teach. Online instruction is difficult, and most teachers were simply not prepared. Still, they’ve given it their best effort.

Despite best efforts, reasonable people agree that HCPSS instruction over the last 12 months was ineffective at best. This is especially true for lower-income families, whose parents had to chose between working to bring home income, or staying at home to provide daycare for their children who were “learning” remotely. It’s not that wealthier parents have not also struggled, but they were better positioned to provide other solutions.  Many wealthy parents simply pulled their kids out of HCPSS and sent them to a functioning school.

There are also the children with learning disabilities or other special needs who have been left behind. These children struggle enough when they have proper classroom instruction; how much can they possibly learn remotely when most children have their cameras off and the teachers can only offer poorly prepared virtual lessons?

What exactly is the point of this hybrid solution?  Some children, those with needs, will be offered 5 days per week, which is a start. Meanwhile, the majority of children will get 1 or 2 days per week. Will those days be normal instruction?  No, they won’t be normal instruction; they will still be virtual instruction. Sure, they may get to see a teacher live in front of the classroom, and this might be a slight improvement, but with many children opting to remain virtual, it will be a haphazard nightmare, where the teacher is still trying to conduct virtual instruction.

It seems that this hybrid model, instead of being a courageous step toward normalcy, is a half-hearted attempt by the teachers union to pacify parents who want their kids to return to school. It should be made clear that the vast majority of parents, at least in Howard County, want their kids to go back to school. They want their kids to get an education, to see their friends, to play sports, and to live their lives; on top of that, many of those parents need to go back to work.

Was Coronavirus a real threat? Probably. It proved to be deadly for the elderly and unhealthy portion of our population. For most healthy people, children especially, however, the risk was incredibly low. I don’t know if the best solution to this dilemma would have been to keep children in school for the last year; it’s the solution that I would have voted for. I concede that I would be among a very small minority (perhaps less than 10%) who was willing to accept the risk. Either way, it would have been a political fight as various groups try to control the outcome. That’s the problem with public school: it is a forced compromise between diverse and disparate groups who want different things. In this Shaykh’s opinion, the most objectively and morally superior solution to this education problem, as I have offered up before, is school choice.

HCPSS spends approximately $16,000 per year per child. This is more than the average cost of private school in Maryland. This money does not magically appear; rather, it comes from taxation. This means that parents have a portion of their income seized by the state, leaving them with far less money to choose a different form of education.  Sure, the wealth can shrug off the taxation and still afford to pay for private school. Meanwhile, the middle class and below are held hostage to the public school system.

If Howard County were to adopt a school choice system, perhaps vouchers or educational savings accounts, and offer just $12,000 back to parents who want to choose another path, HCPSS could use that $4000 difference per child to fund special education programs.  Fiscally speaking, there are few, if any, logical arguments that can be made against such a voucher program. What is the pushback, you ask?

The pushback comes from socialists who believe that parents do not have the right to choose an education for their children and the teachers union which wants to maintain its monopoly over the education sector. The union, a corporation, can only profit from the teachers it represents if there is a steady flow of students to public schools. With monopoly control, HCPSS and the teachers union live in harmony. If, however, school choice were offered, their monopoly would collapse and they would be forced to compete with other schools. 

Imagine though, as a struggling parent, if you were granted just $12,000 of that $16,000 for each child last year to pursue an alternate education for your child, would you have?  I certainly would have.  While HCPSS has been tying itself up like a pretzel, most private schools are business as usual.  Even those who lean left likely would have taken the money and sent their kids somewhere else in order to get through this never-ending lockdown.

As news agencies fan the flames of fear with stories of new virus strains and other bugaboos, it seems that this lost year is far from over. Those who are afraid of their own shadows will keep pushing for continued lockdown. So what does the future look like? How long do we wait for the world to come to its senses? My spouse and I are at a crossroads.  We can’t afford private school, but if HCPSS isn’t back to normal by August, we will need to move or take out a loan to have our children finish school elsewhere. They are at an age where their education is simply too important to be playing the role of political pawns.