Many credit the noted philosopher Voltaire with saying, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” As Joplin School District teacher Randy Turner finds himself facing possible termination from his position, I find myself agreeing with Voltaire. Over the years, Turner has taken many cheap shots and jabs at my employer, the Show-Me Institute. He has even referred to me as a “shill” on his blog. We obviously do not see eye-to-eye on most issues, yet I respect his right to express his views.
While I respect his right to express his opinions, I am not taking a stance on whether he should be fired. I am not privy to all of the charges and evidence brought against him and there very well could be reasons unrelated to his views that have landed him in this situation. Rather, I think this is the perfect opportunity to discuss why teachers should support school choice.
The Joplin School District has the corner on teaching jobs in Joplin. In economic speak, this is called a monopsony. Whereas a monopoly means having a single provider of goods or services, a monopsony means having a single buyer of goods or services. Buyers or employers with a monopsony control the market and are able to dictate terms to the supplier — in this case, the teacher. In most cities, public school districts have a monopsony on the teaching jobs.
The way we have structured our education system has created this monopsony. The state has created school districts and students are required to attend those district schools, unless they can be homeschooled or afford private school. This gives the district in each town control over almost all of the teaching jobs and hampers the prospects for teachers.
When districts have a monopsony on teaching jobs, teachers have little ability to seek out a school that aligns with their values and beliefs. Rather, they have to align with the district’s thinking on issues, such as teaching practices, achievement testing, discipline policies, standards, and possibly even political issues. In school choice systems, many different types of schools exist. This allows teachers to be choosy about where they work.
Take, for example, the website myedmatch.com. It is essentially an online dating site for teachers and schools, allowing teachers to find the school that fits them. This concept is foreign to most educators because they have not had the ability to enter a true market for their labor.
Great teachers may also benefit from school choice through increased salaries. The Joplin School District pays teachers based on experience and degrees. They have no incentive to offer good teachers more money. If schools were competing for the best teachers, however, they might receive pay increases.
Essentially, school choice breaks up the monopsony that districts have on teaching jobs. It gives individual educators more freedom to seek out the teaching post that is the best fit, and increases the market competition for their talents.
If Joplin had a robust school choice system, Turner’s dismissal would be a non-issue. When he realized his school was unhappy with him, he could have searched for employment at a school that more closely aligns with his values and rewards his skill set.
All teachers, including Randy Turner, have the right to express their opinions in the marketplace of ideas. They should also have the ability to express their beliefs in the marketplace for jobs. For this reason alone, teachers should support school choice.
James V. Shuls is the education policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.