Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

School Choice Is Good for Teachers, Too

By Doug Tuthill — August 04, 2015 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With her recent passing, Marva Collins is being remembered for her glorious educational crusade to turn around the lives of low-income black children in Chicago. It’s also worth remembering how she chose to do this. She cashed in her teacher-pension savings in the 1970s to start her own private school. With it, she combined a no-excuses attitude with high standards, strict discipline, and love—and got amazing results with limited resources.

In other words, Collins was empowered by school choice.

Twenty-five years after Milwaukee put private school vouchers on the map, a majority of states now have some form of private school choice. Just this year, Arkansas created its first voucher program, and Indiana expanded its voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs. Five states either created or expanded education savings accounts, including Florida, which tripled funding for its program; and Nevada, which spawned the nation’s most inclusive program, available to more than 90 percent of its students.

These opportunities are created, first and foremost, to give parents the power to choose the educational options that are best for their children. But teachers benefit as well, even if the story lines seldom mention them.

BRIC ARCHIVE

As choice expands, teachers will see more opportunities to create and/or work in educational models that hew to their vision and values, maximize their expertise, and result in better outcomes for students. Increasingly, they’ll be able to bypass the red tape and micromanagement that plague too many district schools and serve students who are not finding success. In short, they’ll be able to better shape their destinies, and the destinies of their students.

I should know. I’m a lifelong educator and former teachers’ union president who now heads a nonprofit that administers the nation’s largest private school choice program. I have seen firsthand how all forms of school choice can offer teachers more opportunities to innovate.

My home state of Florida is brimming with examples. In June, ABC’s “World News Tonight” put a national spotlight on a particularly inspiring one: the Human Experience school in Orlando, Fla. Doing their best impression of Marva Collins, teachers Danita Jones and Nate Smith started the one-class, one-grade, micro-school last fall by pouring in their life savings and getting an assist from tax-credit scholarships. Why the urgency? “If you were standing on the side of the pool and saw someone drowning, would you jump in to save them?” Jones told ABC. “Lack of access to quality education—you might as well be drowning in a pool.”

Florida teachers now have more power than ever to improve access to quality education by creating, leading, and teaching in their own schools. And it’s because no state has done more to expand educational choice. Florida is among the top handful of states when it comes to the number of charter schools and charter school students. It is home to the nation’s biggest tax-credit-scholarship program and the second-largest program of education savings accounts. It has the largest voucher program for students with disabilities and the second-largest pre-K voucher program. All told, these programs of school choice serve about a half-million students.

I have seen firsthand how all forms of school choice can offer teachers more opportunities to innovate.”

Florida also now has more than 40,000 teachers who do not work for school districts. Nearly 14,000 of them work in charter schools, which surpasses the public school teaching workforce in nine other states. At the nonprofit I lead, we routinely hear stories of teachers who migrate from district schools to private schools. They’re choosing these options for the same reason parents are—because they offer a better fit for their individual needs.

The world is full of square pegs. As long as public education remains highly centralized, it’s inevitable that somebody’s vision for what is best will be imposed on somebody who bitterly disagrees, and some students who would benefit from one approach will be jammed into another. Decentralization through expanded choice is the best remedy, and not just for students. Some teachers work well with large bureaucracies, some don’t. Choice gives them the opportunity to find or create schools that play to their strengths and interests.

In a growing number of states, pathways are increasing for teachers to do just that. Those who take them are finding a rich landscape where technology and customization are driving diversity. New programs, such as Course Access, give teachers innovative platforms to think out of the box—and out of the schoolhouse. Meanwhile, tools like education savings accounts, better known as ESAs, give parents direct access to all the educational services their children may need, including teacher-run schools. ESAs can benefit teachers and families the way Uber has helped drivers and passengers—by kicking middlemen to the curb.

As this drive for teacher and parent empowerment accelerates, I have no doubt the opportunities for teacher leadership will grow. For the time being, teachers’ unions will continue advocating centralized management systems that use collective bargaining to impose one-size-fits-all solutions. But eventually the unions, too, will evolve and find ways to serve teachers who are thriving in other environments. Instead of uniform salary schedules, for example, they’ll help teachers be free agents, similar to what professional-sports unions have done for their members. Instead of only supporting district-run schools, they’ll help teachers start and manage their own schools.

Like Marva Collins, some passionate and enterprising educators will always find ways to create their own models. But as more states crack open the doors to educational choice, it’s easy to envision an army of Marva Collinses charging through.

A version of this article appeared in the August 05, 2015 edition of Education Week as School Choice, an Opportunity for Students, Teachers, and Parents

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar How Pandemic Tech Is (and Is Not) Transforming K-12 Schools
The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting rise in virtual learning and big investments in digital learning tools— helped educators propel their technology skills to the next level. Teachers have become more adept at using learning management
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Using Integrated Analytics To Uncover Student Needs
Overwhelmed by data? Learn how an integrated approach to data analytics can help.

Content provided by Instructure
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. f we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management How Staff Shortages Are Crushing Schools
Teachers are sacrificing their planning periods, students are arriving hours late, meals are out of whack, and patience is running thin.
11 min read
Stephanie LeBlanc, instructional strategist at Greeley Middle School in Cumberland Center, Maine.
Stephanie LeBlanc, an instructional strategist at Greely Middle School in Cumberland Center, Maine, has picked up numerous additional duties to help cover for staffing shortages at the school.
Ryan David Brown for Education Week
School & District Management With $102 Million in Grants, These Districts Plan to Train Principals With a Focus on Equity
The new grant program from the Wallace Foundation will help eight school districts work on building principals’ capacity to address equity.
11 min read
Image of puzzle pieces with one hundred dollar bill imagery
Getty
School & District Management Opinion Toxic Positivity Has No Place in Schools
Educators can’t do everything, but we can do some things, writes district leader Cherisse Campbell.
Cherisse Campbell
4 min read
A teacher sits on her desk thinking in an empty classroom.
Joy Velasco for Education Week
School & District Management The Already Dire Substitute Shortage Could Get 'Worse Before It Gets Better'
School districts are trying all sorts of tactics, including increasing pay and relaxing requirements, to get more subs in classrooms.
10 min read
Image of an empty classroom.
urfinguss/iStock/Getty