We consistently hear from the education community that there is a teacher shortage, that too few college students are getting their education degrees, and that more money will not only solve this problem, but ensure greater teacher quality.

I’m not so sure.  It may be that our public schools are simply not creating a quality working environment for teachers or students.

Today the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation released some research based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Education that raises many questions about our teacher’s satisfaction with their working environments and careers.

Some notable facts from the survey:

  • 62% of private school teachers want to remain teaching as long as they are able compared to 44% in public schools

  • 60% of private school teachers have control of selecting content, topics and skills taught in the classroom compared to 36% in public schools

  • 28% of public school teachers strongly agree that routine duties and paperwork interfere with their job compared to just 9% of private school teachers

  • Private school teachers are more likely to teach in urban environments (39% v. 29%) while public school teachers are more likely to teach in rural environments (22% v. 11%).

  • 51% of private school teachers are satisfied with their salaries versus 46% of public school teachers.  This is notable considering public school teachers make 30-50% more than private school teachers.

  • 12% of public school teachers report that physical conflicts among students occur EVERYDAY with only 2% of private school teachers reporting daily physical conflict between students.

  • Public school teachers are almost twice as likely to agree that they sometimes feel it is a waste of time to try to do their best as a teacher (17% v. 9%).  You are all but guaranteed to have someone in this category teaching your child before high school if you send your child to public school!

Although any number of questions are raised by this research, here are a few I had after my first run-through of the findings:

First, what are teachers’ union dues paying for?  What good is collective bargaining and a few more bucks if you aren’t able to teach in a healthy learning environment?  What good are unions if 1 in 8 teachers in public schools basically thinks their time at school is wasted time?

Second, what’s in it for the administration and teacher’s unions to fight for an end to the current abysmal working conditions in public schools when their main considerations are political imperatives?  The public school establishment rarely asks “what do we need to best educate kids?”  Instead they react to the whims of policy makers.  Only when parental pressure to deliver a great educational product is the driving force for change will positive change actually happen.  And I’d suggest that only Universal School Choice can create that positive market pressure.  86% of private school teachers agree that they get support from parents versus 61% of public school teachers?  87% of public school teachers said a lack of parental involvement was a problem versus 44% of private school teachers.  Why?  Public school parents largely feel helpless to influence the way their children are educated or affect the environment their child learns in…because they ARE helpless.  Public schools operate no different than any other government bureaucracy!  Private schools are run as an education service or ministry!  Until private schools are giving access to the greater public, what incentive will public schools EVER have to improve?!

Finally, how long will it take Americans to wake up and see that annual increases in education appropriations for a declining number of students nationwide have resulted in HUGE increases in per pupil spending – for what?!  Declining academic achievement and and embarrassing decline in competitiveness with other developed nations.  Money doesn’t educate children!

Critics of School Choice may point out that the vast majority of private schools are religious in nature so the teachers have a mission they are vested in and, thereby, can put up with lower pay and still be satisfied with their work.  The obvious question in return is:  why aren’t public school teachers bought into a mission?  Where is the mission and vision of public education and why aren’t teachers motivated to work toward these common goals?

Critics of School Choice may also point out that private schools are more selective of their students so their teachers don’t have the same discipline problems public schools students have.  In some cases this is true.  However, in cases where urban private schools have accepted children on vouchers via a lottery system, those randomly assigned children still greatly outperformed their public school counterparts and school violence and bullying were significantly less than in neighboring public schools.  Also, public schools have the tools to select their students as well:  open enrollment, suspension, expulsion, alternative schools, etc.  Why aren’t they utilizing these more?

I feel for public school apologists and the leaders of our nations teacher’s unions.  They are left defending a system with abysmal working conditions for teachers.  They insist on lobbying for and spending more money each year only to produce graduates increasingly ill-prepared for college and the workforce.  All this is happening while private schools not only create working environments conducive to teacher satisfaction, but produce graduates fully prepared to enter post-secondary institutions.

School Choice’s time has come.  The single-vehicle public school experiment has failed.  Time to offer every parent in America public, private, charter, virtual, and home-school options regardless of their income or their address.  If we couple Universal School Choice with genuine alternative teacher certification from organizations like ABCTE and a return to practices that promote classroom discipline in public schools; we could once again compete with the best in the world.

Unfortunately it is usually those public policy makers and public school advocates with the means to make choices regarding their child’s education that are hell-bent on opposing that same choice for the rest of us.

Cross-posted at Goranson Family Blog

5 comments
  1. Thanks for the support, Eric. I am a teacher whose principal is consistently applying the contract inconsistently. She is penalizing some of our best teachers. She lies to her staff to play one group off another. She asks for input but then will not consider any portion of it. And considering it is her first year at our school, one might think she would be eager to gain knowledge of how our school works from the teachers who have been there for decades.
    She was put here by our new Superintendent, Papa Roach, to whip us into shape, although we are the best school in the district with one of the best staffs I've ever worked with (and I've worked at 6 different schools). Our district office sees us as a group of slackers who never work to the contract and are always looking for a way to work less. Our union has been trying for 3 months to set an appointment with our principal for us to air our grievances, Papa Roach told her to cancel it and refuse to meet with us. Two years ago he granted himself a 10% raise, the second year on the job, while denying our teachers a 3% raise.
    With corrupted leadership like this it is no wonder that the best staff on earth has lost all motivation to go above and beyond their contract in providing services to kids without being paid for it (some estimates are at over $250,000 every year in unpaid work above and beyond the contract at our school alone).
    And the corruption only goes higher with the school board who is all for Papa Roach!
    And it frustrates us to no end. But when that bell rings at 7:45 and those kids pile in our rooms, it all goes away and we remember why we do it, and we know that at least from the students and their parents we are respected, revered even, and appreciated to no end.

  2. Amazing how applying a business model makes for better results than applying gov't, isn't it?

    It might also help that the private school teachers can be fired, and that no private school would risk taking on a teacher that's a known child sex predator. (as opposed to the LA school district)

    Shoot, one of the best English teachers I've ever met was basically forced out of teaching early because the “standardized test” was so frankly *wrong* and because he's a tough teacher. The parents of kids in sports didn't like their babies being forced to actually make up the work they missed for football.

  3. Eric,

    Good stuff.

    My wife teaches in Watts, CA (if you're not familiar, it is famous for being the location of the Watts Riots in the 60's, and is inner-city, urban, ghetto Los Angeles). Her school is a charter school, which is sort of a cross between a private and public. It is privately owned, so is not a part of the abysmal LAUSD, but it is public in that any student can go. The charter district is called Greendot.

    In any case, my wife really hates the idea of working at a private school, just because as a Christian she feels a sense of mission herself to urban areas where students are consistently receiving poor education.

    But it's interesting that you mention that bit about mission in the private vs. public debate. Britt has told me a number of times that the administration at her school and in Teach for America (which is how she got into teaching) is constantly harping on getting students to be good, but without ever being able to explain what exactly that means, and why exactly one should do it.

    Seriously: why bother being good? It's easier and often more lucrative for these kids to be bad. What's the point? There is no foundation. No mission. And this is equally true of the teachers, many of whom are straight out of college and also teaching through Teach for America.

    You might be interested in her blog where she reflects on a lot of this stuff. She's a dang good writer too, so I recommend it.

  4. Andrew – thank you. I perused your wife's blog and laughed out loud. I'm glad someone else shares my disdain of transcendentalists. I bookmarked her blog and will check in regularly.

    She's really fighting the good fight. And, although I love my Christian Schools, I have twice the respect for Christ-followers who teach in inner-city private and charter schools. They frequently make less with less job security but have the freedom to really make a difference – in themselves and for the kingdom.

  5. Amen!
    I'm a former public school teacher who now works in early intervention. My aunt has taught school for 20+ years (she was teacher of the year in our state one year). Right now, I put a great deal of the blame for schools on No Child Left Behind and the excess of standardized testing. Where my aunt teaches, they spend more time testing the kids than they do actually teaching them. There's also no room for creativity on the part of the teachers- lessons are standardized and teachers have a “script” that they're supposed to follow to the letter.

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