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

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