Morning Bell: Do You Wish You Could Choose Your Child’s Teacher?

Jennifer Marshall /

Back-to-school season can be emotional for parents.  As Johnny enters a new grade level, it’s one more reminder that not too many Septembers from now it will be time to help him move into the dorm, not just pack his lunch for the day. Parents can, understandably, feel a little sentimental and sad about their children growing up too fast.

But that emotion pales in comparison to the angst parents feel about who their child’s teacher will be. A good teacher can make a dramatic difference in a child’s life. A good teacher begins to open the world’s wide horizon for a child, shedding light into the child’s small sphere of reference. A good teacher grounds a child in solid knowledge and builds understanding, equipping him with the tools of learning. A good teacher builds a child’s confidence to expand his learning and explore his world.

On the other hand, an apathetic teacher who takes little interest in her subject or her students’ lives can stifle children’s innate spirit of learning—or worse, create an aversion to education. The course of a student’s life often depends largely on his teachers.

Yet, as important as this their influence is, most Americans have no say in choosing their child’s teacher. Parents don’t have a choice when it comes to their child’s education, despite the fact their tax dollars pay for the public schools, and their children’s futures are at stake.

Parents in Los Angeles are getting some new transparency about their children’s schools this week.  The Los Angeles Times recently released the names of 6,000 elementary teachers and data showing how much each teacher’s students improved on standardized tests.

The strong message is that public schools and their teachers should be accountable to parents and other taxpayers. That’s a stark contrast to the status quo, in which education policy is most responsive to decisions of those who hold the government purse strings and the power of union collective bargaining.

The L.A. Times’ release of the evaluation data has education unions fuming.  Their ostensible criticism is that the method used to compare the scores is questionable.  But their historical reluctance to embrace accountability to parents suggests other motives.

Measures like those in L.A. that increase transparency and accountability to parents are positive developments and welcome alternatives to initiatives like the national standards that the Obama administration is promoting. With hardly any public debate, states are signing on to the plan that will make schools more accountable to bureaucrats in Washington, and decrease their responsiveness to the parents whose children they teach.

Ultimately policy needs to go beyond just informing parents about their children’s education. Parents should have the power to act on that information by choosing a school that meets their child’s unique learning needs. That’s the ultimate educational accountability.

That’s why it’s so disappointing that the Obama administration and Congress have failed to support the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to about 1,500 low-income students in the nation’s capital. Unions oppose the scholarships, even though they help needy children escape ineffective and often dangerous schools in Washington, D.C.

We can and should expect more of American education. Empowering parents is the most pressing education reform. Just ask the millions of American waving goodbye to their children this morning, hoping they’ll hear this afternoon how much they’ve learned from their teachers today.

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