San Antonio’s public schools are far from perfect. Everyone knows that, even those who support them. One San Antonio Independent School District teacher recently wrote, “We should move boldly to transform them into the schools our children deserve.”
But they don’t.
Sometimes being bold means doing what teachers unions won’t like – handing over underperforming schools to leaders with a proven record of turning them into exemplary schools, for example. SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez and his board made the right choice for Stewart Elementary when they opted to turn it over to New York-based charter operator Democracy Prep rather than having the State take it over and possibly close it.
So what if Democracy Prep is a charter school? So what if the company is from New York? As long as its leaders can fix something that has been broken for five long years, why not let them try?
While it’s true that Stewart was starting to turn the corner this year, it was a case of too little too late. Too bad. Had it been turned around sooner, this whole mess could have been avoided.
This fight is not about teachers losing their jobs. There are more openings for teachers than there are teachers to fill them. Teachers who want to remain teachers can continue to teach. Have you seen the big billboards all over town imploring, “Want to teach? When can you start?”
Charter schools are not the bad guys. They exist only because parents want choices. Why else would they keep growing at record levels? Why else would there be thousands of parents on waiting lists hoping the next charter school opens in their neighborhood?
Charter schools are funded by the State much the same as public schools. The big difference is that they receive less state money but are expected to do more with it. In most cases, they do. When they don’t, the State shuts them down just as it would any other school.
The real reason teachers unions are up in arms is one dreaded word: competition. This is a natural fear for them. Those who have never faced competition, fear it. Those who have always known it, embrace it.
In the past, all public schools had to do to exist was exist. If you lived in a certain district, your child went to a certain school. If you didn’t like the school, you could opt for a private one, usually a parochial school, and pay the tuition while you paid school taxes, too. The unions were okay with that. They didn’t lose a dime of dues. Now, every time they lose a teacher to a charter school, they lose teachers dues.
Competition is not to be feared. It’s nothing new to education. It’s where public and private universities have lived since the invention of higher education. They don’t mind competing because fighting for every student they enroll is the only world they’ve ever known. Soon, it’ll be the same way for all pre-K to 12th-grade schools.
Teachers unions will eventually get used to working in a competitive world. But first, they must realize it’s here stay.
In the meantime, teachers unions might be wise to use their revenue from dues to help better train teachers instead of using that precious money to buy off lawmakers who keep voting for the status quo.
From now on, parents will be calling the shots – not the unions – because they realize that voting to keep things as they are is the same as voting for mediocrity and low expectations. The status quo is under attack.
Parents want choices now. Shouldn’t public schools be one of those choices, too?