This week is being celebrated as National School Choice Week from coast to coast. A whistle-stop tour that began on Friday in Los Angeles will arrive in Chicago's Union Station this evening before heading to its final destination in New York on Sunday.
The goal of this week of over 3,600 events–including a movie screening of "Won't Back Down," starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal tonight in River North–is to highlight schooling options available today, as well as the need to reform educational institutions and public policies to better serve the needs of students.
This is important.
The fact is the public schooling system today only serves students secondarily. As Chicagoans witnessed last fall, the system is rigged in such a way that a private organization called the Chicago Teachers Union must be appeased first before public schools will even begin to offer instruction to students. Merits of the CTU's demands aside, it was able to close nearly every school in Chicago singlehandedly.
Far from being a broken institution, public schools across the country are working exactly as they have been designed: to meet the needs of the adults they employ.
This is a difficult notion for many to accept. After all, the public schools claim to be a great leveler, aggregating students from various backgrounds into communities of learners led by adults who have dedicated their lives to nurturing young minds in difficult environments.
Indeed, owing to the nature of representative government, public institutions often must accept many missions simultaneously, causing them to do none very well.
Those agitating for education policy reform come from two broad camps. The first are those who seek to further centralize schooling by diverting more resources to public schools so they may spend more on educational missions at which they have already failed. And the second camp are those who seek to decentralize schooling by fostering the formation of independent schools that can more easily adapt to serve the needs of students.
Were the forces of the schooling bureaucracy not so well organized and supported by taxpayer money intended to support education, it may have been easy for those seeking school choice to accomplish their aims. Unfortunately, many earnest parents and community leaders have bought into the frightening ideological narrative that teachers must be part of a permanent bureaucracy that aids in controversial political aims such as forcing income equality.
It should be painfully obvious by now that turning teachers into bureaucrats makes schooling–the process of providing young minds with information and experience to prepare them for adulthood–outdated, slow, and inflexible. Turning teachers into bureaucrats makes them functionaries for policymakers whose priorities before educating children on the south side of Chicago are many.
Aside from needing to serve masters who are neither their students nor their students' parents, bureaucrats have many good reasons not to be great teachers. Within a short duration of employment, they are awarded tenure, making it nearly impossible for them to be dismissed for poor performance or worse. Teachers unions prevent great teachers from being rewarded for their work and talent by fitting them into a uniform pay-range applicable to all their members.
It's difficult to fault public school teachers for following the incentives presented. Teachers are people whose goals include many outside the classroom. For many, teaching is just a job that produces monetary benefits that permit them to achieve those other ends. If their job is safe, there is very little reason to try harder.
The basic design of the government's education system is faulty, incentivizing poor teaching at the cost of valuable time young people will never recover.
The needed reform is school choice, policies that permit the poorest and least-advantaged to attend schools that serve them well. (Well-off students, you'll understand, already have school choice.) Sometimes this means they should attend a traditional public school. Sometimes it's a charter school. And sometimes it's a private school whose owners may create a profit through providing teaching services. It's important to realize, with school choice, private schools can only create a profit if they offer an education that their customers–students and parents–value.
Wouldn't it be far superior for teachers to have to serve students and parents rather than the whims of politicians?
This week–and every week–it is vital for everyone who desires excellent education to be the first goal of any school to advocate for an end to teachers with split loyalties. It is time to achieve school choice for the poor.