Dr. Lance Izumi, senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute, joins the Students Over Systems podcast to discuss why K-12 public schools aren’t as good as middle-class parents think. Dr. Izumi describes three of his recent books that expose the weaknesses of the K-12 education system and highlights stories of parents who are seeking alternatives: Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice, The Homeschool Boom, and The Great Parent Revolt. What happens in California’s education policy often spreads to other areas of the country, so parents will want to hear his concerns about the new California math framework.


Ginny Gentles:

Today, on Students Over Systems, we’re celebrating parent advocates. Lance Izumi joins us to discuss The Great Parent Revolt and why the middle class needs education freedom.

Welcome to Students Over Systems, a podcast that celebrates education freedom. I’m your host, Ginny Gentles. At Students Over Systems, we talk with the creators, advocates, and beneficiaries of education freedom. On today’s episode, we’re focusing on why middle-class families need school choice. For this important conversation, we’re joined by Dr. Lance Izumi, senior director of the Pacific Research Institute’s Center for Education. He’s the former two-term president of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, and he’s written numerous books, including Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle-Class Needs School Choice, The Homeschool Boom, and more recently, The Great Parent Revolt. Lance, thank you so much for joining us.

Lance Izumi:

Well, Ginny, thank you so much for having me. It’s a real pleasure to be on your show. I really look forward to being able to have a really great discussion with you today.

Ginny Gentles:

Well, let’s step aside from education freedom, school choice, our favorite topic here at Student Over Systems, and talk about some things that are happening in California. I am very much aware of the fact that what happens in California does not stay in California. It’s the largest education market with, I think, 6 million K-12 public school students. So when you all… And you’re based in California still, yes?

Lance Izumi:

Yes, that’s correct.

Ginny Gentles:

When you all pass or adopt a Math framework, a 1,000-page Math framework, it impacts not just the California students but likely will impact students around the country. Tell us what’s going on with the California Math Framework.

Lance Izumi:

Well, there are lots of things that are problematic with California. One of them is this California Math framework that has just been adopted by the California State Board of Education. And as you mentioned, Ginny, it’s one of those things when California catches a cold, the rest of the country gets it, you know? And so I think that people may not be seeing some of the things that are happening in California right now in their states, but they have to be cognizant of what’s happening in California because what happens here will usually spread like a virus, unfortunately to the other parts of the country.

In this California Math curriculum framework. There are two real big problems with this thing. First of all, I mean there are lots of woke social justice aspects to this framework. I mean, we think of Math as being one of the subjects that should be immune from this infusion of social justice, DEI, CRT, all these other types of race-based ideologies that are infecting our classrooms. But unfortunately, if you look at our California Math framework that has just been adopted, there’s been a lot of injection of social justice into the curriculum. I mean, a lot of it involves how you might address word problems. You can have an addition problem but have a very woke social justice-oriented word problem. And so, how many policemen beat up so many X, Y, and Z? That sort of thing.

But the other thing that’s actually more problematic than the woke stuff, at least in terms of the obvious social justice-oriented problems that may be coming down the pipe, is the fact that in the name of equity, and this is the important thing for your listeners to understand, is that equity is being used as the bludgeon to change really how Math is delivered in our state.

Equity, for your listeners, is different from equality. Equity means the same results for all students regardless of their talents and their abilities. Whereas equality means everybody gets the same opportunity to succeed based upon their talents and abilities. And so, in the name of equity, what has happened in California is there’s been a reduction in the rigor of California’s Math curriculum. And so, what you’re going to have is Algebra, for example, being taught to almost all kids in the 9th grade instead of the 8th grade, which means that these kids in California will not, in most cases, be able to get to Calculus by their senior year in high school.

And why is that? Why would you want to prevent kids, especially those who have talent for Mathematics, have the ability, have the incentive to want to do well in Mathematics, from reaching Calculus in the 12th grade, especially when it is often a requirement for selective universities? And so, why would you want to do that? Well, that’s in the name of equity because you don’t want to have some kids doing better or outpacing other kids that you’re all going to homogenize these kids into a lowest common denominator hole, and therefore they’re all going to end up getting to the 12th grade basically having taken all the same classes, even if some of those kids could have advanced at a much greater pace had they been given the opportunity.

And I think that what’s going to happen is that this is especially going to affect minority kids who are in low-income areas because they were the ones who have historically been the victims of the bigotry of low expectations. And when you don’t give these kids the opportunity to excel based upon their abilities, well, you’re going to have, again, a very low-level result for all kids, and including those kids that the framers of this curriculum purport to want to help.

Ginny Gentles:

The cutting-off access to higher-level Math is obviously a concern. No one should end up surprised that this is going to be problematic. You had written, I believe, last year that an open letter was sent by California Math and professors indicating a warning that students will be unprepared for STEM and quantitative majors. So that’s more than 400 Math and Science academics from California colleges and universities sent this open letter pointing out the key deficiencies of this framework. So the higher education system is aware that there’s going to be a problem, and they warn the state board, “This framework’s been adopted, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Things aren’t great when it comes to Math in California to start with, though, right? You all aren’t exactly top of the states with your Math results.

Lance Izumi:

Well, it’s actually horrendous. I mean, if you look at our Math results on whichever tests you want to look at, our state tests or on the National Assessment for Educational Progress, the NAPE test, which is often referred to as a nation’s report card, California’s Math results are horrendous.

It doesn’t really matter which group you look at. I mean, people assume that, “Well, the reason why California’s Math results are poor is because we have a large percentage of kids who are minority or low-income in this state.” Well, that is true. If you look at all economic groups in this state, you have large groups of kids who are not proficient in Mathematics. You have kids who are middle-class kids, kids who are from affluent families, and yet they are not proficient in Mathematics according to these various exams. In fact, you have half or more of kids who are not low income, who are middle-class kids, who are not proficient in Mathematics, especially at the 8th-grade level, which is really the grade level that you want to look at because that’s the level where kids are going to be getting into the more difficult Mathematics subjects and which would determine whether they get into college or not.

And so when you look at our Math results, yes, we have very low results, low proficiency levels for kids who are low income, various minority groups. But again, it’s overall, whether it’s socioeconomic groups or ethnic groups, the lack of Mathematics proficiency has infected every one of these groups.

Ginny Gentles:

Let’s pivot and talk about some good news. You wrote in the midst of widespread school closures, which was, of course, bad news, the 2021 book, The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic Policies and Possibilities. So tell us why parents at that time and now as well are choosing to homeschool their children.

Lance Izumi:

Well, I think that there are a lot of reasons why parents choose to homeschool their kids. I mean, yes, we did see during the pandemic a huge uptick in the number of kids who are being homeschooled. I mean, you saw, for example, based upon US Census Bureau Data, that the proportion of families in this country that decided to homeschool their kids doubled in the first year of the pandemic. And so it went from 5% of the population families to 11%.

It was even more in some of the ethnic subgroups. So, for example, African Americans, you saw a quintupling of the number or proportion of African American kids who were being homeschooled, going from 3% of families to an amazing 16% of African American families who were homeschooling their kids. Similarly, among Latino families, more than doubled the proportion of families in the Latino community who were homeschooling their kids. So you had a huge increase in the number of kids who are being homeschooled not just in certain segments but amongst all segments of society here in America.

I think people assume that the reason is simply because the regular public schools had been so bad when it came to actually implementing education during the COVID pandemic, that distance learning programs were, in many cases, implemented in a very poorly implemented way. And the teachers, the administrators were not familiar with the way to implement these systems, and therefore you had kids who were basically failing because of the inability of the schools to be able to implement an efficient and effective distance learning regime during the COVID pandemic. You also had the various mandates that a lot of families were concerned with: mask mandates, vaccine mandates. So, there was a lot of incentive for families to leave the system.

But also too, I think it’s important to understand that a lot of families, the reason why they left was the pandemic was really the straw that broke the camel’s back. They had been dissatisfied with the performance of the regular public schools for a long time. It’s interesting to see, for example, even publications like The New Yorker, which had a great article on the increase in African-American families who decided to homeschool during and after the pandemic. And a lot of the reasons given by these African American families was because the regular public school systems in places like Detroit and lots of other places around the country were failing their kids for years and years. Historically, they had been failing their kids, and so that’s why they decided that they were going to homeschool their children because you had a bad system, to begin with, that was then trying to implement systems for which they were even less effective than in-person learning, and it all came together to spell doom for those kids if those parents didn’t take them out of the regular public schools.

And what’s interesting is that even, as I say in The New Yorker, you had a lot of testimony by these parents who were saying that their kids may have been several grade levels below normal or where they should have been, and yet after homeschooling them for a year, they were back up to grade level. And I think that shows the power of homeschooling because the parents get to choose the curriculum that really fits the particular needs of their individual child. And again, it once again underscores how parents are the ones who are the best judge and the best evaluators of what their children need. And homeschooling really gives them that ability to fit and mold that curriculum to their child’s needs.

Ginny Gentles:

Right. They really have a wide variety of choices, flexibility, personalization. You talk in this publication about all the opportunities that come from technology and all the different learning models. It really can be quite shocking how many curricular options there are. If you go to a homeschooling fair in a state like Florida, it can be daunting, but parents are navigating this. Do you have a sense of how these parents who are new to homeschooling are figuring out how to do this?

Lance Izumi:

Well, I think that one of the great things about homeschooling today in America is that it’s a lot more organized. It’s a lot different than the way it was maybe 30, 40 years ago when homeschooling was really getting off the ground. Now, there are a lot more options for parents, especially new parents who are just deciding to get into homeschooling.

In my book, The Homeschool Boom, what I do is I profile different families, different people who are involved in the homeschool movement to show how diverse a movement this is to begin with, but also the different types of opportunities available to parents. One of the people that I interview is a woman named Alicia Carter, who is the head of a charter school homeschool. And so, in her charter school, kids come for a day or two a week, but then the rest of the time, they’re homeschooled by their parents. She told me that the reason why her charter homeschool was so popular was because it’s a way for new parents, especially to get into homeschooling, but not have to take on the entire responsibility that there’s still somebody involved like a school or a teacher who is assisting them and therefore they feel more comfortable starting to homeschool their kids.

You have other people that I profiled who joined homeschool co-ops with groups of homeschoolers. I mean, I think one of the big myths in homeschooling is that homeschooling is always just the mom or dad at the kitchen table with their kid doing homework or doing their curriculum. And while that is part of it, that misses a huge part of the picture of homeschooling in modern America because you have these homeschool co-ops. I profiled two people who started one together, one, a conservative Republican, one a liberal Democrat. And yet they came together and started this homeschool co-op because they agreed on what was necessary to educate their kids. And so I think that what homeschooling does is it brings together people in neighborhoods, in communities across different boundaries to come together to educate their children because they can see what their kids need in terms of the core subjects especially.

I think that when you look at co-ops, charter home schools, you have micro schools, you have a lot of different types of curricula available to kids. You alluded to that, Ginny, that there’s lots of choices available to parents. There’s a great website called cathyduffyreviews.com, which has hundreds literally of different curricula that they review so that, depending on the needs of the individual child, parents have the ability to make an informed decision about which curriculum to choose that would best fit their child’s needs.

In the book that I wrote, I have parents who chose everything from a very more structured type of curriculum like classical learning versus parents who’ve chosen an unschooling model where basically it’s much more student-centered up to the child to decide what they’re interested in and allowing the child to run with that.

But that’s a great thing about homeschooling is that it allows parents to be able to make their choices based upon the personality and needs of their children, and also whether they have a special need, parents who are educating their special needs children, kids on the autism spectrum for example. And I think that’s really important for your listeners to understand is that people might think, “Okay, amongst all kids, the kids who may not be able to be homeschooled are kids with those special needs.” But it turns out oftentimes they are the very ones who actually thrive the best in a homeschooling situation because it’s their needs that are being addressed, not the needs of 30 other kids who happen to be in the classroom.

Ginny Gentles:

Right. Okay. So those California parents who are concerned or very worried about the Math framework aren’t stuck in the assigned government public school, and they can choose to join this growing movement of homeschooling parents and find a lot of support there.

You wrote another publication, you’re a very prolific author, Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice. With education freedom programs around the country expanding from limited eligibility, meaning that they are specifically designed to serve families with a lower income or families of children with special needs, now they’re moving to more universal eligibility, meaning all K-12 students in the state are eligible to participate in these school choice programs. Clearly, state legislators and at least 10 or so states agree with you. The middle class does need school choice. But tell us about the arguments that you were making in this publication.

Lance Izumi:

Well, as I alluded to a little earlier, Ginny, it’s important for people to understand that the ineffectiveness of the regular public schools impacts not just kids of a certain demographic, not just kids of certain racial, ethnic groups, not just kids of with certain income, socioeconomic backgrounds. It impacts everybody. I mean, one of the things that I did in my book, Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice, is to burst the myth that just because you might live in a leafy suburb, your school may be beautiful looking, the football team may have a great record, but if you get past that kind of Potemkin village facade, what you find inside is that the same types of academic problems are occurring in those schools just as much as they’re occurring in the schools where you might think would have problems, let’s say the urban inner city for example. And you can see that in different measures.

I mentioned, for example, if you look at various test measures in the core subjects, you find out that kids who are coming from middle-class and more affluent backgrounds are not doing well in the course subjects of Reading and Mathematics. One of the things that I did in my book, Not as Good as You Think, was to look at the college preparation for kids in middle-class and more affluent high schools. And what I found was huge percentages of those high schools in California, which was the original book Not as Good as You Think was based on schools here in California in middle-class and more affluent areas, and what I found was that on the college preparatory tests that were being given by the state university system, you had large percentages of kids in these more affluent areas who were failing the tests and showing that they were not prepared for college.

And so therefore, whether they had a high GPA at their high school or not, it didn’t really matter in a sense that they were going to be going to college not prepared based upon the examinations that the universities were given. And that’s of special interest to me because, as you mentioned in my introduction, Ginny, I served as a two-term president of the Board of Governors at the California Community Colleges. What we found in the community college system, which is an open admission system, if kids were entering our system not prepared for college-level work, very small percentages of them were eventually going to get a degree and transfer to a four-year university.

And so, therefore, it was very important for those kids to be able to be prepared for college. And I think that, unfortunately, many of these schools in middle-class and more affluent areas where we assume that they’re being prepared, they aren’t and are, therefore going to end up failing in higher education. And that’s a real problem for not just those kids but for our society as well because it’s going to be a huge loss for our economy that these kids are not going to be getting out with the degrees that we need to have them, man the economy that we want.

Ginny Gentles:

Well, something that we really focus on at the Independent Women Forum’s Education Freedom Center is making sure that parents are fully informed and fully aware of what’s happening in their schools and that we’re acknowledging the problems while also pointing to the solution, which we believe a primary one is education freedom. I find, though, sometimes those parents who live in those leafy suburbs really don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to know that their schools aren’t as good as they think. They’ve paid a lot for their mortgage, and they are assuming that they’re getting their money’s worth. Do you have any suggestions on getting the message across to parents who are so bought into the system literally through their mortgage and don’t want to hear otherwise?

Lance Izumi:

Well, you know something, all I can say… And that is true, Ginny. I mean, I’ve found that to be the case. You go to states where you might expect that there will be a huge pro-school choice movement, and yet especially in some of these red states around the country, and it turns out they really don’t want to hear that, partly because they may live in someplace where they’ve made huge personal investments in order to buy into a district which they thought was a good district, but which it turns out it’s not.

I think that what parents need to do is be able to face the truth really. I mean, sometimes the truth hurts. But if they fail to face the truth, then who’s going to be hurt by that? It’s not necessary they who are going to be hurt by that. It’s going to be their children who are going to be hurt by that.

And I think that what we’re seeing now in a lot of areas in the country where the parents are protesting over the indoctrination their kids are getting, the political indoctrination that kids are receiving, I think that ties in with the lack of academic performance in a lot of schools. Middle-class parents, more affluent parents are now seeing that their kids are not just getting poor academic education, but they’re also being indoctrinated as well in ideologies that they do not support, that do not meet their values. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I think that you’re seeing greater interest amongst middle class parents in school choice because now they’re seeing how this is affecting them. It’s not just the fact that the state or national tests are showing that their children are not performing well in Reading and Mathematics. Now, the children are bringing home homework that is pushing values that they do not support and that go contrary to their belief systems. And I think that because of that, there is this push now.

Again, when we’ve talked earlier about the straws that break the camel’s back, I think this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of pushing parents from these more middle-class areas into the school choice camp because they can’t get away from it, right? It’s not just the schools in, let’s say, the urban inner city, which may have historically poor performance academically, that are being indoctrinated. I think what you’re seeing is that this indoctrination is happening in the leafy suburbs as well, and it’s now come home to these parents in these middle-class areas, and they’re seeing that their children are now being turned into people that they do not recognize. And I think that is what is changing their minds and getting them to push for universal school choice programs as the ones that you and I have supported for many years, right?

And I’ve always said that I support a universal system because there are so many problems in the public schools that affect parents regardless of their socioeconomic background. And I think that this indoctrination is really number one on the list really right now that is affecting parents regardless of their family income.

Ginny Gentles:

Right. We tried for a long time to awaken parents by pointing out national NAT scores or state assessment scores or making sure that they knew how to find information about how their school was serving different subgroups, and that didn’t really do it. But this indoctrination, the prioritization of activism over academics, that woke them up. You wrote about these parents in a recent book, The Great Parent Revolt, including one of our Independent Women Forums fellows, Nicole Solas. And I’d love to know, I think I get a sense here of what inspired you to write the book, but what were some of the stories that you told in this book?

Lance Izumi:

Well, thanks for mentioning that. Yes, my most recent book is called The Great Parent Revolt, and it focuses on how parents and students and local people are rising up against critical race theory in the classroom. Critical race theory, for your listeners, is really basically Marxism, but based upon race. So instead of having oppressor and oppressed classes based upon income, wealthy versus poor, you have the oppressor class and the oppressed class now based upon race, whites, sometimes Asians in the oppressor class, and then the oppressed class as being other non-whites. And so the thing that we did in this book was to profile people who were fighting that indoctrination that is going on in the classroom.

We had a student, for example, in California who we profiled who talked about how in a class on leadership, he was made to stand in a privilege walk line. And so the students were lined up shoulder to shoulder. The teacher at the head of the class who would call out privileged traits like, “I am white, I am male, I am Christian.” And every time one of those traits applied to a student, that student would have to take a step out of line and take a step forward. Joshua, who was the student we profile, said that, “Look, we’re being singled out for traits where we have no control over it. And why am I made to feel bad, be the focus of negative attention in front of my classmates because I’m the only white male in my class?” And so that’s what’s going on in the classroom.

Then we have people who are fighting against what Joshua is going through. We had Gabs Clark, who is a poor widowed mother of five kids who is African American. So poor she was living in a cheap motel room, and yet when her son was deprived of a high school diploma because he refused to engage in a critical race theory inspired exercise, she sued in federal court. And even though she was poor, had all of these strikes against her, she sued and was able to get a favorable decision from the school that they turned around 180 degrees, gave her son the diploma and settled out of court.

And so you have people like that who are rising up despite their difficult situation. You mentioned Nicole Solas, who’s associated with Independent Women’s Forum. She was worried about the critical race theory curriculum in her daughter’s elementary school. The school and the district refused to give her the information about the curriculum, refused to be transparent. And so she filed not just one, not just two, but she filed 160 different public records requests in order to force the school district to divulge what was actually going on in the classroom.

We had other people like Kelly Shenkoski, who used the Public Records Act request as well to find that her school was implementing critical race theory through the device of ethnic studies in her California school district. And so, you have all these people who we profile incredible stories. You’re based in Virginia, Ginny. We have Asra Nomani, who is been very active in the battles over the admission system in Thomas Jefferson High School. She’s a single mom, Indian immigrant, is Muslim. Her father actually marched with Gandhi against British imperialism, and yet she was being told that she was basically white adjacent and being part of the problem in standing up for a meritocratic admission system at Thomas Jefferson because it was the changeover from the merit-based system to a much more subjective system was hurting Asian American kids. And so therefore, she and a group of other parents sued in federal court. And I believe that suit is going through the system right now.

I think the bottom line is that what we want to prevent is something that… And I think one of the most interesting chapters in the book is where we interview Xi Van Fleet, who is also from Virginia. Xi Van Fleet is an immigrant from China, and she actually survived Mao Zedong’s murders, Cultural Revolution in communist China, which killed 1 to 2 million people, ordinary Chinese people. She said that what she sees happening in America is what happened in China during the Cultural Revolution where she saw red guards who were basically shutting down all kinds of speech, destroying people’s lives because they believed in old ideas or old culture or old customs or old habits, and that the red guards basically canceled anybody who were assumed to have any of those beliefs.

Xi Van Fleet says that that is happening in America, and she thought she’d never see that happening in America. She says that unless we wake up and do something about that, we’re not just going to lose our freedom, but she points to her experience in communist China where people not only lost their freedom, but they lost their lives as well, and that we’re coming to that point in America where it’s not out of the realm of possibility where those sorts of things can be envisioned.

Ginny Gentles:

Well, thank goodness for parents who advocate so strongly for their children and shine the light on the problems. And I appreciate your approach to these books which tell these individual stories. Whether it’s homeschooling or The Great Parent Revolt, you’re telling these stories, and we really value that at IWF. We think that courage is contagious and parents need to hear what their options are and how it’s possible. And parents also need to hear that, “If you’re concerned, you should speak up and here’s how.” So thank you for providing resources for them on that.

As we wrap up, let’s return to my favorite subject, I think it’s one of yours as well, and that’s education freedom. We ask each of our guests to tackle the school choice myth that bothers you the most.

Lance Izumi:

Well, I think that the myth that really irritates me, and it’s one of the things that I really want to focus on in the books that I’ve been writing, is the myth that school choice is only for certain people, only for parents of kids who are very active, they have a great interest in their kids’ education or their kids have certain abilities and that they are the ones who school choice is made for.

Basically, it’s the kind of myth of cherry-picking, that only those kids who have a lot of abilities, and their families, are the ones that support school choice when that is absolutely totally untrue. That is a myth. Because when you look at the people who benefit the most by school choice, I look at the hardest cases. In my books on charter schools, on homeschooling, on The Great Parent Revolt, a lot of the people I look at are the people who have the most difficult cases.

And so for example, in my book, Choosing Diversity, which I wrote a few years ago, which was on model charter schools in the country, one of the schools that I focused on was the New York Autism Charter School. It was started by two parents who used New York’s charter school law to create a school for autistic kids because the regular public schools weren’t providing that type of education. And so therefore, they as parents use that school choice mechanism to set up their own school to address the needs of their autistic children. And it’s become a hugely successful charter school in New York City.

As I mentioned earlier, in my Homeschool Boom book, I focused on parents who have kids who have autism and other special needs. One of the parents that I focused on had a child who was on the autism spectrum and who was doing very poorly in regular public school. When she decided to homeschool her child, her child has a problem with actually seeing and reading the words, but is very good using audible books and audiobooks.

And so by the time he was eight years old, after she took him out and started to homeschool him, by the time he was eight years old, he was able to read the entire, through audio, an audiobook the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. So for your listeners who have never seen the Lord of the Rings book, it’s like over 1,000 pages. It’s one of my favorite books, but I find it difficult to read through it because it’s pretty complex. And yet here is this autistic boy who is eight years old and who is devouring the Lord of the Rings. But that would only have happened had he been able to have this opportunity to be homeschooled.

And so I think that that’s one of the things that we have to understand that school choice is not just for certain people, school choice is for all people.

Ginny Gentles:

I love that. Thank you for reminding us of that. As we talk about these universal programs, we shouldn’t forget who’s been benefiting from these programs for 30 years, and often it is the most vulnerable students and we want them to continue to have these opportunities and to continue to thrive. Well, Dr. Izumi, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you for all that you’re doing and all that you’re writing. I’ve so enjoyed our conversation.

Lance Izumi:

Well, thank you very much, Ginny. Well, I really appreciate being able to chat with you on your podcast. And also, congratulations on the podcast. It’s a great effort on your part, and I look forward to all the ensuing episodes.

Ginny Gentles:

Thank you. We hope listeners found today’s conversation informative and encouraging. If you enjoyed this episode of Students Over Systems, please consider leaving a review on your favorite podcast app, and don’t forget to share this episode with your friends. To learn more about the work at the IWF Education Freedom Center, please visit iwf.org/efc. Thank you for listening to Students Over Systems. Until next time, keep celebrating education freedom, and brighter futures.