Education Reform Will See Better Days – If We Let It

Originally published in TownHall – November 27, 2019

Parents of color are feeling frustrated and abandoned by the formerly pro-charter politicians who have turned their backs on them. Rightfully so, considering there’s just one Democrat who has remained steadfast in his commitment to school choice, and he’s already considered dropping out of the presidential race at least once. 

Today, school choice is described as a partisan problem. It absolutely isn’t. And because of that, we can have faith that better days are on the horizon; things won’t go on like this forever – if only because there’s no way they can.

Right now, people are more concerned about a political messenger than they are about their actual message: Individuals on both sides of the aisle may agree on the fundamental challenges we face as a nation and even the potential solutions, at least until they discover to whom an idea is attributed. Nothing makes partisans on both sides turn on an idea faster than learning that it’s supported by the President or the Speaker of the House.

As a result, many 2020 presidential hopefuls have abandoned their stance on issues they used to rally behind. They’ve distanced themselves from past positions as a means of winning the support of key primary voting blocs and donors, taking an approach that, in the long term, they cannot sustain if they intend to lead authentically.

The various candidates’ views about choice and charter schools reflect this knee-jerk political thinking. Nearly all of the Democrats have roundly denounced anything other than traditional public schools as viable educational options for American children. Some have suggested banning or placing moratoriums on charter schools, even when the vast majority of Democratic voters support them.

Clearly, this either/or brand of education politics is driven by traditional education purists and special interests, an approach America cannot sustain. Instantly relegating certain spokespeople into an “I disagree” category likewise destines potentially revolutionary ideas to sit on the shelf. This stifles much-needed progress in the education space, to the detriment of today’s young people and America’s future. 

None of us want that. What we all want is for our children to be given an array of opportunities to learn real-world skills in an environment that supports their growth. That might mean opening more schools that utilize an instructional method called project-based learning. It might mean opening more schools focused on subject-matter mastery instead of standardized testing. It might mean opening more subject-matter specific schools focused on the arts or sciences, or that offer multiple pathways of career-relevant classes designed in partnership with industry. It might mean opening more online schools, or it might mean having more brick-and-mortar schools – especially in rural areas – use blended learning to provide programs they don’t have the resources to offer today.

In whatever way it manifests, the education issues we all want to preserve and protect are some of very same constitutional rights established by Brown v. Board of Education: access to quality education for all.

We can and we will get there, but only by seeing past the political – if not personal – differences, affiliations and biases of education reform solutions, instead remembering the few foundational values all of us actually share.

In the days to come, this is what all of us must remember: When it comes to wanting the children of this country to succeed, we are all one and the same. We must act as a united front to tackle the challenges our students face. We must do ourselves, and more importantly our children, a favor, and rise above petty bickering. In its absence we can prioritize the issues that matter most.

Better days are on the horizon. It’s just up to us to determine how quickly we get there.

Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia City Council member, is an attorney, author, education reform activist, and President of Academics, Policy and Schools at K12 Inc.

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