Elevating the Education Profession in America
Monday, September 16, 2019
September 17, 2019
I am writing to highlight the fundamental importance of school choice in serving America’s incredible diversity and elevating the teaching profession.
In August, my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary by attending a concert at Red Rocks Park. As we pulled up, we noticed early-arriving Coloradans sitting on camp chairs with local microbrews and climbing the trails in hiking gear. Aging bikers on shiny Harleys sped by us in leathers with arm-length tattoos.
During the hike up to the amphitheater, we walked with visitors from the East Coast, Texas, Florida and California excitedly anticipating what would become their first concert experience at Red Rocks. Young professionals coming straight from work streamed up the ramparts in snappy business attire alongside college students in sundresses and cargo shorts alongside glassy-eyed partiers who looked like they may not have slept the night before.
Later – after K.T. Tunstall finished her opening set and the Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage to play bluegrass – I made a trip to get food and drinks at the concession stands. Families with infants and young children lounged in the shade of the stone-lined boxes under the trees stage-side. Thousands of music lovers of literally every ethnicity, whether solo or accompanied by others, talked with each other on the steps of the great amphitheater.
As I returned to our seats in the middle of the concert floor, I even weaved by a few young couples dressed like ranchers – cowboy boots, hats, shiny belts and denim – sitting next to groups of middle-aged concert junkies with black shirts advertising Zeppelin, Metallica and the Stones.
In the face of such 21st Century American realities, it is very odd that we are still hanging onto a uniform, standardized, heavily regulated system of public schools. Our colleges and universities still put aspiring educators through the same required sequence of “general education” classes. Most of our neighborhood schools still offer a calendar, school day, classroom configuration, and instructional approach that closely resembles what I experienced as a 1st grader in 1981.
Such a system simply does not, and cannot, readily adapt to the many different educational, cultural and communal expectations and needs of our rising generation. Even more strangely, the outspoken critics of school choice, most of whom are allied with the national education unions, want to continue to impose the same one-size-fits-all experience on low-income families while families with financial means actively choose from among a wide array of different models and settings.
When I visit the 262 public charter schools throughout the state of Colorado, I experience a cross-section of distinct, high-quality schools that cater to students, families and communities with many different needs, preferences, values and priorities. I talk with empowered educators constantly adapting their thinking and practice to respond to students and parents in thoughtful, targeted ways. I experience what project-based, bilingual, Core Knowledge, STEM, Expeditionary Learning, IB, Direct Instruction, language immersion, Waldorf and other specialized approaches to instruction look like in schools freed from prescriptive regulations. Teachers are passionate about how they teach and free to spread their wings. Students are excited learners.
Educators are the musicians of public education. We don’t ask every musician to play in a symphony, sing in a choir, or headline a rock band. They get to choose among thousands of music genres and specialize in hundreds of instruments. When we encourage them to master the fundamentals, hone their craft, and fully express their hearts and minds in what they do – akin to K.T. Tunstall or the Yonder Mountain String Band or the John Butler Trio – they can deliver concerts that achieve the elevated experience on display at Red Rocks nearly every day of the summer.
We must continue to give our professional educators the power to lead. We must continue to trust that, when they have the freedom, encouragement and resources to implement their vision, they can do a far better job serving students, families and communities. There continues to be a vital role for districts to play in ensuring that public schools meet basic safety, health and educational requirements and provide equitable access to all students. But we cannot educate the diverse American populace that we have today without ensuring that all families and learners – no matter the income – have ready access to a wide variety of meaningful, high-quality choices.
Benjamin J. Lindquist