Sam Duell is the Policy Director for Charter Schools at ExcelinEd.
As noted by Brookings, 1.36 million students were homeless in the United States during the 2016 – 2017 academic year. That’s about 3 percent of the student population, and it was a number that was growing. At the same time, even students in affluent school districts aren’t growing academically as quickly as their peers in less affluent districts. That’s according an analysis of learning rates by Stanford University.
Back in 2018, the US Census Bureau published statistics that more and more teachers leave the profession every year. And in 2017, the Learning Policy Institute noted that 2/3 of teacher who leave largely due to teacher dissatisfaction. LPI recommended better compensation and teaching conditions.
Before the pandemic, parents were going to great lengths for real educational opportunities. Look at the case of the Grieb family, Miss Virginia, Monica Olivera, or Tanya McDowell for strong anecdotal evidence. Back in 2019, support for new and different school options grew by 4 percent from 2018. More than two-thirds of families supported the idea that they should be able to secure the best educational option even if that option was not a residentially assigned school.
Before 2020 students struggled, teachers left, and parents scrambled. Not all students, not every teacher, and not every parent – but too many were up the creek without a boat.
This year the pandemic has magnified struggles for families and teachers. In fact, UNESCO estimated that nearly 1.4 billion learners were separated from school due to the pandemic. This is the student-teacher divide, a separation that is acutely felt among families who earn less income. As Pew Research noted in September 2020, 59 percent of U.S. parents with lower incomes face digital obstacles in schoolwork. Parents with means have supported their children by hiring their own teachers for small groups of families, and many are concerned that families without the means to hire teachers will fall behind. Some school districts, like Indianapolis Public Schools, are leading efforts to adapt to parent and student needs for in-person learning. Many school districts, including the most populous school districts in California, continue to rely heavily on distance learning. And in the meantime, the Associated Press has reported that “several states have seen surges in educators filing for retirement or taking leaves of absence.” Although there is new data to suggest that teacher retirements have not increased substantially this year.
In summary, here’s what we are seeing –
Students are still struggling, teachers continue to leave, and parents are struggling. Students and teachers are separated. Parents desperately need support. Policymakers can help by creating new options for parents and teacher by allowing them to connect directly.
A parent and a teacher would talk to each other about what they want and what they are willing to offer in a potential partnership. What kind of education does this parent’s student require? And what kind of services is the teacher willing to provide or oversee? When and where would services take place? How often? The answers to these questions will serve as a basis for a written agreement.
The parent and teacher would sit down and go through the document together, making edits as needed until there is complete agreement about the text of the document. It should include a unique plan that meets the needs of each child in the compact since this document is the basis for the teacher-family relationship.
Once there is a verbal agreement, the relationship can be formalized with signatures and sending it to the proper authorities at the state-level so that the teacher could begin receiving payment.
At this point, the teacher would begin to execute the services detailed in the compact and the student would begin their tailored education program.
Teachers would receive at least the same amount that would be allocated to the student if they had been enrolled in their local public school, and the teacher could pay into the state teacher retirement system if they wanted to do that.
They have the freedom to serve students and families without administration looking over their shoulder, and a potentially lower caseload. In about half the states, teachers would only need to work with 12 students or fewer to match the average teaching salary in the state. We have also included the opportunity to continue contributing to the state teacher retirement system.
In a Parent-Teacher Compact, parents directly influence the curriculum and design of the educational program. They won’t have to worry about the uncertainty of school closures or exposures because they can work with their chosen teacher directly to meet the unique needs of their student.
Students will get a tailor-made educational experience that could expand their understanding of what school means. Learning, they may find, can happen everywhere.
As we developed Parent-Teacher Compact policy, we settled on seven principles to guide policy conversations.
We have developed a model policy that could be adapted to the needs of your state. Please note: this model policy is a living document, and we are happy to consult with you and your state on how it could best be adapted for your specific context.
Lastly, this policy effort is just one proposal on a large menu of several great options to empower teachers and families to create new opportunities for families. We recognize that public schools, charter schools and private schools are still popular and in demand. That will not likely change. At the same time, we are attempting to think differently and to create new pathways to opportunity.
It is important to remember that public education has evolved in the United States. Just look at Brown v. Board of Education. Writing the opinion for the majority, Chief Justice Earl Warren noted how much public education changed between 1866 and 1954 – from “rudimentary” curriculum and schools that only met three months per year to this statement, “In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” Since the 1990s we’ve seen public education evolve further with the advent of online learning, public charter schools and industry-led college and career pathways. These newer evolutions are not ubiquitous, but public education will continue to evolve. 2020 seems to be quickening the pace.
We hope you will read our model policy and provide critical feedback. The potential for teachers and families to work together directly is a concept worth developing.
While this work is separate from theirs, this concept was in-part built on ideas from the following individuals –
There were many contributors to the development of this policy. We thank them for their generosity and willingness to collaborate on new policy mechanisms that empower families to direct their own path.
Learn how your state can expand opportunities for families and teachers by creating a mechanism for them to connect directly,