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Boon all around

School choice aids teachers by MICHELE LINCH SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | January 30, 2014 at 4:23 a.m.

School choice in Arkansas is usually discussed in the context of providing children with alternative schooling options. Sometimes overlooked, however, is the benefit school choice also brings to teachers.

The fact is, every educational setting is a choice. Traditional public, conversion charter, career tech center, open-enrollment charter, virtual and private schools-all these represent school choice in action, and all are serving the needs of students, teachers and communities.

In adapting to a profession fit for 2014, teachers are taking advantage of these new teaching environments like never before. The school-choice movement has meant truly positive advancement of the teaching profession. Educators are empowered to make their own decisions in deciding when, where and how to teach kids with school-choice options in play. The flexibility, autonomy and opportunity associated with choice are unmatched.

Based on this new wave, we will live in a world where education will not only address the uniqueness of students, but of teachers.

And why shouldn’t it? Both have specific interests, needs, strengths and weaknesses. Why not customize a child’s educational experience to the teacher’s professional experience and expressed interests?

As part of my work leading Arkansas’ professional educators’ organization, the Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA), I travel the state serving teachers and other education professionals in a variety of education settings. I see firsthand the benefits of choice for teachers and students. Our innovative schools are producing results for our students, and our teachers are able to exercise greater control over their careers.

In my travels I’ve visited excellent public conversion and open-enrollment charter schools that serve students with seasoned professionals from the private sector as their educators. Similarly, I see experienced craftsmen working with students in career and tech schools. Online educators also experience tremendous advancement through cyber schools.

These are real teachers working with our students through avenues of choice.

Understanding the benefits of choice is truly the key to public support in Arkansas. Some try and promulgate a myth that teachers are not in favor of choice policies that allow unique educational opportunities, yet thousands of teachers across the United States support this new direction and are teaching in choice schools every day. According to the membership survey of the Association of American Educators, ASTA’s national partner, teachers are onboard with many school-choice policies.

Specifically, 76 percent of teachers agree with a sweeping virtual-education law in Utah that allows students online access to a variety of courses. Another 78 percent of those surveyed agree with an Oklahoma law that provides tax credits to individuals and corporations that donate to organizations providing “opportunity scholarships” to students in failing schools.

There is an understanding among teachers that options for students will allow teachers to meet their own professional goals. Educators are rising to the occasion and seeing education change for the better in many ways.

Part of the reason school-choice settings have a stigma attached to them is that people are unwilling to take the time to find out the facts. Many assume that magnet and charter schools are for select groups of students, for example.

I have personally found that success is not limited to the school type, but is achieved by all who care to serve and make a difference in the lives of children and their families.

One district superintendent recently explained to me, “Choice and competition is good for our county.We constantly ask ourselves, ‘what can we do to better serve our students?’ And then we do it. It’s simply a customer-service mindset.”

This week, as we recognize National School Choice Week, let us celebrate all educators and their professional career choices here in Arkansas. Let’s also look forward and embrace the possibilities that tomorrow’s education can provide.

Teachers have always helped shape the future, and will continue to do so no matter where they teach.

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Dr. Michele Linch is the executive director of the Arkansas State Teachers Association. She resides in Little Rock.

Editorial, Pages 15 on 01/30/2014

Print Headline: Boon all around

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