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It is no secret that a majority of public school teachers in America classify themselves as liberals, and it is also not a secret that Republicans are for school choice and vouchers. In that case, I’m quite the oxymoron. I’m a future public school teacher and the daughter of two teachers, and all three of us identify as conservatives. Because of this, I’ve seen first hand how conservative public school teachers struggle to support their party’s platform on education when, sometimes, it feels like they don’t support their profession in return. Vouchers and school choice are great, but what about the public school system?
Take the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, for example. She is a true champion of school choice, charter schools, and vouchers, which is seen as a win for the conservative movement. Mrs. DeVos understands private schools because she graduated from one, sent to her kids to one, and continually works to ensure that students will have the option to leave public schools. However, what does this say about the commitment that conservatives have to public school education?
School choice is not going to eliminate every public school or the need for public school teachers. Therefore, the problems that face public schools will only intensify once school voucher programs begin taking tax dollars out of the public school budget. Schools are plagued with finance issues. They already struggle to fund all of the essential programs that are needed to run their schools. The necessary programs who need funding often assist schools that are primarily made up of students from low-income families, provide education for students with special needs, and ensure that teachers have the tools that they need to give their students an adequate education. By taking the funding out of schools, we, as Republicans, are not supporting public school teachers.
Another issue facing public schools is accountability. There is a real push for teachers to be held accountable. Currently, we measure teacher success by how well students do on their state standardized tests. Teachers’ success is completely reliant upon the success of others, their students. The standardized tests that students take are based off of the Common Core Standards, or other state standards. Although the Common Core standards were developed by people with backgrounds in education, politicians adopted them for their states. In most cases, some of the standards are not developmentally appropriate. Children are left frustrated and teachers become stressed out. Where were the teachers’ say in the adoption of these standards? Maybe this is why teachers in certain states feel like they need unions.
If politicians don’t advocate for them, who will? Don’t get me wrong, teachers’ unions make it hard to fire ineffective teachers and they spend millions of dollars to ensure that their political interests are protected. However, teachers have to be represented when policy decisions are made on their behalf. They are the ones fighting day in and day out for the success of their students. By failing to address discrepancies in accountability measurements, Republicans are not supporting public school teachers.
The Republicans have a great opportunity to advocate for public school success and teachers. Free up public schools from some of the bureaucracy created by politicians. Make it easier to get rid of ineffective teachers. Increase representation of teachers when making critical education policy decisions. Most of all, let them know that they are supported. Right now, it is kind of hard to be a conservative teacher because the very department that is supposed to support us is about to be run by a woman who has never set foot in a public school classroom as a teacher or administrator.
While she is a very successful philanthropist, she has not put in extra hours tutoring students to ensure that they are successful in school and on their standardized test. She does not know what it is like to have students in tears after hearing that they failed after doing their very best.
I know that the Republican party is extremely capable of correcting the issues facing public schools today. In my opinion, we have to do better than choosing to divert money away from public schools through school choice. We have some of the best minds in the nation. I know that we can use them to the benefit of teachers and students nationwide. My public school education shaped me into a well-rounded, successful individual, and for that I am forever grateful. Next time you think about why many of our nation’s school teachers are liberal, I would challenge you to think about the last time you heard Republicans supporting the good work that teachers in public schools are doing.
*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the view of the FFL organization.*