Teacher unions often lead the opposition to legislation that would expand the ability of parents to choose the schools – whether public or private – their children attend. Many observers assume individual teachers also oppose school choice initiatives and that they do so because school choice is somehow against their self-interest.2 This Policy Brief challenges both assumptions.
There are strong theoretical arguments and considerable empirical evidence that professional educators would benefit personally from expanding school choice. Assuming it is done in ways that recognize the legitimate interests and concerns of teachers, greater parental choice in education increases demand for good teachers, which in turn leads to higher compensation. More funds get spent in classrooms rather than on management and overhead. Opportunities are created to allow teachers to specialize and to become education entrepreneurs or change careers. More generally, better relations with parents are likely to come from parents choosing schools,since the act of choosing gives parents a bigger emotional and often financial commitment to the schools their children attend. Students are more likely to be enrolled in schools that can meet their specific needs and interests, rather than in large and impersonal one-size-fits-all institutions.
Most teachers, in short, would benefit from a more open and competitive education industry. The teaching profession has as much to gain from increased choice and competition as students do. That is probably why the Association of American Educators (AAE), the nation’s largest non-union teacher organization, supports school choice. This Policy Brief goes beyond proving that public school teachers would benefit from school choice and contends that public school teachers need school choice to solve many of the problems that afflict their profession. Public school teachers often must perform under poor working conditions, are increasingly micro-managed by bureaucrats, and have limited job and career opportunities. By some measures, teacher pay has not kept up with the compensation of professionals such as lawyers, architects, and accountants.
While innovation has flourished in other fields, the practice of teaching hasn’t seen nearly as many changes. Colleges, for-profit tutoring services, and businesses providing online courses seem to be reaping the benefits of the Internet and other technological advances, leaving teachers behind. Expanding school choice would allow more teachers to take advantage of these new trends.
Efforts to improve teaching careers by working within existing governance and funding traditions have failed, even while greatly driving up the per-pupil cost. The solution doesn’t lie in paying consultants to “teach the teachers” new or different skills, or in “computer for every student” initiatives, or even in smaller class sizes. All these things have been tried and none consistently benefits teachers.
Part 1 of this Policy Brief explains how school choice benefits public school teachers. Part 2 describes why teachers need school choice in order to solve the problems facing their profession. Part 3 shows how the current system traps teachers in schools that can’t meet their needs and in a profession that cannot take advantage of business and technology trends taking place outside of public education. Part 4 briefly describes how some teachers and principals have rebelled successfully against superintendents and school boards in order to do their jobs well. Part 5 reports on growing support among teachers for more school choice, and Part 6 presents a brief recap of the findings.