Get smart fast, vol. 15

On the rise of “snowplow parenting” in the English-speaking world:

Over the previous decade, schools across the UK and the US had already been seeing a steady rise in parent concern and oversight regarding what goes on at school; the pattern of obsessively checking the online parent portal for grades and trying to “snowplough” a conflict-free childhood is captured in popular books such as The Gift of Failure and How to Raise an Adult.

But then the pandemic came, with all its attendant anxieties, seeming to supercharge parents’ desire to connect with, and sometimes control, schools. Since the pandemic school closures, parents’ rights groups in the US demanding more transparency and curriculum control have gained more power, pushing Congress to attempt passage of a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” to give parents more control over what happens at school.

UK schools, meanwhile, say they’re seeing an increase in parents who desire constant communication and reassurance, not just around children’s attainment but around their social interactions, too.

And in both countries, more parents are opting out of traditional schooling to homeschool their children, taking more control. Since the pandemic, US homeschooling rates have tripled, and UK homeschooling, though relatively smaller, has still increased by 50 per cent.

Why it matters: Zoom out from what are arguably the two biggest battlegrounds in public education (parental concern over the values imparted by schools and the fight to give families more options), and a common theme emerges: Parents want more control. The balance of power, and rules of engagement, between parents and education institutions will need to find a new equilibrium.

Why school unbundling won’t happen all at once

Insight from other industries, via Michael Horn:

In every industry, the early successful products and services often have an interdependent architecture—meaning that they tend to be proprietary and bundled. The reason is simple: when a technology is immature, to make the products good enough so that they will gain traction, an organization has to wrap its hands around the system architecture so that it can wring out every ounce of performance.

As a technology matures, however, it eventually overshoots the raw performance that many customers need. As a result, new disruptive innovations emerge that are more modular, and customers become less willing to pay for things such as raw functionality and increased reliability. Instead, they start to prioritize the ability to customize a product to their individual needs at an affordable price. Customizing a bundled service is expensive because it forces a full redesign of the underlying system architecture, but customizing a modular offering is affordable because it is merely a matter of mixing and matching discrete parts that fit together in well-understood ways.

To believe that unbundling will occur en masse, one also must believe that schools have overshot what families desire in terms of functionality and reliability.

Why it matters: As Horn notes, some families do feel over-served by existing schools. For example, many would like their children to spend more time learning at home. But for an era of a la carte education to become reality, schools and families will need to develop new habits and capabilities.

Need to Know

Teachers’ choice of schools where they are first hired, and the schools they shuffle into when they move jobs from one school to another, are the main drivers of teacher quality gaps between students of color and other students.

Virtual tutoring has attracted much hype but mixed results as a potential solution to pandemic learning loss. Here’s a study of a program that does seem to work.

New California statewide test scores continue to lag pre-pandemic achievement levels. Reading scores are headed in the wrong direction, while math scores may have bottomed out.

Giving teachers more than a single school year with the same group of students helps improve learning.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)