With last week’s overwhelming vote to recall three San Francisco school board members, it’s raising questions about how the referendum could impact public education and politics across California as parents go to the polls in year three of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The recall results (72 percent to 79 percent in favor) signify parents are unhappy with school board actions and failures of the public education system, Lance Izumi, J.D., senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, told the Northern California Record by email.
“The hugely successful recall of these ultra-progressive San Francisco school board members demonstrates that parental dissatisfaction against school policies is bipartisan and stretches across ideological divides,” Izumi said. “The failure of the San Francisco school board to reopen schools galvanized parents of all backgrounds and beliefs who saw their children losing precious learning opportunities while the schools remained closed.”
Izumi noted this election demonstrates the potential of Asian political power.
“Many politicians largely ignore Asians as they play to other groups; however, the strength of Asian participation in this recall indicates that when Asians are motivated by issues that are important to them, such as the change in Lowell High School’s meritocratic admissions system, they are able to swing elections decisively,” Izumi said. “Indeed, this recall election is just a continuation of what we saw in the defeat of Proposition 16 in 2020, where Asians were the driving force in the landslide defeat of Prop. 16, which would have re-instituted race-based preferences in university admissions and which was originally heavily favored to win.”
Izumi noted the recall landslide exemplifies how concerned parents are about the learning and academic progress of their children.
“If the schools fail to provide adequate learning programs and environments for children, then the schools are consigning these children to a failed future, Izumi said. “Recent research has shown that students during COVID have lost four to five months of learning in reading and math, which will translate to the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in future earnings for each child. That is why San Francisco parents have been so upset about continued school closures and the school board’s focus on leftist sideshows such as re-naming schools.”
Whether California public education improves because of what happened in San Francisco depends on how school boards around the state and state officials respond to the recall results, Izumi said.
“The teachers’ unions have been the chief obstacle to reopening schools quicker,” Izumi said. “It is now the teachers’ unions that are influencing Governor Newsom and his administration to keep mask mandates in schools when those mandates are now relaxed for the rest of society. If school boards and state officials continue to do the bidding of the teachers’ unions rather than address the concerns of parents, then public education in California will continue to produce failure for the state’s children. And if parent concerns are ignored by their elected officials, then expect parents to pull their children out of the public schools and homeschool them instead.”
Izumi noted that alternative has become more prevalent as parents realize how the California Teachers Association and local teachers’ unions control much of state and local education policymaking.
“Parents can complain about this policy or that policy, but the teachers’ unions are the highest spending lobby in California and are hugely powerful,” Izumi said.
That sort of influence can complicate efforts at reform.
While the psychological impact of the COVID pandemic on children is still being measured, the prolonged public-school closures have unequivocally wrought damage, Izumi said.
“They have damaged their learning by their inadequate and ineffective remote learning efforts,” Izumi said. “They have damaged their physical and mental health, with so many children now suffering from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and many other health issues. California’s leaders must finally break up the public education monopoly and give parents the wide array of educational options that other states give their parents in order to meet the individual needs of their children.
“West Virginia, for example, recently enacted a universal education savings account program that gives parents the ability to use state funding to pay for expenses such as private school tuition or other services that best serve the individual child.”
In California, Izumi noted the growth in homeschooling underscores the dissatisfaction among parents, and urged lawmakers to help those families that want alternatives to the public school system.
California’s failing public schools pre-date COVID, Izumi said.
“For example, 2019 national test results show that 85 percent of low-income California eighth graders and half of more affluent eighth graders failed to perform at the desired proficient level in mathematics,” Izumi said. “COVID made a bad situation even worse. Now many California public schools are covering up their failures by eliminating D and F grades and eliminating various high school diploma requirements.”