Monday, October 26, 2020

Column: A Plan to Put Teachers in Charge, Give Parents Choices, and Benefit Children


A Plan to Put Teachers in Charge, Give Parents Choices, and Benefit Children
By Mike Davis

Have you ever stopped to consider how different American education is from everything else we do? It’s been this way so long that it’s difficult to imagine anything else. We group children by age, not by knowledge or ability. We send them to schools based on address, not teaching methodology or learning style. Parents have very little say over which school their children can attend. And teachers, the practitioners who are trained to educate, who are in the classroom every day, who are the heart of the education system, are denied the autonomy to use their expertise to the fullest.

Compare this to a law firm. Clients choose their attorney based on their needs and demands. Lawyers are grouped by specialty, not age. And support staff answer to lawyers. In contrast, public school teachers might answer to librarians, counselors, and technology staff, as well as the principal. As schools have transitioned from education centers to one-stop-shops for child-centered social programs, the focus on education has waned. So too has teachers’ status. They used to be the reason schools existed; now they are cogs in a social-work center.

1889 has proposed a solution to put teachers back in the driver seat, and give parents more options for educating their children. In a Professional Teacher Charter, a teacher must be in charge of curriculum delivery. The law gives experienced teachers the opportunity to open a school, funded on the same basis as other charter schools. Teachers will be free to try new teaching methods. Parents will be free to choose the school that best fits their child. Oklahoma will become a laboratory of pedagogy, with students attending the school that works best for them.

Professional Teacher Charters will be required to test students once a year, using a nationally norm-referenced test. They must publish these results, so that parents can see how their school stacks up to the competition based on the school’s actual output - how much students know. Failing schools won’t have to be disciplined by a board of education - parents will simply move to a better school the next year. Educate or die will become the order of the day.

“More funding to the classroom” is almost always the excuse for increasing public education funding. But the single most important classroom expense is the teacher. Yet the system, even in existing charter schools, puts the teacher at the very bottom of the decision-making ladder.

1889’s model flips the ladder, putting teachers in charge of schools. It empowers parents to choose the best school for their child. Teachers win. Parents win. And ultimately, Oklahoma’s schoolchildren are the big winners.

Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at mdavis@1889institute.org.

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