Roadblocks to Educational Choice
“Retired Teacher Reveals He was Illiterate Until Age 48.” It’s a true story! This headline is the title of an article that tells how John Corcoran graduated from both high school and college, and then taught high school for 17 years without being able to read, write or spell. 
Nearly everyone agrees that our public education system is deeply flawed, but there’s little agreement on exactly how to fix it. This is the focus of ongoing debate, discussion and cries of alarm. “A Nation At Risk,”  the now famous education reform report called the U.S. “At Risk” because of an educational system that has, in many ways, failed our students.
There is a long list of recognized problems in schools – too much focus on standardized tests; teachers teaching to the tests; a boring, fill-in-the-blank approach to teaching; the removal of the arts. But for teachers hemmed in by mandated curriculum, a yearly schedule of required testing and burdensome federal education legislation, innovation isn’t usually practical.
In search of something better, groups of parents, along with teachers and community leaders, have carved an alternative out of the education landscape. Charter schools, which receive public money, are free from some of the rules that apply to traditional public schools. In return, they are accountable for results, but they are also free to try new things and to pursue new ideas for how to best teach kids. 
There are successful charter schools all across the U.S. According to the Center for Education Reform, today there are over 5,400 charter schools operating in 41 states and the District of Columbia. 
The Chicago International School, The Nationwide Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Schools, The Pacific Collegiate School in California – these charter schools all have students that regularly outperform their peers in traditional public schools. These are schools that may even be right in the same neighborhood!
So what’s the problem? Charter schools, despite offering an innovative option for students, often meet with roadblocks thrown in their way by teachers’ unions and public school districts.
In 2008, Georgia passed a law that gave a state commission the power to approve and fund startup charter schools. Seven large school districts challenged the law, and earlier this year the Georgia Supreme Court sided with the school districts and said that the law was unconstitutional. The court decision claimed that charter schools did not fit the Constitution’s definition of “special schools” that receive funding, only counting schools that serve the disabled as “special schools”. The Georgia Association of Educators Union celebrated the decision!  This type of legal gymnastics has played out in other states as well, creating obstacles to school choice.
Simply put, public school districts and teachers’ unions don’t want charter schools. Why? The majority of charter school teachers are not unionized.  The charter schools get money that would otherwise go to the traditional public schools, and by that, the teachers’ union. So where there is a charter school, there are likely to be teachers not paying dues to the unions’ treasure chest.
Legitimate collective bargaining is not what’s at issue here. The problem is when the activity of school districts and teachers’ unions block educational choices. Do you think that’s how our nation’s educational system should be controlled? Should charter schools, which have been called the most “successful education reform in recent decades”  be free to try new educational approaches and tactics, or should the unions and educational bureaucrats limit our students?
The story of the teacher who couldn’t read has a happy ending. John Corcoran went to a tutor at age 48 and learned to read. He also became an advocate for literacy and education. Today there are still kids who are struggling and failing in our schools, and unfortunately there are unions and school districts that fight against the very reforms that could bring solutions.
In the 2012 elections, we must look for candidates who know that teachers’ unions are not motivated by what’s best for the students. Get involved in your area and look for the candidates who will support educational innovation and parents having a choice in where they send their children to school.
Our kids are worth it!