The Center for Public School Renewal
Although the title of this essay gives it an unnecessarily controversial tinge, the real message behind it that school choice is good for teachers as well as for parents is a view we heartily endorse. Mentioning other worthwhile types of school choice would have made this message just as meaningful.
The idea that school choice is actually good for teachers as well as families will take some time to percolate into teachers' thinking. Teachers, although desirous of having a decent salary, are not especially motivated by promises of additional monetary rewards. However, they can become fans of teacher choice because of the opportunities it provides to meet their non-monetary needs as DeRoche says, "a school that reflects his or her values, skills, experience, and personal goals." His essay is notable for two other points: (1) that parental choice and teacher choice are linked in a natural way, and (2) for the recognition that "freedom is calling" teachers.
The movement for "teacher choice," though small, seems to be growing. The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution has supported it for several years, as have we. Recently, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy started a website on teacher choice. There's also the organization Teachers for Better Education which is supporting a pro-voucher legal case in conjunction with other litigants.
The forces arrayed against teachers' freedom to make professional choices are strong (union officials, administrators' organizations, state bureaucracies, etc.), but state legislatures and governors can be stronger. Let's hope it takes less time to free teachers than it took to free slaves or legalize the female vote.
This article tests the proposition that autonomy in the classroom and freedom from bureaucracy will stimulate innovation in teaching and result in improved student achievement. The author finds little in the Ohio charter schools she examined to support that claim. Her view is based on her
Fox goes on to say,
The opportunities for teachers to reform their own practices flow from real control they can exercise over how their craft works. And, since schools undergoing reform must still operate while the reforms are being developed, it's a long drawn-out process. Of course, one shouldn't expect three or four-year old schools filled with young, inexperienced teachers to be able to develop much of a culture supporting substantive student achievement! Nor should we expect the teachers alone to accomplish this just because they have autonomy and freedom. The public's freedom to know (via Chester Finn's transparent accountability, qv.), and the parents' freedom to choose alternatives to these teacher-autonomous schools are the additional critical components that are needed.
Jervis, in the understatement of the decade, says "It is not universally appreciated that teachers must be centrally involved in implementing school reform." She goes on to argue that teachers can create knowledge in their own classrooms and do not need to implement structured programs created by others. She believes that teachers can benefit when they receive assistance from "respectful university colleagues" in the research and reform community.
Normally, a globalist reform like professional certification would not receive much credit in these pages because of the CPSR view that local school staffs should be the arbiters of who should teach in their schools (cf. Schug and Western). However, there is certainly nothing wrong with teachers attaining a nationally recognized certification that might become easily transportable across state and district linesso long as the local school has the final say in whether or not a particular teacher can continue to work there. In fact, a well-developed professional certification program could provide guidance to individual schools as they strive to improve instruction and student learning. The primary value of this article rests on the author's recognition of the structural dilemmas of public teaching:
As has been said in these pages before, without a change in the traditional governance structure of public education (which affords teachers' protection for their professional decisions), we believe that the positive teaching improvements that might result from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards will have only a minimal and peripheral impact on the conditions of teaching, and ultimately, on student achievement.
The author, the president of CPSR and a former public school teacher and administrator, makes the case that teachers are central to the education process, and therefore should be at the center of efforts to reform it. While vested interests within the education establishment will make such a transformation difficult, anything less than a central role for teachers is unlikely to be successful.
This report describes endorsements that a handful of states "have created or are considering adding ... to their state licensing systems that would formally recognize teachers who have taken on leadership roles outside their own classrooms." Reasons cited for creating these endorsements include recognizing the efforts of teachers already engaged in leadership functions in their schools; making the principal's job more doable when teachers take on such tasks; providing options for those who want to pursue leadership short of becoming a principal; and as a pathway for school leadership. Different states are taking different approaches, some involving graduate coursework, some connecting to state standards, but in no case are these leadership endorsements required, or do holders of them receive extra pay. In spite of the purely optional nature of the endorsement, one university reports 10 times as much interest in teacher leadership as in becoming school principals. Joseph Murphy, a professor at Vanderbilt University, cautions that endorsements could rigidify opportunities for teachers and limit those roles to a small number of individuals. "How," he wonders, "do you create opportunities for teachers to work together around the important stuff of schooling, where they can move in and out of leadership fluently depending on their expertise and wisdom?" CPSR believes that teacher leadership is a key ingredient in school improvement and therefore should get more attention. However, we believe measures to increase district decentralization and school autonomy will be needed to empower teachers so they can become effective leaders.
Starnes, president of the Foxfire Fund at the time this article was published, makes a great case for individual teachers being central not just to the implementation of improvement reforms, but also to designing and evaluating the reforms. She contrasts this view of reform with the view of experts who design and promulgate "canned" systemic reforms. She believes that even though such reform programs are adopted by schools on the vote of the majority of staff, "effectiveness cannot be found in the mediocre sameness that grows out of programs that require lessons, teaching strategies, and materials to be precisely executed in order to maintain [program] integrity." "Sustaining such programs is virtually hopeless ... [because] when control loosens, teachers will return to practices that are in line with their belief systems." Rather, she says, "sustainable, systemic change can only occur as a result of support that is connected to teachers' belief systems."