Today’s young parents care about more than just test scores, and are increasingly supportive of educational choice.
Millennials are entitled teenagers no more: By 2016, more than 17 million millennials were mothers. The generation that grew up in the of age GameBoys is now sending their own kids to school. The research firm Echelon Insights recently surveyed millennial parents with kids in public schools, and their new report offers evidence that today’s young parents care about more than just test scores, and are increasingly supportive of educational choice. This time, the millennials are right — giving their kids more educational options will boost their chances of success.
Echelon pollsters found that young parents evaluating school options rank school culture and extra-curricular activities as top priorities, comparable to standardized test scores. It’s now clear that millennial parents are wise to look beyond testing. New research suggests that teachers who do a better job of cultivating emotional skills and work ethic in their students are more likely to see their students succeed in the medium and long-term than teachers who simply raise test scores.
To be sure, other research indicates that test scores do affect long-run earnings. Either way, a growing body of evidence supports the millennial strategy of considering their children’s needs more holistically.
Second, Echelon’s report highlights that millennial parents vary widely in how they view the overall purpose of K-12 public education. Only 38 percent of respondents thought the primary purpose of early education was “to prepare your child for further learning, like college or trade school.” The rest of the young parents surveyed instead mentioned career readiness or life skills.
These findings suggest that young parents are open to the idea that college is not for everybody — and that college prep can’t be the only focus of K-12 education. They have good reason. Even though they’re more educated on average, millennials are earning 20 percent less than their parents did at the same age. They’re also saddled with significantly more student debt.
Beyond just debt, the current six-year graduation rate for four-year colleges is a dismal 56 percent, meaning that much of this debt is not even leading to a degree. At the very least, millennials recognize that a diversity in K-12 educational options for their kids will get them on well-suited career tracks earlier, saving time and money.
Yet the most important finding of the Echelon report was that millennial parents want to hold low-performing schools accountable with increased school choice. Seventy percent said that if students are attending an underperforming school, “they should be able to transfer to another public school in the district or attend a public charter school.” Nearly 60 percent said that persistently underperforming schools should be closed and that students should be re-assigned to an adequate school in the district. Low-income and minority parents were also less likely to say they were satisfied with their children’s schools, meaning they are the most eager for alternatives.
This enthusiasm for options is encouraging, as school choice programs can have significant positive impacts on both test scores and long-term outcomes like reducing crime. Yet even if school choice did not improve student outcomes, it remains inherently good for society to give young parents more freedom to choose the school their child attends. As the rise in two-income and single-parent households means millennial parents may spend less time with their kids than past generations did, educational autonomy is increasingly valuable because it gives working parents the chance to raise their kids how they see fit.
Millennial parents want more educational options for their kids, and it’s hard to blame them. Many are products of a public-school system that rewards conformity to a rigid, “ideal student” mold, and have seen firsthand how that system has failed to prepare them for today’s rapidly-changing economy. It’s exactly this experience that’s leading millennials to want unique students to have unique options. This generation is the first to fully recognize that, as Republican Sen. Ben Sasse put it at the 2018 ExcelinEd conference: “Children are not widgets — they’re souls.”
Christian Barnard is a Young Voices contributor and an education policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, a think-tank advancing free minds and free markets. Follow him on Twitter: @CBarnard33.