In the day of school choice, vouchers, for-profit education systems, and charters, educators can no longer just show up to their jobs. We must be advocates. Not because we fear the loss of our jobs, but because the very students we serve in public education are in jeopardy of losing the opportunity to a free and appropriate education.
Many would argue with me and tell me I am wrong. I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t researched, thought long and hard about this, and weighed the outcomes that would occur from me writing this. It may be your opinion that I am wrong, but I have seen with clarity, that as educators if we choose not to vote, advocate for our students who do not yet have the right to vote, and take the opportunity to have open dialogue to inform those around us, our very democracy is in jeopardy.
I will agree that public education in the 70s and 80s was slow in responding to meeting the needs of all students. Public school was free for the taking, how appropriate it was for the student was questionable. However, one can argue that the public schools of today are serving students and providing an educational opportunity that is beyond what many in public education could have imagined. The sad thing is that those outside our walls have no idea how amazing it is what students can be offered.
In Arkansas, we are breaking barriers with virtual blended courses so that rural and economically disadvantaged schools/students have access to highly qualified educators who capitalize on building relationships while delivering rigorous and relevant content. Students are also able to set themselves on a path to access more AP courses and Concurrent courses (College/HS credit) than ever before both in the traditional brick and mortar setting and through virtual blended courses. Additionally, students seeking a career and technology path (welding, agriculture, culinary arts, media arts, etc.) are able to begin that journey while still in high school.
At the same time that schools are offering these amazing opportunities at the high school level, elementary schools are implementing the most proactive evidenced-based practices to develop our youngest learners into highly literate learners.
I say all this to rally the educators in Arkansas, and beyond. Take note, do your research… really do your research. Who is sitting on legislative education task forces? Who is writing the legislation impacting public education? Are the interests of the students at the forefront? Is choice about equity and access for ALL students (remember the rural students who need access to opportunity, too)?
Most of all, get out there, talk to your representatives at the local, state and national level. Are the board members of your school board invested in what is best for all students? Does your legislator serve the needs of a few elite or is there a purpose to create opportunity for equitable access for all students? Do they see choice as something to be embedded within public schools or to funnel funding to for-profit programs or charter/private programs without accountability?
It’s time we get in the mix of things and be a voice for those that do not yet have the opportunity to vote. Consider what your community, state, nation, and the world would be like if education is only reserved for a few and denied to those who do not have the means to access. Use caution as politicians use choice and competition to legitimize privatization. If we remove equitable opportunity and access, students will not be empowered to change not only their future path but squelch the change-agents and policy-makers of our country’s future.