Prophets of the do-it-yourself K-12 revolution

Samantha Cook and Andy Calkins, in their own ways, have been interestingly prophetic in predicting the future of education.

Silicon Valley homeschool mom Samantha Cook had this to say to Wired magazine in 2015:

“The world is changing. It’s looking for people who are creative and entrepreneurial, and that’s not going to happen in a system that tells kids what to do all day … So how do you do that? Well, if the system won’t allow it, (and) as the saying goes, if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

Her take was prescient considering the subsequent rise in home-schooling in her area. Silicon Valley.

A follow-up and spot-on K-12 prediction came two years later from Andy Calkins of Next Generation Learning Challenge published in Education Next, who spoke of the pent-up demand for innovative educational opportunities.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if, five to 10 years from now, everyone looks at this and thinks, ‘That grew a whole lot faster than I thought it could.’ There is a slice of the market that is not being served by public education. They’re saying, ‘The public schools don’t work, [and] I can’t get into the charter schools.’ ”

Today, we are on the lower end of five to 10 years later, and the “that grew a whole lot faster than I thought it could” is indeed a thing.

If we unpack the statement a bit, we see that the “I can’t get into the charter schools” sentiment reflected a broad inability of the charter movement to match demand for seats with supply, resulting in waitlists. The problem has gotten worse rather than better since 2017.

It also is worth noting that private choice programs did not merit mention in the statement at all, an implicit indictment of their limited scale.

America’s reactionary K-12 preferences community successfully multi-tasked for 30-plus years, undermining state accountability systems while simultaneously keeping choice programs largely contained. Most states passed charter and/or private choice programs but only rarely, even in combination, did those programs prove even moderately disruptive to the status-quo.

The demand for choice exceeded the willingness of the political system to provide choice, resulting in ubiquitous waitlists. Families, as Cook and Calkins both noted, began making their plans accordingly with a do-it-yourself spirit.

In 2023, limited choice programs are “out” and universal programs are “in.” Lawmakers obviously have gotten the memo that their constituents want choice, and they want it now. As Samantha Cook sagely noted, the world has changed, and our system of education must adapt.

You don’t need to be gifted with prophetic powers to surmise where things are going next.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.