In private establishments, the prevailing motto is that the customer is always right. In the government-run school system, the answer to dissatisfaction from customers is: “You will take it and you will like it.”

In Waukegan, Ill., throughout the 18-month pandemic shutdown of schools, most of the students in Frank McCormick’s high-school history class never turned on their Zoom cameras. In Darien, Conn., prompted by a mother’s inquiry about snack time at her child’s school, a teacher who called herself the “mask police” replied that she allows “about seven minutes of chew time.”

There are countless stories like these.

Demand for school choice peaked amid the chaos of Covid, when K–12 mismanagement, teachers’-union collusion with the Biden administration, and ideological curriculum indoctrination were on full display. A loud reckoning came when an overlooked group of stakeholders — the parents — spoke up about the harms to children and to American education. They are championed in Parent Revolution, a thorough and triumphant analysis of school choice by Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children.

DeAngelis aptly borrows the famous line in Network: “Parents were mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore.” For the first time, he tells the tale of their ascent.

He himself is a “survivor” of public school, where he got mixed up in hazing and brawling that robbed him of an academic grounding. The empathy he has for students trapped in similarly bad learning environments shines through. He makes the case for an education system that prioritizes children, a commonsense concept that the unions have tried to frame as extremist.

After articulating the logic behind education freedom, DeAngelis lays out the path to attain it. Via voucher programs and Education Savings Accounts (ESA), parents can apply state money allocated to them for their children’s education to public-school alternatives. Children win by getting the chance to escape a broken school and find a better one. But the public K–12 system also benefits from the competition. Just the threat of student exodus can inspire schools to reset their priorities, such as by ridding the curriculum of gender ideology and critical race theory, cutting administrative bloat, and investing in proven teaching methods.

In interfering with something as seemingly sacrosanct as government-run education, DeAngelis has made all the right enemies. His knowledge and conviction are intimidating to the union rosters, from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and other leaders on down to members — anyone caught in a lie. In the book, he resurrects statements by officials denying that learning loss during the lockdowns was real — self-serving fictions later smashed to smithereens by the abysmal scores on the Nation’s Report Card. If you had nothing to hide from DeAngelis, you had nothing to fear. But if you were found to be vacationing during Covid while kids were locked out of the classroom, watch out.

Many times, DeAngelis departs from his typical take-no-prisoners style and adopts the tone of a patient professor, recognizing that readers might still have a soft spot for the old apparatus. He carefully debunks problematic premises, namely that there is such a thing as a “public” school. Breaking down the economics, he demonstrates that government schools are not a public good because their quality varies so widely. Wealthier areas tend to have better schools, but because children are assigned to a school based on zip code, kids from disadvantaged areas don’t get to attend them.

Like many areas where politics are involved, education has been corrupted by money and special interests. DeAngelis explains how public education became a boondoggle. Teachers’ unions hoard education funding to serve their own interests rather than those of children; their control of the education establishment functions like a monopoly with no market accountability. Despite plummeting academic proficiency among American children, unions push for public schools to be rewarded with more money, which allows for more school staff, which in turn allows unions to collect more dues. Public education is a black hole for taxpayer dollars, with little correlation between spending and children’s academic success.

“To the unions, our children are nothing more than dollar signs,” DeAngelis writes.

In the past few years, the teachers’ unions have staged strikes to demand salary increases and, insisting that returning to school wasn’t safe, Covid-mitigation measures. They demanded more money to reopen public schools “safely,” apparently oblivious to the fact that many private schools, parochial schools, and child-care facilities were opening around them. Catholic schools that reopened early on — and were in fact safe — bucked the poor academic performance trend during Covid.

Long held at arm’s length by the unions, parents rebelled with a vengeance when they saw the indifference to their kids’ education and well-being. The number of school-board recall efforts exploded in 2021 and 2022. Parents started to put the system on notice. Then the unions revealed their truest colors.

Rather than listen to parents about reopening timelines, and their concerns about critical race theory in the classroom and sexually explicit material in the libraries, the unions gaslit and antagonized them. The Chicago Teachers Union called parents “white supremacists” for wanting to reopen schools.

Data-driven, DeAngelis makes great use of case studies. For instance, the nation’s largest teachers’ union lobbied against Prenda, a management platform for micro schools, because, so the argument went, such schools would “widen the opportunity gap.” DeAngelis uncovers what’s behind the union’s opposition. When the union accidentally conceded that schools not administered by the government could be better for kids, it showed its cards.

DeAngelis walks us through how school-choice politics play out when one party is in bed with the unions. It is a sign of our tribalistic age that school choice is a nonstarter for most Democrats. In 2022, over 99 percent of American Federation of Teachers donations went to Democrats, a form of “money-laundering,” as DeAngelis sees it. The Democrats do the unions’ bidding in exchange for generous political contributions. Recall the infamous Merrick Garland memo, issued after the National School Boards Association urged federal action in a letter that conflated angry moms and dads with “domestic terrorists”; the memo directed the FBI and federal law enforcement to investigate and potentially prosecute parent-leveled “threats” against school-board members.

As became increasingly clear to DeAngelis, the Democrats, because they are beholden to the unions, are not reliable partners for education freedom. That led him to scrap the bipartisanship script and deploy a “red-state strategy” to get school choice over the finish line across the country. He found that GOP stragglers, such as rural Republicans, who tend to be satisfied with their public schools and fear that school choice could drain money out of them, can be persuaded since school choice is consistent with the party’s credo. With DeAngelis’s help, school choice became a litmus test for Republican candidates.

And it worked. In 2021, 19 states expanded or enacted school-choice programs. “It was just a matter of letting the GOP base know when a legislator with an ‘R’ next to his or her name went off the reservation,” he writes.

What is never in doubt in DeAngelis’s book is his enthusiasm for children’s welfare. Blending powerful anecdotes, testimonies, and statistics, the work reinvigorates what is sometimes considered a stodgy area of scholarship.

In 1983, a Department of Education report warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a People.” The report added that if such an education disaster were inflicted by another country, it would be viewed as an act of war. DeAngelis shows the role that teachers’ unions have played as the agents of mediocrity and worse in American education. In his “chronicle of the classroom coup,” he shows that this siege is not inevitable. Parents are reclaiming their authority, planting their flag in the sand for their children’s education.