Category Archives: School Choice

Atlanta looks to charter schools to manage its worst schools

If Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) passes this year, almost half the schools in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) could be taken over. The school district would in turn lose almost half its state and local funding.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is circling the wagons and last year hired Deal education adviser Erin Hames, an architect of the Opportunity District. The district’s plan to keep the money is to beat the OSD to the punch and turn the failing schools into charters under the governance of APS.

Molly Bloom with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Atlanta school district leaders could put some of the city’s worst schools under the management of charter school groups before the state does it for them.

Just before the December vacation, Atlanta Public Schools formally announced it was seeking organizations like charter school operators, local nonprofits and companies that run charter schools to improve the performance of the schools that could fall under Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, if voters approve the plan this fall.

If the plan is approved, the state would be able take over a limited number of Georgia’s lowest performing schools and close them, run them or convert them to charter schools.

Atlanta’s proposal comes even though some members of a parent advisory committee on how to turn around Atlanta schools said they didn’t support bringing in charter school operators.

Atlanta schools need to improve quickly, Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan said. “If that means doing some controversial things, then that means we have to do it.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said he was “deeply skeptical” of the Atlanta’s proposal to bring in charter groups.

“One would hope that the superintendent would have a clear view and vision of how to solve the problem instead of farming it out to an outside company or entity,” he said.

The school board is scheduled to consider hiring groups in March. Anyone hired could begin work as early as this fall.


Comments Off on Atlanta looks to charter schools to manage its worst schools

Filed under Atlanta Public Schools, Opportunity School District, School Choice

Parts of Clarke County schools’ charter application ‘not possible,’ state says

The GaDOE has traditionally assumed an advisory role to local school districts. Rogue school districts, no accountability and the lack of autonomy for high performing schools and communities are a few of the reasons behind the push to require school districts to choose a Flexibility Option.  The Flexibility Option will allow school districts to keep their waivers in return for more accountability to the state.  If a school district’s flexibility option petition is denied, they will lose all waivers. The “Big Four” waivers are state class size, expenditure control, certification, or salary schedule requirements.

The GaDOE Charter Office said they will also not approve school districts that are not good charter partners. Clarke County School District is not inclined to give its high performing career academy any autonomy. In return, the GaDOE is not inclined to approve Clarke County’s flexibility option petition.

Lee Shearer with Online Athens goes into more detail …

Online Athens

Officials in the state Department of Education say parts of the Clarke County School District’s plans to become a charter district are “not possible.”

The “not possible” items are three waivers from policies the state requires public school systems to follow, including one that’s a kind of centerpiece for the school district’s plans — assessing teacher competence by measuring student progress in literacy rather than a homegrown system of “Student Learning Objective” tests, or SLOs.

Clarke school officials also asked for waivers from state limits on workplace learning and dual college-high school enrollment, and on rules governing special education for students with disabilities.

Clarke school administrators learned of state officials’ objections in a four-page Dec. 3 letter from Marissa Key, the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter System Petition Manager.

Key’s letter also asked school officials for more explanation of the waiver requests, including how they would improve student achievement. It also says the school system’s career academy should operate independently of the school board, Clarke County School Superintendent Phil Lanoue told the Clarke County Board of Education Thursday.

The career academy, named the best in the state, by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in 2014, should be governed by the board of a private, nonprofit corporation to under state law, Key wrote.

“I am not prepared in any way to make that recommendation to this board (to privatize the career academy),” Lanoue told the board. “I do not support going to a nonprofit status.”

When Clarke County established the career academy several years ago, the state approved it as a program rather than a separate school.

The state letter also questioned the Clarke County proposals for how so-called “local school governance teams” operate.

Under state rules, school districts asking for charter status must set up such teams at each of its schools, giving them real decision-making powers in school affairs.

The school district made Key’s letter public at a Thursday meeting of the Clarke County Board of Education.

The state is requiring public school systems to choose among three models for the future. They can choose to remain a traditional system, following all state rules such as having maximum limits on class sizes and hiring only trained teachers licensed to teach.

But systems can also choose to become charter systems, in which school systems contract with the state to install innovative practices raising their students’ achievement levels above the average for comparable school systems. In exchange for those waivers, school districts can get freedom from some state rules, including limits on where they can spend local and state tax money. Charter school districts must also set up those local school governance teams, with limited but real decision-making powers in schools’ operations.

A third option gives school districts freedom from the state rules but does not require local school governance teams.

Lanoue said the board has a Jan. 22 deadline to submit its response to the state letter questioning the charter proposal.

School administrators will also seek public input as they write their response and modify the proposal to meet some of the state objections. Lanoue plans to submit the response to the Clarke school board for approval in early January, he said.

A group that included Lanoue, other administrators, community members and business representatives met with state Department of Education administrators last month to answer questions about the proposal, but few of the questions in the letter came up then.

“I thought it went incredibly well,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything in that meeting we didn’t respond to — eloquently, I think.”

Comments Off on Parts of Clarke County schools’ charter application ‘not possible,’ state says

Filed under Flexibility Option, School Choice

Does School Choice Increase Inequality?

Education Savings Accounts will make access to quality education less equal than it is today. Why do I say it will do that? Because it allows families to add to their education savings account to buy a more expensive education. Most parents want what’s best for their children, so those who can afford it will do just that. Those who can’t will not. And the education market will stratify by income, far more than it already does. In a decade, it will look like the markets for houses, cars and other private goods, with huge disparities based on wealth.

Indeed, America’s public education system already looks like the market for housing because, to a great extent, it is the market for housing. Students are assigned to district schools based on the location of their home, so the quality of the local district school is a major consideration for those who can afford it. Educational choice laws like ESAs break the link between education and housing—and low-income families have the most to gain.

Breaking the Link Between Education and Housing

America’s district schools are already highly stratified by income. According to a 2012 report by the Brookings Institution, “the average low-income student attends a school that scores at the 42nd percentile on state exams, while the average middle/high-income student attends a school that scores at the 61st percentile on state exams.”

Wealthier families can afford homes in communities with better performing district schools. The Brookings report found that in “the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low-scoring public school.” In other words, parents pay the equivalent of tuition at many private schools to live in districts with higher-performing public schools.

By empowering all parents to pay for education directly, ESAs and other educational choice programs cut housing out of the equation. Parents no longer have to be able to afford a house in an expensive community to afford the best educational environment for their children. In Nevada, the state will provide $5,100 in most ESAs and $5,700 for low-income families or students with special needs.

However, Osborne worries that the current level of ESA funding in Nevada won’t cover more than “a cut-rate job.” The average private school tuition, he notes, is between $8,000 and $10,000 while district schools spend about $8,300 per pupil annually on instruction (and more than $9,400 per pupil in total).

Nevada should do more to make funding more equitable, but $5,700 could still go a long way. For many families, it could make the difference between enrolling their child in a school that meets their needs or keeping them in a school that doesn’t. Moreover, looking at the average alone obscures the tuition that families actually face. As Glenn Cook of the Las Vegas Review-Journal explained recently, $5,700 is more than enough to cover the full tuition at several inner-city private schools and just shy of the posted tuition at several more—even before factoring in the schools’ tuition aid. The ESA might even encourage new high-quality, low-cost schools—like Acton Academies, which often charge as little as $4,000 in tuition—to enter the market.

Very soon, the Friedman Foundation will release a new report from its School Survey Series called Exploring Nevada’s Private Education Sector, which will shed more light on the issue of private school supply in Nevada. The report will not only include the number of open private school seats, but also the percentage of Nevada private schools that offer additional tuition assistance to low-income families.

Low-Income Families Benefit the Most

Research shows that low-income families have the most to gain from expanded choice. In 2013, Jonathan Butcher of the Goldwater Institute and I conducted a survey of Arizona families using ESAs in the first year of the program. Due to the program’s eligibility requirements at the time, all of the ESA families had students with special needs who had previously attended their assigned district schools. As shown in the table below, low-income families reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction with their district schools. Two-thirds of families in the lowest income quintile reported being dissatisfied, including 56 percent who were very dissatisfied while only 22 percent reported being satisfied or very satisfied.

In stark contrast, survey respondents reported unanimous satisfaction with the ESA program. Moreover, families with the lowest income were the most enthusiastic with nearly nine in 10 reporting that they were very satisfied.

Osborne, however, is skeptical that the high degree of parental satisfaction is actually related to their kids getting a quality education:

[I]nformation about schools’ academic quality will be sparse, and many parents will be ill equipped to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. Experience in the charter school sector has proven that if a school is safe, warm and nurturing, many parents will stick with it, even if test scores show that students are falling behind. The same will be true in Nevada’s private schools, so many kids will get a lousy education.

Fortunately, numerous studies have explored the impact of choice programs on student outcomes. Eleven of 12 random-assignment studies—the gold standard of social science research—have found that school choice programs improve the outcomes of participating students, leading to higher test scores, higher rates of graduation, and higher rates of college enrollment. One study found no visible impact and none found any harm.

Moreover, parents have more access to information about schools than Osborne gives credit. For example, GreatSchools provides parents with ratings of private schools based on student performance data and reviews from parents. A recent American Enterprise Institute report found that parents give considerable weight to the experiences of other parents—and for good reason. As Matthew Ladner of the Foundation for Excellence in Education noted recently, parents are often tougher graders than state accountability systems.

Osborne also frets about the impact of school choice policies on the students “left” behind at their assigned district schools, but the research literature shows that they benefit as well. In 22 of 23 empirical studies, the academic performance of students who chose to stay in district schools improved as a result of the competitive effects of school choice. No study, even those conducted by anti-school choice organizations, has found private school choice programs harm the academic performance of students who remain in district schools.

Freedom and Equality

As Milton Friedman observed, “A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.” Osborne himself argued that a “core value of public education…is equality of opportunity,” knowing full well that America’s current ZIP Code-assignment education system is highly stratified by income. Access to a quality education is too often determined by parents’ ability to afford a home in an expensive neighborhood. Without school choice options, the current system is not the bastion of equal opportunity it is often imagined to be.

If we want a high degree of equality, more states should consider following Friedman’s advice and focus efforts on expanding educational freedom and choice. Such policies empower families to choose what’s best for their kids without going through a real estate agent—and the best evidence shows that students are better off as a result. If more states adopted universal educational choice programs like Nevada’s, all children—especially low-income children—will benefit.

Comments Off on Does School Choice Increase Inequality?

Filed under School Choice

Fulton to offer wider choice in type of school kids attend

Fulton County schools are embarking on a first-of-its-kind initiative to offer parents significantly more options for what kind of school their children could attend.

Among the proposals are Montessori schools and dual-language immersion schools, where students from kindergarten through eighth grade can learn another language. Fulton is also looking to partner with a major local university to create an early honors college program that would provide an opportunity for the brightest students to get college credit.

Fulton hopes to have the schools running by fall 2016 and is creating them now, with board members expected to iron out plans this summer. The proposed schools are in addition to the magnet, charter and other alternatives Fulton currently offers. The school district wants to keep more families from leaving the public school system, as some in Fulton have done.

“Fulton County schools are in the midst of one of the more aggressive efforts of its kind in Georgia to provide school choice options for students,” said Louis Erste, associate superintendent for charter schools with the Georgia Department of Education.

“While they do not have the largest number of magnet schools, they do appear to have the most variety in the choice options they offer for students.”

Fulton’s school choice effort is aimed at giving parents and students an alternative to the traditional public school model. State education leaders are clamoring for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional model, which they view as having failed students in some districts.

The fourth-largest school system in Georgia, with about 96,000 students in 100 schools, Fulton offers four magnet programs with another in the planning stages; it also has eight charter school programs.

Under the proposed initiative outlined at a recent school board meeting, Fulton is looking to create three dual-language immersion K-8 schools in the central, northeast and northwest areas of the district. Two Montessori schools serving K-5 students are also being proposed for the central and northeast areas.

The Early Honors College, which could be located on the college campus Fulton ends up partnering with, would offer increased academic rigor for high-performing students for entry into the University System of Georgia. Fulton leaders say a significant number of students are prepared to enter that system.

Fulton surveyed thousands of parents throughout the district to find out what school choices they’re looking for. Leaders say more options are needed in part because they are trying not to lose students to private schools and other alternatives to public school.

More than 15 percent of Fulton County school families chose private schools this school year, school leaders say. In addition, Fulton’s transition to a charter system has been popular, but more than 1,600 families are already on charter school wait lists for next fall, with most of those in south Fulton.

The district doesn’t know yet how much extra the proposed choice schools might cost, though they expect additional funding may be needed for the Montessori model development.

“It’s this idea … about empowering communities,” said Ken Zeff, Fulton’s interim superintendent beginning June 2. He’s taking over from Superintendent Robert Avossa, who was selected as the new leader for the school district of Palm Beach County in Florida.

“This is not an attempt to dismantle traditional public schools,” Zeff said. “Traditional-model schools are performing great for a lot of kids. But some parents want and some students would do better in a different environment.”

What is not envisioned in the school choice initiative: adding private school vouchers, removing attendance boundaries or creating countywide transportation to the new schools.

Education scholars say lack of transportation for students outside the immediate vicinity of the schools could be an obstacle to equity.

“If you provide busing, it becomes much more expensive,” said Ron Zimmer, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University. “If you don’t provide transportation, then they’re basically saying those who don’t have a car can’t really make these choices. You’re making it a disadvantage for those who are less affluent.”

Fulton is trying to provide school choice options to all regions of the district to avoid potential inequities, and intentionally rolling out the new options slowly to see what works and what may not, Zeff said.

“It takes time. We’re trying to be very deliberate about it,” Zeff said.

State legislation in recent years has pushed for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional public school model, but state educators and others say they have not seen enough high-qualified groups applying for charter schools to fill the demand.

Georgia has 115 charter schools, close to 4 percent of the schools in the state; nearly five years ago, the number was 110. Charter advocates and state education officials say the number of charter schools should be higher. They laud districts like Fulton that are attempting to offer more choices.

North Fulton County parent Diane Jacobi, who has two children in high school, said she’s encouraged by the district’s efforts to create more choice and believes there is a demand for it.

“Each community needs to figure out what works for them,” she said. “In some communities that may be a more traditional model, in others it might mean STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) labs or fine arts programs or dual-language immersion.

“These things take time to implement,” she added. “The largest hurdle may be getting the communities to understand that. To do things right, it can take time.”

By Rose French
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

1 Comment

Filed under Fulton County Schools, School Choice

States Across the Nation Pursuing Education Savings Accounts

There is growing interest by states in Education Savings Account (ESA) programs, with at least 22 state legislatures pursuing or considering the policy in 2015. The programs take funds that otherwise would be spent educating children in traditional public schools and sets them aside into accounts controlled by parents.

The parents then can use the money to customize education plans for their children. The accounts are particularly beneficial for families that have students with disabilities because the funds also can be used for expenses such as therapy and educational aids.

Arizona became the first state to pass an ESA bill in 2011 and Florida passed the country’s second program last year. Both target students with disabilities. This year, ESA bills have been filed in 14 states, with at least 8 others seriously considering the policy this session.


ESAs create a system of education that is both accountable and truly personalized for each child. Examples of how parents can use the funds include the following:

  • Private school tuition
  • Tutoring
  • Therapy for students with disabilities
  • Instructional materials/curriculum
  • Online programs/courses
  • Á-la-carte public school courses
  • Exam fees
  • Savings for future college costs

The key is customization. ESAs allow parents to plan for their child’s unique needs. They create an entirely customized and flexible approach to education, where the ultimate goal is maximizing each child’s natural learning abilities.

For example, the parents of a visually impaired child could pay for private school tuition, hire a tutor with expertise in teaching visually-impaired students, and put any leftover funds into a college savings plan.

Parents of a student with autism could send their child to a private school for half of the day and spend the remaining funds on educationally-related therapies and educational software that allows them to direct some of their child’s education at home.

There are numerous options. Parents can homeschool children in subjects they know, use vetted online providers for other subjects, and hire tutors for courses in which their children struggle.

Such out-of-the-box approaches to education are not possible through the traditional public school funding model in which parents are limited to options provided by their school districts. Parents know when a school is not meeting their child’s needs. An ESA empowers these moms and dads with the financial resources to choose better alternatives.

Through an ESA, education is no longer “use it or lose it.” Parents decide where the best values are, and they have the ability to direct their child’s funds in the most efficient way.

Students and families are better served and at no additional cost to the state.


About the author

Adam Peshek

Adam Peshek is State Policy Director of School Choice for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Previously, Adam was legislative director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future and a research associate at the Reason Foundation. He received his undergraduate degree from Florida State University and is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins.

Comments Off on States Across the Nation Pursuing Education Savings Accounts

Filed under School Choice

Georgia House panel revives education savings accounts bill

ATLANTA (AP) — A bill letting parents use state dollars toward private school tuition or other education expenses could receive a House floor vote as soon as Wednesday after a last-minute jumpstart from a key tax policy committee.

The proposal from Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, would allow parents to set up an “education savings account” and sweep the state’s share of money for that student into it – about $4,400 using this year’s figures. Federal and local dollars would stay with the public school district.

Hamilton said the bill lets parents choose the best strategy for their child, whether that’s a private school, additional tutoring programs or home schooling. Other supporters back it as a way to customize education for kids with disabilities, chronic illnesses or students who have been bullied.

“Sometimes parents know the best for their children, and this is simply giving them a pathway if they want to exercise that,” Hamilton said this week.

The bill got a hearing but no vote in the House’s Education committee. The House Ways and Means committee, which typically handles tax policy, took it up this week.

Friday is a key deadline for lawmakers. Bills must pass their chamber of origin by then to maintain a chance at becoming law.

Arizona and Florida have instituted similar programs, and lawmakers in a dozen states including Georgia are debating legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some opponents consider `ESA’ programs an end-run around state constitutions that prevent public funds from being spent on religious schools.

In Georgia, the state’s School Board Association and other education stakeholders have described Hamilton’s bill as a voucher under another name. At a February hearing, several speakers representing teachers, school boards and superintendents urged lawmakers to turn the issue over to an education reform commission formed by Gov. Nathan Deal rather than moving ahead.

Rep. Mickey Stephens, a Savannah Democrat and retired teacher who sits on the Ways and Means committee, this week called the proposal “dressing up a voucher and making it look like a scholarship.”

“If you can afford to send your kids to private school, you don’t need a voucher,” he said.

Georgia has a tuition tax credit program, which lets individuals get a credit for donating toward private school scholarships managed by nonprofit providers, and a special needs scholarship for students with disabilities or other eligibility requirements.

Hamilton’s bill disqualifies students beginning kindergarten or first grade that year from participating, an attempt to address concerns that the state would subsidize private or home school for parents who never intended to use public schools. Many other details would be determined by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, an agency focused on student testing and performance.

Students would have to attend public schools for at least a year to be eligible for an account. The bill caps participation at about 8,500 students statewide in the 2015-2016 school year and 17,000 additional students the following year. All caps would end in the third year.

Comments Off on Georgia House panel revives education savings accounts bill

Filed under Legislation, School Choice

A Country Where Teachers Have a Voice

In the Netherlands, educators decide what happens in their classrooms—not bureaucrats.

UTRECHT, The Netherlands—This summer, when the Dutch government debated mandating that all schools provide three hours of physical education a week to students, Jasper Bunt, the principal at a Montessori school called Oog in Al, argued against it. He already offered the required two hours of gym at his school in Utrecht, a city 30 miles south of Amsterdam. Another 60 minutes would mean giving up time in another subject.

Bunt has each of his 350 students for 200 days a year—four weeks more than the average U.S. school year. That amounts to 930 hours a year, more than what’s required by half of the states in the U.S. and most countries worldwide. Bunt believes that he and his teachers should decide what to do with that time—not the government. It’s a pervasive belief in the Netherlands, where increased school time also comes with increased principal and teacher autonomy.

As schools across America experiment with adding more hours to the school day and more days to the school year, the Netherlands offers examples of what extra time looks like in a largely successful education system. Last fall, I traveled there to see firsthand what lessons the United States could learn and found that several aspects often dictated by law or by district policy in America are decided at individual schools across the Netherlands.

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size or extracurricular programming, principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, for example. They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade. Teachers across the Netherlands say that while they have certain topics they’re required to cover, they feel free to teach how they want. The idea of a scripted curriculum with pre-prepared lessons, used by thousands in the U.S., is alien. Bunt for his part does require his teachers to make lesson plans to ensure they’re thinking ahead, but he never checks them. “I don’t know what they’re doing right now,” he said. “I don’t have to know.”

In a 2008 report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that 94 percent of decisions for middle schools in the Netherlands are made by individual school administrators and teachers, while 6 percent are made at the federal level. In a 2011 OECD analysis, Dutch schools reported the second-highest amount of autonomy in the world in picking tests and teaching materials. The U.S. was ranked 21st out of 32 countries. The same report found that, broadly, the more control that a country’s schools have over these decisions, the better the country does on international assessments. Indeed, the Netherlands is among the top quarter of countries in reading, math, and science, according to the Program for International Student Assessment. The country significantly outperforms the U.S., whose scores fall in the middle.

Both countries would like to move up in the international rankings. Unlike many places in the U.S., though, in the Netherlands teacher autonomy is a crucial part of the education-reform discussion. “We are so entrenched in this culture of top-down authority right now,” said Kim Farris-Berg, an American education consultant and lead author of Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots. The Dutch, she added, “somehow see that path forward” to greater teacher control of schools.

Many Dutch teachers still feel as though they don’t have the authority to make important decisions about their schools, like picking what to teach. In many cases, however, Dutch teachers face fewer constraints than their American peers. For example, although educators in the Netherlands also express concern about pressure to “teach to the test,” and although Dutch students also must pass standardized tests in many subjects to graduate from high school, the Dutch students are required to take only three standardized tests in primary school: one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end. Some principals elect to have students take more, but the choice is theirs. Most American students take standardized tests in multiple subjects each year in third through eighth grade.

The Dutch government also develops standards that dictate what a student should have learned by the end of primary and secondary school. By the end of eighth grade, students should be able to meet 58 targets across all subject areas, like being able to solve simple geometry problems and understand key concepts about weather and climate. By comparison, the Common Core State Standards, benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states in the U.S., have 70 total math and English Language Arts standards for eighth-graders.

In high school, Dutch students are required to learn certain things in each subject, but the sequence and details are left up to the schools. Like Bunt, Hiltje Rookmaker, the principal of Leon van Gelder high school in Groningen, says she only steps in when a teacher’s students are failing exams. Otherwise, teachers say, they’re free to do what they want.

“We have a program … but everyone does it their own way,” said Sophie Traas, a French teacher at Leon van Gelder.

The Dutch constitution guarantees freedom of education, meaning anyone can open a school and determine how they want to teach there. More than 60 percent of the 8,000 or so schools in the Netherlands are private with a religious affiliation—but unlike the U.S., in this country these institutions are still publicly funded. Among the rest, many schools are based on a specific educational philosophy, like Montessori, in which group lessons are mostly abandoned in favor of students working independently. (The U.S. has a few thousand Montessori schools, but most are private and charge tuition.)

Outside factors, like the small number of Dutch textbook publishing companies, indirectly limit how different schools can be in practice. Still, educators vigorously defend the right to have those differences, and some experts say there is a great deal of innovation in how schools are structured or what kinds of teaching strategies they use. In some ways, the educational system in the Netherlands, a country that’s comparable in size to Massachusetts and Connecticut combined and serves a population of 17 million people, functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.

Like charters, in exchange for their freedom, Dutch schools are expected to show results. The government inspects the schools once every four years by visiting the schools, meeting with students and parents, and looking at test scores and finances. The small number of schools—a couple hundred or so—that are deemed weak are watched more closely, but the rest are free to carry on. Since the 1990s, all schools have been overseen by boards that monitor progress and provide support. While half of the school boards in the country are responsible for only one school each, large boards can control several dozen, similar to how American charter school networks operate.

Some Dutch teachers told me they fear that the school boards, made up of members of the community but not educators, are eroding teacher’s freedoms. Some boards, for instance, pick which textbooks teachers should use or assign additional standardized tests. This sentiment resembles that of the American teachers who are pushing back against district mandates.

“The autonomy that was supposed to come of the decentralization got stuck with the boards and never reaches the teachers and schools,” said Walter Dresscher, president of the Algemene Onderwijsbond, one of the country’s two teachers unions. (The country is home to some 240,000 teachers total in both public and private schools.) “Freedom in the classroom is going backwards quickly.”

But other Dutch educators say the threat is more perceived than actual. “If you’re doing okay, they leave you alone,” Rookmaker said of her school board, which oversees five schools. “I can do what I want.”

Leon van Gelder is one of 3,000 schools participating in the government’s School aan Zet program, or “school in charge.”  The 40-million-Euro (about $50 million) program aims help schools figure out how to improve on their own and ultimately emphasizes their autonomy.

Rookmaker says she places a premium on the school not having to answer to school board or government mandates. Taking part in government-funded initiatives, like School aan Zet, doesn’t threaten that independence. “It’s not a program where every school does the same thing,” she said. “It’s what’s good for my school.”

Sarah Butrymowicz is a staff writer at The Hechinger Report.

Comments Off on A Country Where Teachers Have a Voice

Filed under School Choice