April 7, 2022

476: Unleashing the Power of Educational Entrepreneurialism! (with Kerry McDonald)

Enabling education funding to follow students instead of going to bureaucratic school systems that are increasingly unresponsive to parent needs


On today's episode of The Brian Nichols Show with guest Kerry McDonald, Senior Education Fellor from FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education):

 

"I mean there's a lot we could dwell on in terms of what is negatively happening in education. But I think that there are a lot of good things happening. Actually, as difficult and devastating as the pandemic response has been over the past couple of years, the real upshot is that parents have been put in charge of their children's education in ways that were unimaginable pre-2020.

 

Not only beginning in 2020, with school closures and recognizing the power and influence of teachers unions, and keeping schools closed influencing CDC policy, which we saw last year, I think it's really just opened a lot of parents' eyes. And they've been more interested and curious about various other education options for their children.

 

So we've seen not only kind of record rates of parents removing their children from assigned district schools for homeschooling, creating pandemic pods - that in many cases have now turned into full-fledged micro-schools - but we've also seen tremendous support for school choice policies that enable education funding to follow students instead of going to these bureaucratic school systems that are increasingly unresponsive to parent needs.

 

So there's a lot we could say about the negative aspects of American education today, but I think there are tremendous positives as well.

 

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Transcript

Brian Nichols  
focusing on winning arguments. We're teaching the basic fundamentals of sales and marketing and how we can use them to win in the world of politics, teaching you how to meet people where they're at on the issues they care about. Welcome to The Brian Nichols Show. Well, happy Thursday there, folks, Brian Nichols here on The Brian Nichols Show. And thank you for joining us on course, another fun filled episode. I am as always, your humble host. And by the way, I hope you enjoyed yesterday's pretty fun episode there with Eric breaky joined him over Oh, he joined me, I joined him, it's who shows anyway, we don't really have an answer to who show it is. But we're gonna be going back to one of our returning guests. We hear it here in the program. And we talked about school choice. We talked about what's happening in government schools right now. But we're going to dig into specifically 2022, how that has changed. And what that would guess is Carrie McDonald from fi Carrie, welcome to The Brian Nichols Show. Oh, it's

Kerry McDonald  
great to be back with you, Brian. Thanks for having me.

Brian Nichols  
Absolutely. Carrie, I was looking so forward to have you back on the show, because you've been doing such great work over at fi specifically focusing on number one what's been happening in government public schools. But number two, what alternatives are out there that parents in many cases are leading the charge, or at the very least, they're helping fight back against these school boards. So thank you for the work you've been doing. And I want to give you a chance to reintroduce yourself to the audience. Obviously, we've talked to a lot of folks, since we were last in the program. And with that the audience has been growing a lot of new voices here in our in our greater audience. So I'd love for them to be able to hear more of your story. What got you so passionate about focusing on education policy, specifically to the point that you're working for over Effie?

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, so thanks. I'm a Senior Education Fellow at fee the Foundation for Economic Education, which is the country's oldest libertarian, libertarian think tank was founded in 1946. And I also just launched a new liberated podcast, that's a weekly podcast to kind of dive into these education issues, really focusing on some of these contemporary topics from a free market perspective, a libertarian perspective, than highlighting a lot of education entrepreneurs. And that's been, I think, really one of the positives. I mean, there's a lot we could dwell on in terms of what is negatively happening in education. But I think that there's a lot of good things happening. And I think, actually, as difficult and devastating as the pandemic response has been over the past couple of years. The real upshot is that parents have been put in charge of their children's education in ways that were unimaginable kind of pre 2020. Yeah, and so I really think that, you know, not only beginning in 2020, with school closures and recognizing the power and influence of teachers unions, and keeping schools closed influencing CDC policy, which we saw last year, I think it's really just opened a lot of parents eyes. And they've been then more interested and curious, interested in and curious about various other education options for their children. So we've seen not only kind of record rates of parents, removing their children from assigned district schools for homeschooling, creating pandemic pods that in many cases have now turned into full fledged micro schools. But we've also seen tremendous support for school choice policies that enable education funding to follow students instead of going to these bureaucratic school systems that are increasingly unresponsive to parent needs. So there's a lot we could say about the negative aspects of American education today, but I think there's tremendous positives as well.

Brian Nichols  
In one of the things you were just focusing on over on fee. I saw an article, I think it was posted over on April Fool's Day when I was like, Is this a joke, but it's not a joke, hybrid schooling. And I think this is such an interesting approach, because I think you mentioned this in the article that it gives you the best of both worlds. Could you dig into what hybrid schooling looks like?

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, so this was related to a podcast episode I did recently with Professor Eric waren, who's a professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and runs the national hybrid Schools Project. And hybrid schools are sort of a type of micro school. They often combine sort of the best again of school institutional school, but also homeschooling so many of the families that participate are registered as homeschoolers in their various states and various locations. But the students attend a brick and mortar building for classes for formal curriculum, two to three days a week, and then the rest of the time is at home. So that sort of distinguishes it from a micro school that might be five days a week, and it's just sort of a smaller kind of one room schoolhouse multi Age field. These hybrid homeschools and hybrid schools existed, as Eric says some of them Dating back to the 1990s. But they've gained increasing popularity over the past decade. And certainly over the past couple of years, as more and more parents are looking for what else is available for their children's education and then kind of stumble upon these hybrid schools. And one of the things I think is really interesting is that in Professor wehrens research, he discovered that most of the students in his samples who are attending these hybrid schools, hybrid homeschools, previously, were attending public schools. So they aren't coming from kind of a full time homeschooling background, they're coming from public schools. And when surveyed, he found it interesting. And I did as well that they said they would prefer to be full time homeschoolers if they could, as opposed to being full time private school students if they could. And I think a lot of that is because they've seen the ways in which government schooling can weaken, the family can disconnect children from their siblings, and from larger family values. I mean, we've seen schooling take up much more of childhood than ever before beginning at ever younger ages and extending and far later in adolescence and kind of full day with after school care and so on. And I think parents are just saying, you know, let's let's regain some of that influence, be able to kind of nurture and cultivate our children, but not in sort of a full time homeschooling way.

Brian Nichols  
I talked about this yesterday with Eric brachii. On on the Whose show is it anyway, podcast, and we we ended up digging into this a little bit where I think what we're seeing right now is parents starting to wake up that they had abdicated so much responsibility in raising their children to, and it ends up being government experts, it's deferral to experts, we saw this on full display with a Supreme Court nominee, who she said, I'm not a biologist, I can't answer where a woman is, and that right there, it just shows how so many folks in society have abdicated the responsibility of making decisions and being a critical thinking rational human being to experts, because then they don't have to be in the position of making a decision that could be right or wrong, I can defer to said experts. Well, I followed what this very noted PhD, you know, and add all the extra letters behind that name, that they told me that this was the best way to approach things, giving my kids to government schools and having them be there literally, from the point that they are what walking to the point that they are walking out my door. And then beyond that, I mean, we're seeing a point where parents I think, are starting to say enough, I have to take responsibility. And I think this is a lot of parents reckoning to the fact that they goofed, they had a big Oopsie. And they gave way too much responsibility way too much authority to these these government schools under the guise of well, they're the experts. They know how to raise my child, though, maybe they are supposed to teach your kids math and history and science. Well, do we now do we trust them doing that anymore? Carrie, and I think that is where your average parent is, is they're starting to wake up especially. And we talked about this last time, when they got a sneak peek into what was being taught during COVID. Now the kids were home, the laptops were open, and they could see on screen my kids learning what and that started so many conversations. I don't think that the left was prepared to address.

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, I think really, parents have been going through a big awakening over the past couple of years, as you mentioned, beginning in the spring of 2020, when they actually saw what was happening in their children's classrooms, and many of them didn't like what they were seeing. And then that just kind of snowballed when schools stayed closed, and parents realize that no, they actually had to be the ones to figure out how their children were going to be educated that remote learning that was tied to a district was often pitiful. And they needed to kind of take matters into their own hands. And some of them, you know, began to create these pandemic pods that were in many ways, like the micro schools that were emerging and gaining in popularity prior to 2020, which as I mentioned, are sort of these modern one room schoolhouses. They're often located in a family's home, where they'll hire an outside teacher facilitator. Sometimes they're in commercial spaces. And they really, I think, address some of this push away from large, old institutions and government run institutions in many cases to kind of smaller and more decentralized more innovative learning models. And one of the recent guests that I had on my liberated podcast was a woman named Jill Perez, who's been a teacher for 20 years, was sort of fed up with COVID policies when schools shut down and 2020 2021 didn't want her kids wearing a mask when they went back to school when the schools ultimately reopened in her location in New Jersey. So she started a pandemic pod with some other families that was so popular that this past fall of 2021, she built it into a full fledged micro school rented a space had 45 kids, it's increasingly growing. And now she's purchased a building, and plans to continue to grow. So I think that just speaks to the ways in which the last couple of years have really encouraged and parent empowerment as well as education, entrepreneurship, that's going to continue to change the face of education for the better, I would argue for decades to come. Yeah. You

Brian Nichols  
mentioned that in one of your articles here, I was going back that new data shows the exodus from public schooling, it's continuing. And it's not just the kids, right? It's the teachers too. And that's one of the biggest myths and I think I actually just I have Larry Sharpe here on the program on Tuesday's show. And one of the numbers that just blew my mind New York state alone, every student is getting $28,000 per year in taxpayer dollars. And I daresay if I were to go ask your average person in New York State, does your child get $28,000 worth of education per year? And dare I take it a step further? Do you think you can do better with that $28,000 in helping your kid, not just get an education, but get an education in the things that matter?

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, exactly. I'm here in the Boston area, Boston public schools spend around the same around $25,000 per pupil per year in taxpayer funding, you know, and that's sort of the argument for these school choice policies that are expanding rapidly in many states as give a portion of that taxpayer funding back to families to allow students to decide, and families to decide how they want that money to be spent. And if they want to use that for educational expenses, tutoring, supplies, curriculum, or tuition at a private school, then that's up to them. It's sort of this idea of allowing, again, funding to go to individual families, if we're going to have taxpayer funding of education, rather than going to these bureaucratic school systems.

Brian Nichols  
So Carrie, we see a lot of parents who are standing up, but there are a bunch of parents too, who are kind of like, well, they go back to this deferral to I'm not an educator, I don't know what kids need to be taught. And, frankly, is it my role to determine what kids should be in should not be taught? I mean, I don't know what the world needs to have in store for them. So to those those teachers or to those parents, who are maybe a little skeptical on looking at changing the way that they've been doing the traditional public government schooling system, the monopoly of the schooling system, really, what's what's the way you found to engage in that conversation to help alleviate and get rid of some of those objections they might have at the onset?

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, I mean, I think some of it is just helping parents become aware of the tremendous options that are available to them already. So certainly in states like Arizona and Florida, that have a long track record of success in terms of school choice policies, that have robust school choice policies that allow education funding to follow families, we see a lot of education, innovation, entrepreneurship, there's a lot of charter schools, there's a lot of various private school options that families can choose from. And I think, you know, it's it's becoming a consumer of education in the same way that families consume other goods and services. And you have to decide, you know, the products and services that matter to you that kind of reflect your values. There's the the kind of setting and atmosphere of these various educational options, and what does that look like for you? I think a lot of families also are discovering that online learning is something that they should consider. And part of it is that, you know, I think they were exposed potentially, to virtual schooling through this kind of district zoom school back when schools first closed down in 2020. And that might have turned off a lot of families. But then I think I'm seeing more and more families realize, you know, that was not really when we consider high quality virtual learning. You know, there's a lot of wonderful online learning platforms that were built as online learning platforms that have curriculums that were designed for this kind of, of medium, they have teachers that want to teach in that kind of environment, that that gravitate toward that. And, and I think a lot of families are realizing that they don't have to be the ones kind of sitting down doing the teaching, if they want to do some of these hybrid homeschool models, that they can actually leverage a lot of these online learning resources around them, many of which are free or low cost, and kind of tap into that high quality learning, you know, I mean, why not have your child learn calculus from one of the best calculus instructors in the world and now we're able to do that so much more easily with the advent of technology. And then along with that, I think that another thing that's happened over the past couple of years in terms of kind of cultural disruption is is a much greater embrace of virtual work and work from home or hybrid work schedules. And so as more parents have flexibility in their work schedule and are no longer in many cases tied to a nine to five, Monday through Friday job in an office building, they want to grant that same freedom and flexibility and hybrid schedule to their children. And so that's where I think there's just so much opportunity not only for parents, but for entrepreneurs as well.

Brian Nichols  
So Carrie, when you're, you're out there, and you're having these conversations, and obviously, you're seeing the change, I'm seeing the change as well. But there still are roadblocks, right. And I think it's important for us to do this. And whenever I'm sitting down with somebody in we're going through a sales cycle in the world of business technology, right? What are the things that we have to be aware of that could be holding us back roadblocks that could get in the way? So what are you seeing are potential roadblocks that we need to be aware of? And how do you reckon that we can best prepare and be ready to overcome those when they do arrive?

Kerry McDonald  
You know, I'm always so inspired by entrepreneurs in general. But I'm particularly inspired by education entrepreneurs, many of whom are longtime teachers, who are burnt out by being in these government run schools for so long and lacking kind of their own creativity and flexibility and freedom, going off and wanting to create something new. In some cases, it's entrepreneurial parents who just want to solve a problem for their children, they they're, what they're finding in their local communities isn't meeting their children's educational needs, and they want to build something that will. And so those kind of education entrepreneurs, I find even more inspiring, because education is one of the most regulated industries we have sort of this quote unquote, free government school model that is the default, that's compulsory. And so it's hard to compete without, there's a lot of barriers to entry, there's a lot of regulatory hurdles that education entrepreneurs have to overcome. So I'm always particularly inspired by them. And I think the key would be to try to lessen some of that burden on these educational entrepreneurs. So as much as we want to be pushing for kind of school choice policies, I think, from a policy perspective, we also want to be pushing to encourage education, entrepreneurship, by reducing regulatory barriers for educators and entrepreneurial educators, by helping maybe reduce kind of some of these zoning restrictions that limit where someone could open a mic or school and so on. licensing requirements that can be convoluted. And so that means a lot to do there. We're just building an environment that can nurture entrepreneurship and local communities.

Brian Nichols  
So we've we've outlined everything in terms of getting people excited, they their interest has been piqued the curiosity is there. So now carry it's, it's sensory overload, you go online to start figuring out how to actually make this real. And it's like, there's 13,000 results that show me exactly the step by step approach I should take. Okay, well, which one should I actually look at? And I hear this all the time in the sales world as well, where, you know, hey, I went to look for the best cybersecurity solution, I found 3 million search results, I couldn't really narrow it down. And I say, Yeah, no kidding. Because there are 3 million search results. So let's make it easy for folks. What would you recommend as being the I, you know, basic, starting off point to actually start not just exploring this in reality for a family, but actually getting their kids to an option where they do have school choice? And let's say it's an environment where school choice is already on the the books, not a place where we're fighting to get school choice? initiated? Yep.

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, I mean, in some of these states that already have robust school choice policies, I think that it can be a lot easier to find these various alternatives. They can kind of tap into kind of grassroots organizations and advocacy organizations that are helping to connect parents. I think there's a lot of that, though, those kind of networking opportunities and states that have these school choice policies set. But I think another thing is also for families to just think of what kind of learning environment might make sense for their kids. I mean, if they want an online learning environment, if they think that that kind of hybrid model might work for them in terms of sometime online sometime in a social group, then they can look at various virtual charter schools that might be in their area, again, that tend to be abundant in school choice states. If they wanted something that were operated more on a homeschool foundation and homeschooling could often provide that kind of regulatory and legal flexibility to provide for micro schools and some of these other hybrid homeschool models, as well as online learning, then I often suggest that families visit local homeschool communities often on Facebook and other social media sites. And you'll find kind of through those communities access to micro schools, to homeschool co ops to homeschool resource centers, to hybrid homeschools things that parents might even not might not even know exists. But once they sort of tap into those Online Communities realize there's a whole host of options available to them that are accessible, often very affordable and really fulfilling.

Brian Nichols  
See, this is why we have you on the show, Carrie, because and I get this a lot from people, they'll hear a podcast episode and you know what your we're going to put on the humble hat here. I'm going back to some really old episodes like I'd have a guest on, they'd have this pie in the sky idea that sounds great. And then I'd have somebody in real life, say, so that episode, like how does that become real? And, and I had to, like, sit there for a second to be like, I don't know, like it, it just I thought it was a great idea. And I think this is what sometimes the missing piece has been is being able to make it real show people that it's not just a great idea. And actually, it's more than a great idea, it's gonna make things better than it already is. In many cases, it's just being able to help connect the dots. And if we can start to approach things, just as we have today, this just all makes sense, right? Nothing here that you promoted is controversial. It's not you know, you're the traditional caricature that has created the Bible thumping person just trying to burn books and stop people from going to school and get learned. Like, that's not that's not the approach. And actually, you're seeing a big change already taking place. So let's talk the people who are in that that mentality of looking for those alternatives, or at the very least, acknowledging that something's not right. And I don't know what the answer is, let's help present the actual solutions that are tangible for them. So thank you, Kerry, for helping us actually do that. And how about this final thoughts that you all leave the audience with? I know you do a lot of work in education, but you do a lot of other great work as well over at fee. So is there anything that you're doing for pet projects or anything in that world you want promote as well?

Kerry McDonald  
Yeah, I will. I just want to say one last point on on what you're saying. I, you know, I think we have so much personalization in every other part of our lives, when it should be kind of shocking and disappointing to families that we don't have that much choice when it comes to the education options available to our children. And so, you know, this is about expanding options, and having all the abundance with education that we have in every other product and service that we consume. And that's where I you know, I think that the free market is the is the solution. It's the future for education as it is in all other industries and sectors. And so we just need to unleash the power of the free market and entrepreneurship. And I'll just sort of say that if parents aren't finding in their communities, what is going to work for their children in terms of education solutions, you know, don't be afraid to go out and build it and become entrepreneurial in that sense. So yeah, listeners and viewers can go to find me at the Foundation for Economic education@fie.org slash carry and you can also listen to my liberated podcast wherever you get your podcast or visit liberated podcast.com.

Brian Nichols  
There it is. I was gonna make sure you got the podcast plug in there. Yes, the Liberty podcast. And what we'll do folks will make it easy for you all I have to do you click the artwork in your podcast catcher, it'll bring you to Brian Nichols. show.com, where you can obviously find Karis episode right there at the top and you will see not only all of our social media links, her podcast links, but also you will find the entire transcript for today's episode. And oh, by the way, all 400 And I think 75 episodes we have here of The Brian Nichols Show. So how about that, folks? And by the way, if you do enjoy the episode, please do me a favor and do carry a favor. Go ahead and give this episode a share. And when you do, make sure you go ahead and give Carrie a tag and give yours truly a tag as well at be nickels liberty. That being said, thank you so much, Carrie McDonald from fee for joining us on today's episode of The Brian Nichols Show.

Kerry McDonald  
Great to be here. Thanks, Brian.

Brian Nichols  
Thanks for listening to The Brian Nichols Show. Find more episodes at the Brian Nichols show.com. And we're done. How about that embarrassing

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Kerry McDonald Profile Photo

Kerry McDonald

Senior Fellow

Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry's research interests include homeschooling and alternatives to school, self-directed learning, education entrepreneurship, parent empowerment, school choice, and family and child policy. Her articles have appeared at The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, NPR, Education Next, Reason Magazine, City Journal, and Entrepreneur, among others. She has a master’s degree in education policy from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Bowdoin College. Kerry lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children.

You can listen to the LiberatED podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts, or visit liberatedpocast.com.