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Teachers: The Unsung Heroes of School Choice

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

School choice is a hot topic in education today. Whether headlines point to students excelling in public charter schools or in innovative virtual schools, students and teachers are taking advantage of the options and flexibility provided by new school choice policies being introduced around the nation.

The fact is every educational setting is a choice. Public schools, public charter schools, private and parochial schools, and virtual schools – these are all choices in action. As we adapt to a dramatically changing profession in the 21st-century, teachers across the country are embracing these new teaching environments, with tens of thousands of teachers educating nearly 8 million children throughout the United States.

This emerging school choice movement has meant positive advancement for American education and teachers. Truly professional teachers should be given credit for their role in supporting reform. In sharing their talents in these new and exciting education environments, teachers are helping to create a brighter future for students who need personalized options.

While the protectors of the status quo would have you believe that school choice is controversial, the movement is truly a sign of progress. The majority of Americans ardently want choice in everything from health care to groceries. Why should education be any different?

As educators, we know a one-size-fits-all system does little to address the unique needs of all our students. Students learn different, just as teachers have their own strengths and weaknesses. In adapting to system of choice, professional educators are realizing that these advances are not only meeting needs for students, but also revolutionizing the teaching profession. And adapt we must, or we will be run over by the inexorable and needed changes on the way.

These changes will provide enormous opportunity for the next generation of educators —flexibility, autonomy, creativity, and personal accountability. School choice will advance the profession in ways we could only dream of just a generation ago. Thousands of teachers across the United States are supporting this new direction and are teaching in choice schools every day. According to a membership survey of the Association of American Educators (AAE), the nonunion teachers organization that I lead, teachers are onboard with many school choice policies.

Specifically, 69 percent of survey respondents support the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) that awards need-based annual scholarships to eligible District children. The program has received notable bipartisan support in Congress and is considered one of the most prominent choice systems in the country.

Similarly in Indiana, AAE members agree with a policy that provides a tax deduction for individuals who make educational expenditures on behalf of their dependent children. In Arizona, another 74 percent of surveyed teachers support that state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, enabling parents of special needs children the choice to spend state funding and on a school environment that meets their needs.

The incontrovertible fact is students learn best when taught by an excellent teacher. Nationwide statistics show a positive correlation between school choice and graduation rates. We shouldn’t discourage talented professionals from leaving the classroom because they can’t conform to the constricts of a traditional classroom setting. Online options, blended learning, and nontraditional charter schools can offer flexibility for some of our best educators and help attract new innovators to the profession.

Our focus should be on matching talented professionals with positions that best use their talents and recognizing educators for their contributions to education reform.

This week is National School Choice Week and as a truly professional educators organization, the Association of American Educators is celebrating all dedicated teachers and promoting professional choices. Teachers need choices too! The school choice movement offers advancement and opportunity for teachers nationwide.

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