Will Any Candidate in RI Step-Up to Support a Parents-First Educational Approach?

NOTE: This commentary first appeared in the Providence Journal on October 8, 2022



If we learned anything from the harmful school lockdowns ordered by the RI Department of Health and the Governor at the onset of the pandemic, it is that parental rights were systematically diminished when it came to the healthcare and education of their children.

From the failures of remote learning, school-mask mandates, vaccines administered without parental approval, divisive and inappropriate curricula, and the intrusive surveys into families’ personal lives, it is now obvious that K-12 schools were being secretly transformed into an agenda-driven system that most parents and families vehemently object to.

It is also now equally clear that our Ocean State needs to transform education to re-focus on students and their families – not the system – and certainly not on any political agenda. In this regard, the RI Department of Education has failed miserably.

What our state needs is a new strategic approach to our schools; a “parents-first” approach. Related reforms will revolutionize education and will provide teachers and parents with the tools to help our students succeed in preparing for the practical realities of life – whether a trade, college, or work.

Three primary components comprise this family-centric approach.

First, we must restore trust and defend the rights of parents through increased transparency and open collaboration with school officials. Families should never be forced to send their children to any school that does not share their values. Educational choices must be expanded for every family, now – today, as no child can afford to wait for vague promises of reform, with public dollars following the student to any school of their choice. To ensure that all healthcare and educational decisions for minor students are made with parental approval, state lawmakers should immediately pass a Parents’ Bill of Rights.

The next priority should be to focus teaching and learning on the foundational skills that historically formed the bedrock of our educational system. Indoctrination in any form for any cultural or political issue must be systematically expunged from the system. We must also ensure that our schools are safe for our children, both the infrastructure and against those who might seek to harm Rhode Island’s most precious assets. We must encourage all pathways to a successful life by providing ample opportunities for K-12 students to be prepared for higher education, the military, or work.

Finally, we must re-empower educators and local school officials with the skills to teach educational basics. High quality, non-agenda-driven professional development must be restored. Parents, teachers, and school officials must also collaborate to restore some measure of classroom discipline. And, we must address the teacher shortage by increasing pay for higher-performing teachers. Diversity Equity and Inclusion sub-committees should be immediately eliminated, as they inevitably lead to the radical racial and gender curricula that parents are speaking out against. Also eliminated should be many high-paid bureaucratic positions that do nothing more than increase costs and red-tape. Lastly, state lawmakers must repeal the 2019 law that empowers RIDE to mandate curriculums for local school districts, as they have proven irresponsible and overly-politicized with these great powers.

This PARENTS-FIRST approach shouldn’t be controversial. But it will face stiff resistance from the special-interest left and entrenched government bureaucrats who want to impose their radical agendas on our students, parents, and teachers.

This past year, 21 states strengthened or enacted new private school choice programs, but in RI, similar reform ideas are near-dead. While such legislation in our General Assembly will not get honest hearings, it is necessary to begin down this legislative path if for no other reason than to recognize the growing call for change by parents.

Providing parents with more input and choices is in the best interests of students … and is also a powerful political winner! Yet, no 2022 candidate has made a parents-first education a centerpiece of their campaign? Will anyone take up the fight … or will they wither out of fear of being canceled by the left?

Parents have shown the way forward … but will anyone listen?

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

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