This is the latest post in our ongoing series on the center-left roots of school choice.
Four years ago, Angela Kennedy, a teacher in Orlando, Fla., actualized an idea once prominently advanced by school choice supporters on the left. After 14 years of mounting frustration with public schools, she started her own private school.
Today, thanks to more than 70 school choice scholarships, Kennedy’s faith-based Deeper Root Academy is a high-quality haven for low-income and predominantly black students. It’s also another concrete example of what’s possible, for teachers and principals, when school choice expands.
What better time than now to remind people.
This spring, progressives across America cheered teachers striking for more money, and it’s a safe bet the striking and cheering will resume this fall. But for decades, other progressives have urged teachers to embrace school choice so they can have more power.
In 1970, the War on Poverty liberals who led a school voucher experiment for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity stressed that choice would allow teachers to create their own schools, free from soul-sucking bureaucracies. “Given freedom and financial resources,” they wrote, “educators might create large numbers of schools that are significantly different from those now operated by local boards of education.”
In 1973, pioneering choice advocate (and former UMass ed school dean) Mario Fantini posited that expanding options would liberate “the imprisoned teacher.” “Obviously, we need to open up educational alternatives within the framework of public education, not by chance but by choice,” he wrote in “Public Schools of Choice” (his emphasis, not mine). “Teachers (and there are a significant number who feel imprisoned by the structure itself) ought to be encouraged to develop alternative forms that are congruent with their own styles of teaching and can offer them greater professional satisfaction and to increase significantly the chances for educational productivity.”
In 1978, Berkeley law professors Jack Coons and Stephen Sugarman opened “Education by Choice” with a story about a fictional student and a fictional teacher. The student is keen on art and bored at her school. But there isn’t an easily accessible option within the district, and her parents can’t afford private school. Meanwhile, the teacher has developed an arts-based curriculum, but can’t persuade the district to give it a shot. Starting his own school is out of the question because “he prefers not to run an elitist school” and no state-supported scholarships exist to promote equity and diversity.
The Berkeleyites’ solution: Give teachers power to create schools. Give parents power to choose them, or not.