In my previous Op-Ed I discussed how teachers are important to the future of school choice, and proposed “Educational Freedom” as a better slogan to capture the spirit of the movement. Many public teachers have placed their own children in private schools over the years which tells a story in itself. Now, many teachers are leaving the classroom and the industry altogether. The simple truth is that leadership is failing classroom leaders and leaving them vulnerable to an eroding culture that no longer justifies the means.
Many teachers are allies for Educational Freedom because they experience the consequences of failed public school policies and approaches. What are some of these consequences?
1. Extreme Disrespect and Violence. Many teachers have their dignity eroded each day by students who curse and threaten them. In some cases, those threats evolve into violence. Frequently, leaders respond by protecting the student violating the code of conduct rather than the victims of the student’s violation. Teachers develop thick skins. Many tell you the most troubling aspect of lowered student accountability is the effect on children who do not display adverse behaviors. In the name of being trauma-informed, we allow students to traumatize others at school.
2. Low Expectations. Teachers feel pressed to ignore poor performance because grades can harm the student’s self-esteem. KDE contributes to the problem by punishing schools if their graduation rates aren’t stellar, so schools push students through to a diploma without any merit. We do this while simultaneously browbeating teachers to get better test scores. It’s a system that makes no sense. Administrators keep lowering the behavior and work expectations and asking teachers for better results.
3. Corrupted Leadership. According to the think-tank American Experiment, the number of district administrators in U.S. public schools grew 87.6 percent between 2000 and 2019, while the student population increased by 7.6 percent and teacher numbers rose 8.7 percent. District-level jobs get cushier, while teachers hear the lie that there aren’t enough resources available to make their job more effective. Additionally, districts spend massive amounts on worthless professional development and trendy, expensive programs. Superintendents might fly to a conference on the beach, spend a week having a great vacation on the taxpayers’ dime, and return with ten more irrelevant tasks for teachers and principals to complete. If the initiative doesn’t work, it’s not the superintendent’s fault. It’s always the teachers.
4. Lack of Courage and Consistency. Too often, administrators refuse to support teachers during stressful conflicts, even if it is the right thing to do. Teachers are more often than not hung out to dry when parents make unreasonable requests, like letting their child turn in extremely late work or get a free pass on bad behavior.
5. Lack of Voice. Like parents, teachers do not feel heard or seen. Even though they can serve on School-Based Decision-Making councils or complete twenty different culture surveys yearly, schools have not improved. Sure, large unions have clout, but their goal is seldom better schools—it is adult convenience. Leaders ignore regular, hard-working teachers. When they do listen, the change process is slow. School Boards act as political organizations that make decisions based on special interest group approval.
This issue is no longer just about charter schools vs. public schools. Educational Freedom is about better schools, options for diverse learners, and ensuring each child and each teacher is valued and respected so they can learn and work where they want to be. Rarely is there a one size fits all solution. Educational Freedom allows students, families, and teachers to experience learning in the place most congruent to their needs, values, and dreams.
Many influential voices claim vouchers harm public schools and only serve wealthy families. That assertion isn’t true. Many families sacrifice much to give their children what affluent parents sometimes take for granted—a safe, orderly school focused on empowering students with the skills they need in the future. Whether it’s vouchers or other mechanisms, all families deserve a choice. They will choose great teachers if great teachers speak now. If teachers join with advocates for educational freedom, children and their families will benefit, as will public school quality. We need you, the exceptional teacher, to secure a brighter future in Kentucky.
Randy Adams is the pastor of Ballard Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, KY. He has worked in the education arena for over 10 years. He was previously a principal in the Anderson County School district.