I was recently going through some old writings I've saved over the course of years, and I uncovered the first generation of the piece you see here. I penned the original on January 27, 1998. Now almost ten years later, I've updated the concept and expanded it somewhat. I've cleaned the original up a bit and fixed some of my more horrid grammatical errors to create this version.
The idea for Teacher Choice was born in the turbulent days during the first bout with Standards of Learning test accountability in Virginia. All over, teachers were feeling demoralized and beat upon. This was even before the United States Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, called all teacher union members terrorists. This was before the burn of the classroom wore as heavy as lead on me. This was before I abandoned the classroom in favor of a resource teaching position. How today's classroom teachers manage to remain in the classroom without losing their minds is one of the more amazing mysteries I've ever contemplated.
(Click on the title to hear this entry)
For the last few years, an up welling of popular support has been growing for the idea of “School Choice.” “Choice,” as proponents have dubbed it, is a vehicle whereby all children, no matter what socio-economic class, will have access to the best schools, the choice schools. Even though Choice plans are varied, they hinge on public funds being given to a parent for the direct and legal purpose of enrolling their child or children in the public or private school of their choice. With the entangling issues of school transportation, school plant budgeting, potential racial segregation, and school staffing in which to deal, Choice is not a very wise idea.
There is a better way. It’s called “Teacher Choice.” The basic premise is that teachers choose the students for their classes based on a free market styled application process. This conceptual plan would give parents that security and “Risk of Choosing” that they so desire while forcing dead-beat parents and teachers to get in the ball game or lose out, a very Republican idea. Here’s how it works.
In early July, the local school must open their doors for student recruitment. Parents will be allowed in to the school to complete application for their child to be placed in a specific teacher’s class for the upcoming school year. Parents will be given a choice of grade-appropriate teachers. Teachers will have a predetermined number of “slots” available to fill with students. Within a week, the teachers will gather and review the applications, looking for potential students for their upcoming classes. Interviews with selected parents/children will then be scheduled by the teachers. After the week long interview window is exhausted, teachers at each grade level/discipline must accept any students that they wish to teach the following fall. The assignment choice belongs to the teacher. Those selected students/parents will also have succeeded in getting their choice!
Those students/parents not selected during the first application round will have an opportunity the following week to reapply with their second choice for teacher. Once again, an interview process will be initiated. Teachers again will have the opportunity to accept any students they are willing to teach during the upcoming school year.
The final step in the process will be the gathering of remaining applicants into a pool of potential entrants at each grade level. The principal will review the pool and hear any appeals from parents or look at ancillary material about the applicants. The principal then will place worthy applicants randomly in grade appropriate classrooms that have space available.
Students not selected by teachers or placed by the principal will be offered remediation to assist them in learning what it takes to be selected for membership at a public school. Assuming parents/students complete the remediation program, they will be invited to reapply for admission at the school or encouraged to accept a voucher which will be equal to half the state share of funding per pupil for use at any accredited (SOL compliant) private school of their choice.
Moving public schools to a Teacher Choice model will reform
It is to a teacher’s advantage to do an excellent job in the classroom so that she will have a more diverse applicant pool the following year. Popular, dynamic teachers will receive a wide selection of qualified applicants in which to choose. These teachers could organize and begin demanding higher pay and better benefits. While poor, undesirable teachers will receive few applicants and be forced to teach those children passed over by the excellent teachers. These misfit teachers will struggle to fill their quota and will be forced by the insanity of it all to quit or be rightly discarded by the administration for not meeting their quota.
There are some important points to remember in order for this program to work. Teachers must attempt to fill their classes from the available applicant pool or the teacher may find that her job no longer exists. For example, a teacher who only accepts five students will be deemed to have too few students and therefore will be laid-off. No teacher may accept more than the originally contracted classroom student quota. If there are more student applicants than positions available, the administration may decide to hire more teaching personnel. Curriculum details must be set at the individual schools following a general state guide or standard with no interference from local, state, or federal authorities regarding how the standards are met. All teachers must agree to the school’s curriculum but must be allowed flexibility to attain curricular goals by their own unique and insightful means.
The idea of public schools as we know them is obsolete, but the ideas of Vouchers and School Choice are fertile and ripe for evangelizing our school systems, with proper modification and balance. A program of Teacher Choice will spur students, parents, and teachers to reach deeper to affect meaningful change and reform across the field of education and society as a whole.
Stay tuned for ancillary information pieces like the Teacher Choice Flow Chart, the Synoptic, Time-Enhanced Outline, Special Information, FAQ, and Choices Within Choices: Options in Implementation.