I Teach In a Traditional Public School and I Support School Choice

I’m a traditional public school teacher (and union rep), and I support school choice. As a right-leaning independent with a high concentration of libertarianism running through my veins, I default to political positions that tilt the balance of power toward the individual. Accordingly, I support educational policies that juice up the status of my loving family, my school, my school district, and the state, in that order.

In practice, that means that I want to make it as easy as possible for a local contractor to send his son – a child negotiating the challenges of autism – to a charter school, given its endearing (his word) personal attention to the whole family. It also means I want that charter school to be as unfettered as possible by state policies so that it can keep doing what it’s doing.

Furthermore, if the contractor can use some money from Arizona’s voucher program* to ease his child’s path, I hope he gets it. In fact, regarding his son’s education and well-being, I bet the contractor can create a higher marginal utility for each additional voucher dollar than can the public education system.

Detailed arguments in favor of various school choice policies – including rebuttals to school choice opponents – merit their own posts, which will follow. But here I want to offer two general points.

On the top shelf of our home office closet sit a couple hundred vinyl albums I bought throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Nowadays, the only time I ever take down a record is to use my USB turntable to transfer the music to my computer so that I can upload it to my phone and stream it wirelessly to my car’s speakers.

So the first point is that like someone deciding what to do with decades of adored, but outdated music technology, traditional public school advocates have two choices. They can cling to the old way and attack the taste the public is developing for more options in how the nation’s children are educated; or, they can find and adopt the means to coexist with charter schools, private schools, home-schooling, and vouchers.

If they choose the former, they could well accelerate the death of traditional public schools. Alternatively, choosing the latter could well bring about an updated and sustainable rebirth of traditional public schools.

The second point is that aficionados of political debates know they come in two flavors: hate-filled and reason-filled. And neither conservatives nor liberals have a monopoly on either.

Bitterness, name-calling, mischaracterization, and superiority season hate-based arguments. Served from the right, you hear how the totalitarian left seeks to program our youth’s every thought and action. A favorite target is teachers unions, who with threats of withholding their massive donations, blackmail lawmakers into toeing the line.

Served from the left, you hear how the racist, intolerant right seeks only to make the rich richer, deny educational equity to the poor and marginalized, and exacerbate the hemorrhaging of teachers leaving the profession. A favorite target is dark money secretly funding the campaigns and causes of the dog-whistling fascists.

Arguing from hatred works on the mind like fatty, salty, and sugary fast food works on the body. It tastes good, excites all the pleasure-reward seeking chemicals in our brains, creates an insatiable appetite, and then kills you.

Arguing from reason works like a healthy meal after a hard workout. It tastes good, satisfies, and helps you live longer. The problem is that both the workout and the food prep take effort and time. So, pulling up to a drive-through for a double bacon cheeseburger, large fries, and king-size drink too often carries the day.

Recently, two colleagues illustrated both means of argument in the same conversation. They were lamenting some recent school choice decisions by Arizona’s legislature. I said that I actually supported most school choice policies.

I can’t quote the conversation that followed directly, but I think a fair summary would go something like this: Trying to express the need to adapt to changing times, I asked when was the last time they listened to a vinyl album. That was a bad move because they both said the previous evening. It was pretty funny and we all laughed.

Then, one declared that I must be in favor of teachers losing their pensions, made some other points in that same vein, and walked away.

The other colleague, concerned for our most vulnerable students, asked if I really thought school choice would improve education. I said that I didn’t know, in the long-term, what would happen, nor does anyone else, but I thought the best hope lay in school choice. I related the contractor’s story and tried to express that I wanted the state to enable him to make the decisions for his own vulnerable child.

I mentioned I would be posting a blog with my opinions on the matter, and my colleague looked forward to it.

Well, here it is. I hope my colleagues can find the time to comment with their views and offer any corrections to my recounting of our brief exchange of opposing views.

In the meantime, I’ll be refining my thoughts on vouchers. Stay tuned.

*To find out more about vouchers in Arizona, called Empowerment Scholarships, go here, here, here, here, and here. To read other Stories from School Arizona arguments against the vouchers, go here and here.



Sandy Merz

I grew up in Silver City, New Mexico and went the University of New Mexico, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. After working for the U.S. Geological Survey in remote regions of western New Mexico, I moved to Tucson to attend graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning a Master of Science degree in Hydrogeology. While working as an intern hydrologist for a local county agency, I started doing volunteer work that involved making presentations in schools. At that moment I knew teaching was the path to follow. It must have been a good decision because I’m still on the path after thirty-two years. My teaching certificates are in math and science and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education. After teaching engineering and math and elective classes at the same school in downtown Tucson my whole career, I’ve moved to a different middle school and district on the edge of town to teach math. In addition to full time teaching, I am actively involved in the teacher leadership movement by facilitating National Board candidates, blogging for Stories from School Arizona, and serving on the Arizona K12 Center’s TeacherSolutions team. In January 2017, Raytheon Missile System named me a Leader in Education and I’m a former Arizona Hope Street Fellow.

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