Opinion

The future of education is already here

Lisa Keegan Contributor

What if all the desperate problems in American education had already been solved?

Let’s imagine that there were a burgeoning, truly bipartisan movement of parents, teachers, school leaders, political leaders, and regular, run-of-the-mill citizens who have had it with American failure in education and want the nation to know there is a whole sector of success out there, getting the job done for kids, and it’s tired of being treated as though it doesn’t exist.

Imagine no more…welcome to the Education Breakthrough, and the reality of emerging school choice in America.

The next few years may well be the most exciting time in the history of American education, because emerging in the shadows of its moribund and desperately underperforming big sister comes a baby the nation can be proud of.

This is the world of school choice, where parents choose schools that work for their own children and take an active role in their children’s education. These are the nation’s private schools, public charter schools, home schools, online schools, special needs schools — these are schools that are tailored for the students they serve. This is the fastest growing, most efficient and undeniably the most effective sector of American education. This is a sector where being the best truly matters.

In this world, teachers are not patronized and treated like fragile automatons. Instead, they are the fiery engines behind entirely new school models, tailored to the needs of quite specific groups of students. These new teacher-leaders have fought the system valiantly in order to invent schools where students from formerly uneducated families routinely graduate high school and enroll in college. They’ve invented hybrid schools where online learning and master teachers combine to create new and previously unimagined learning communities.

This world has seen thousands of examples of schools that beat every sorry prediction the “experts” make about low-income students and students of color. In the world of school choice, being a teacher is being a leader. And in this emerging world of school choices, parents from all sectors are clamoring to play the role that the country has been told they don’t want to play: being responsible for the education of their children.

Meanwhile, the union bosses who have gained a debilitating degree of influence over “locally controlled” school systems have gradually succeeded in making the obvious taboo.

They object to testing students and publishing results, they object to firing teachers who clearly have no business in a classroom, they dictate the time a teacher “must” spend in a classroom down to the minute, and insist on contract provisions that prevent a principal from even walking into a classroom to evaluate a teacher without giving formal notice.

The traditional district system is simply governed by insanity. Why waste time trying to convince people there is a problem when we have an educated army of people who already agree and are trying desperately to solve it?

Everything about school choice is right for this moment in history: it is the most efficient use of money, because money follows students directly into schools. It allows inspired and inspirational teachers to bring their talents into the education marketplace and overcome the failures of the past, and it welcomes the latest technologies in teaching via sophisticated online technologies into both homes and schools.

American education will not be improved by tinkering at the margins of what we have always done. And it won’t get better by relying on massively complex plans initiated from on high. It gets better when genuine educators are made free to do the work at hand. Now is the time. Let them go.

Lisa Graham Keegan is the President of Education Breakthrough Network. Please learn more and join the revolution in education at the Education Breakthrough Network (www.edbreakthrough.org) and be a part of National School Choice week, January 23 – 29, 2011 (www.schoolchoiceweek.com).