Who will advocate for teachers who support parental choice?

Travis Pillow

As more students gravitate to charter schools and other options outside traditional school districts, a similar shift is happening among teachers.

Look, for instance, at the growing number of Florida teachers employed by charter schools.

There’s a desire among some education reformers to accelerate this shift by giving teachers the means to start their own charter schools or develop their own courses, which they can offer to students through course access programs.

A new member survey released last week by the Association of American Educators suggests there are educators who are seeking these options. The survey results show the group’s members overwhelmingly support parental choice, from charters to course choice programs and scholarship accounts for special needs students.

Of the teachers surveyed, 97 percent said they support charter schools, the most popular option. Spokeswoman Alexandra Freeze said there were more than 1,000 survey participants among the group’s 20,000 members from around the country.

The organization positions itself as an alternative to teachers unions, catering to reform-minded teachers by offering member perks and advocacy without engaging in collective bargaining. It’s open to teachers from all types of employers, including those, like charters, that typically aren’t unionized.

It has attracted members like Rhonda Lochiatto, who taught in district schools for 15 years before she moved to Reading Edge Academy, a Volusia County charter school where she teaches fourth grade.

She said she wanted the ability to negotiate her own contract outside the strictures of district salary schedules. At her charter school, she’s found teachers have more control over the curriculum and lesson plans.

“You’re still held accountable because of the public funds that come in,” she said. “You still have the same standards that you’re expected to meet, but you have a lot more freedom for how you want to get there.”

She said the American education system should be structured around the needs of individual students, some of whom might not thrive in a seven-hour-per-day classroom environment.

Non-union teachers, she said, still need a collective voice to influence policy debates that affect their profession.

“You have a whole other sector of teachers out there that have a voice, and that voice is reform-minded,” she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the name of the American Association of Educators.

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