Parental choice in education has long been shown to benefit students and taxpayers because it empowers families to send their children to better schools that produce higher academic achievement at a fraction of the cost of traditional public district schools.

A benefit we don’t heard about as often is that parental choice in education is good for teachers, too. The freedom to choose their children’s schools helps make parents more invested in their children’s education and promotes a cooperative working relationship between parents and teachers. Such freedom also encourages a greater variety of schools to open, which results in more employment options for teachers. What’s more, having to compete for students as well as top teachers means schools have powerful incentives to treat and pay quality teachers well.

From teachers union president to leading parental choice advocate, Step Up for Students President Doug Tuthill explains the seemingly counter-intuitive transition in his recent redefinedED article, “Why I went from teachers union president to school choice leader.”

My world view has changed little since I was first elected a local teachers union president in 1978. I was 22, and believed strongly that organizations and societies work best when they maximize the value of their greatest asset – their people.  And since individual empowerment is a necessary condition for healthy human development, my work in public education has always focused on creating well-managed education systems that empower individuals. …

As a teachers union leader in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, I was a strong advocate for teacher empowerment.  I traveled across the country on behalf of the National Education Association, our nation’s largest teachers union, preaching the gospel of school-based decision making.

But while the NEA leadership regularly highlighted my views in speeches, publications and press events, most of the NEA bureaucracy thought I was naïve and wrong. They saw teachers unions as being in the business of protecting teachers from bad administrators, clueless politicians and dysfunctional school districts. They saw decentralization of power as antithetical to their efforts.

These teachers union traditionalists believe teacher power should be centrally controlled and used by the union for the greater good of teachers collectively, which is where I split from them. I believe a primary function of collective teacher power is the empowerment of individual teachers.

Tuthill explains that teacher compensation is a case in point. He believes in free agency, which empowers individuals to provide their services to the highest bidder. In contrast, a cardinal tenet of teachers unions is that pay should be one-size-fits-all.

There are successful examples from around the world that basing teacher compensation and raises in part on student performance (in part because students need to take personal responsibility as well for their performance) results in significantly higher student achievement—based on demonstrable achievement gains, not gaming the system. Countries with successful programs that offer incentive pay to teachers based in large part on the performance of their students include Chile, England, India, Israel, and dozens of programs throughout the United States.

Tuthill aptly concludes:

The school choice movement is founded on a belief in parental empowerment, so adding that to my lifelong commitment to teacher empowerment feels natural to me. I believe in giving teachers the power to create and manage new and innovative learning options for families, and I believe in giving families the power to match their children with the learning options that best meet their needs.