How Millennials Will “Fix” Education in America 

 
 
 

NEXT EXIT: TOMORROW

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The future of neighborhood schools, public, charter, and private, rests in the hands of the Millennial generation. The largest generation in America today, born between 1983 and 2001 (or thereabouts), Millennials are now entering the parent stage of life. With the oldest Millennials in their mid-thirties, their children are likely just now reaching elementary school across America.

And we know what they are finding is less than satisfactory.

According to a national study conducted in 2016, 58 percent of Millennials believe the U.S. education system is on the “wrong track.” Only one in four think it is headed in the “right direction.” The study, Millennial Perspectives on K-12 Education and School Choice, also asked Millennials if they could choose any type of school, without worry of cost or transportation, which type would provide the best education.

Millennial preference for school. Source: Millennial Perspectives on K-12 Education and School Choice

Millennial preference for school. Source: Millennial Perspectives on K-12 Education and School Choice

 

As you can see, more Millennials select private schools than public, and the percentage choosing charter and home schooling combined are significant. When asked the reason behind their preference, most people said their children would get better education/higher quality education at private and charter schools, or via home schooling.

In reality, 83 percent of school-aged children attend regular public schools. This gap is the first factor why Millennials will take action. This huge difference between preference and reality is a top motivation for change.

Secondly, Millennials look favorably at options like charter schools, school vouchers for parents, and education savings funds. For each, a majority of Millennials are in favor these options, at a ratio of about two-to-one.

Moreover, the American Federation of Children conducted a survey in January 2017 and discovered that 77 percent of Millennials are in favor of “school choice” and only 22 percent are opposed.

Let’s call all of these findings factor number 2.

The third factor likely to spur Millennials to action is how they are wired. They have a generational mindset that will enable them to work together to “fix” public education in America.

In our work we have learned that this generation is more “we” focused than are prior generations. They firmly believe if they work together they can accomplish more than if they try on their own. Collaboration and collective effort win the day, not self-centered and independent behavior. In part, this mindset was formed from middle school onward when they had to tackle school assignments as part of a project team. Success didn’t depend only on one’s own effort, but the team’s collaborative effort.

Today, as young adults, Millennials trust in the wisdom of the crowd to make all sorts of decisions, from which product to buy on Amazon, to which restaurant to try on Yelp, to which activity to do on Trip Advisor. Collaboration and the wisdom of the crowd is where the better solutions can be found.

This generational wiring is different from the “me” mindset in Boomers, for example. Boomers fled failing schools for the suburbs where good schools already existed for their children. Gen Xers followed.

We think Millennials, who already show strong desire to live in community with each other, are going to come together to address education options in their neighborhood public schools. Their desire to make a difference and work together—along with the opportunity to provide a better education for their offspring—will drive them to change public education in America for the better.

Ultimately, we predict that their “school choice” will be to collaborate and take action to improve the educational opportunities in their community, not head for the dead-end communities of the suburbs. It won’t happen today, but it will happen soon in school district after school district across the country.

Our advice to schools and community leaders is to reach out and actively engage Millennial parents immediately. Get them to work together to make a difference in their neighborhood school. The time is now.

Next Week: Why Generation X Faces the “Ass” Ceiling at Work