Opinion: Public school teachers champion school choice

Amy Dunlap and Carly De Leeuw
School choice allows parents and teachers to select situations tailored to their own needs, according to Dunlap and De Leeuw.

In an ideal world, all teachers would work at efficiently run, well-funded, innovative schools. In reality, many teachers have experienced learning environments that too often fall short. How can we bridge the gap between what we have and what we need? While there’s no magic solution, expanding educational choice is a starting point for preventing teacher burnout and improving student success.

School choice empowers innovative educators to try new things. Sometimes that means teachers have fresh opportunities to find schools where they can put unique approaches into action rather than treading water to stay afloat each week.

Some teachers need different environments that allow them to reach their fullest potential. And just like teachers, some students need a different pace, educational strategy or environment in order to learn and grow. Having a variety of school options allows parents to select situations tailored to their child’s needs, and teachers to select schools tailored to their teaching style. 

Sometimes, as we both know from personal experience, what stops us from exercising school choice is the skepticism we feel about learning environments we do not fully understand.

For example, Amy has always had a heart for teaching and worked at an inner-city school and two rural schools after college. However, a lack of administrative support and lack of resources for the wide range of student needs in her classrooms left her disillusioned, almost to the point of walking away from education.

The struggles she felt in that environment led her to move beyond her skepticism about online school and to consider working at one.

At Michigan Connections Academy, a tuition-free online public charter school chartered by Ferris State University, she found herself happily surprised by how the innovative learning environment enabled her to provide individualized attention to students and refocus on serving families — the thing that drew her to education in the first place. Seven years in, the online choice still fits her and fits the needs of the students she serves.

And Carly grew up attending Excel Charter Academy, a National Heritage Academies school chartered by Grand Valley State University. Her brother was part of the inaugural class of first graders, and her parents found themselves so impressed with the curriculum and the positive culture that they switched the rest of their elementary-aged students over, as well. 

Now Carly’s returned to Excel, as a teacher, to bring the experiences and approaches that made a difference in her life to others. At Excel, one of the biggest benefits of choice she sees is how it encourages a strong, personal connection between parents and the school. When parents have the freedom to choose a school, it gives them a greater say in how their child is taught. The open line of communication between parents and teachers allows parents to have a voice in their student's education and invites positive collaboration between parents and teachers.

That’s why we’re celebrating National School Choice Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1), which recognizes and celebrates all types of K-12 education. Let’s break through the skepticism we may feel about trying something new in education and be willing to take an honest look at what school choice offers!

Amy Dunlap is the instructional coach and field trip coordinator at Michigan Connections Academy. Carly De Leeuw teaches sixth grade at Excel Charter Academy.