Public School Teachers’ Private Choices


Teacher union leaders lie in order to disparage school privatization, but many of their members ignore them and embrace choice. 

Mark Twain is alleged to have said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” And the teachers unions seem to have an endless supply of frequent liar miles at their disposal.

Union leaders refer to vouchers as “failed schemes…which take away funding and local control from our public schools – to fund private schools at taxpayers’ expense.” The National Education Association website warns us that vouchers “undermine accountability for public funds …and do not give parents real educational choice. These ongoing lies are easily debunked and have been done so many times. In fact, a recent survey showed that 46 percent of private-school parents say they are “very satisfied” with the quality of their child’s teachers, while just 23 percent of parents of kids in public schools report such satisfaction.

But, as I wrote last week, more interesting is what happens when parent and teacher are the same person: teachers send their own kids to private schools in greater numbers than the general populace. According to a survey released earlier this year, Education Next found “No less than 20 percent of teachers with school age children, but only 13 percent of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school.” And not surprisingly, 42 percent of teachers who don’t send their kids to a traditional public school back vouchers, as compared to only 23 percent of the teachers who send their children to traditional public schools.

It is important to note that these results are not new. In 2004, a Fordham Institute study looked at 50 American cities and found that 21.5 percent of urban school teachers send their kids to private schools, while 17.5 percent of non-teachers do. Digging a little deeper, we learn that the disparity is greater for larger urban areas. In Philadelphia, 44 percent of public school teachers’ kids attend a private school, in Chicago it’s 39 percent, San Francisco-Oakland 34 percent and New York 33 percent. (After learning that almost 4 in 10 teachers in the Windy City – with the highest teacher salaries and shortest work day of any big-city district in the country – send their own kids to a private school, it becomes apparent that the ongoing Chicago Teachers Union threat to strike for even more money is due in part because many of the rank-and-file want that extra cash to pay for their kids’ private school tuition. Those teachers probably aren’t amused at CTU president Karen Lewis’ claim that “School choice is a joke.)

It’s not just teachers who realize that a private school education can be superior. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa explained why he did not have his own kids in public school, despite his strong advocacy of public education…for everyone else. “I’m doing like every parent does. I’m going to put my kids in the best school I can. My kids were in a neighborhood public school until just this year. We’ve decided to put them in a Catholic school. We’ve done that because we want our kids to have the best education they can. If I can get that education in a public school, I’ll do it, but I won’t sacrifice my children any more than I could ask you to do the same.” We can add just about every U.S. legislator, not to mention our POTUS, to the private school club.

Fordham Institute points out that its findings are surprising to many analysts, pundits, and politicians, and are apt to be embarrassing for teacher unions, “considering those organizations’ political animus toward assisting families to select among schools. But these results do not surprise most practicing teachers to whom we speak; they know from personal experience that many of their colleagues make such a choice, and do so for good and sufficient reasons.”

When a waiter refuses to eat the food prepared at his own restaurant or a corporate leader quietly dumps the stock in the company he owns, obviously there’s something wrong with the goods they are pushing. But the teacher union leaders keep trying to hawk a product that many of their members believe is inferior. And to do so, the unions must tell lie after lie after lie. But the truth has finished lacing up its shoes and is gearing up for a run.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.


This article first published on Union Watch, a project of the California Policy Center

The mission of the California Policy Center is to secure a more prosperous future for all Californians.

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