Want to Retain Teachers? Give Them Choices within the Public School System

James C. Sherlock

We can’t stay with the current public school model in Virginia. Both teachers and kids are leaving in droves. It is broken.

The politics of the standards of learning are fierce. The politics of discipline standards are even worse.

I am going to write about potential solutions to teacher shortages.

I recommend at least four types of public schools. To make that work, we need to do each type right. We currently have three types and are doing none of them right.

Giving teachers choices will, not coincidentally, give parents and their kids the same options, optimized for success.

Everybody wins. Even the teachers unions.

Public in-person schools. I suggest a two-tier model for in-person public schools.

The current one-size-doesn’t-fit-all model is not working out for students, parents or teachers.

This space has pointed out endlessly that some schools are not educating the kids put in their charge. We have also discussed all of the socio-economic issues. But the critical feature of the schools that are failing is students who do not possess personal, academic and/or behavioral discipline and disrupt both those kids who do and the teachers who are trying to teach them.

Every kid should start out in a school that presumes that he or she can learn and will respond with behavior that enables learning. Including attendance. Give them a chance to improve, but some will disappoint over time for a multitude of reasons. This is not about special education. It is about personal agency: attendance, application and behavior.

Offer state funding for alternative schools for kids who simply cannot or will not attend regularly or behave in schools as currently configured.

Call them restorative academies. Maintain the same academic standards but set disciplinary rules and safety provisions that are appropriate. Pay the restorative academy teachers at a higher scale than regular in-person school teachers.

Let kids with both discipline and academic issues that often go together repeat a grade in a restorative academy. It will reduce the humiliation factor of doing that in the same school.

Make it a two-way street.If a kid goes to a restorative school and gets his or her act together, he or she can transfer back.

Importantly, that will greatly reduce suspensions and expulsions from the regular schools, a good cause that has attracted flawed solutions — the disciplinary changes that have brought chaos in many schools.

It will give kids with issues both an unbroken education and a second chance.

I know some jurisdictions have alternative schools that generally fit this description. But the ones I know of are under-used. They are generally offered as last chances for those expelled or who have dropped out.

I am talking about earlier intervention to stop expulsions and drop-outs, and keep kids on track to be successful adults. That is a disproportionate impact worth addressing.

Public charter schools. Virginia has a failed public “charter” school model. School districts must approve charter applications. We have a half dozen of them in the state and only one is successful at offering a better learning experience to a diverse group of kids. Under current Virginia law that requires school board approval of a charter, that will not change. Too much teachers union influence.

I personally think the unions are myopic. How does it help them to oppose charters? They are losing members without them?

There is nothing inherent in a charter school that forbids unions. The unions will have to accept different work rules for charters, but some of their own teachers would welcome those rules.

We need to import a public charter school model that is proven successful in educating poor kids. There are many states with thriving public charter schools. There are excellent model laws that can be adopted in Virginia.

Success Academy, the most accomplished public charter system in America, has offered to mentor such a program in Virginia pro bono.

Public remote schools. Virginia has a successful “remote-teaching-learning program” run by private companies who compete with each other and have been in that business for two decades.

We also have an upstart VDOE-run school that has jumped on the bandwagon with no experience in full-time remote schooling whatever.

Shut down the VDOE experiment and outsource it competitively under contract to one of the companies that knows what they are doing.

Make the existing district option easier. Change the current law that requires individual school districts to contract with providers and award multiple-user, multiple-award contracts at the state level that schools districts can just opt to use.

Like charters, there is nothing inherent in a remote school provider that forbids unions. Only the VDOE state employee remote teachers are forbidden to unionize.

Action. Those are my ideas to change the momentum of losses of students and teachers from Virginia’s public schools.

Those changes will offer options to teachers, parents and students that they do not currently have or that are offered in a demonstrably flawed manner.

If there are better ideas, VDOE should bring them forward to the Governor and the General Assembly.

But do something.