Opinion: State Union Rankings Show Strength of Labor Depends on Size of Government
Betheny Gross — The Key to Effective Personalized Learning: Rigorous Content, Standards, and Experiences
Chavous & Duplessis: Undoing ‘Separate but Equal,’ Six Decades After Brown v. Board of Education
Williams: The D.C. Enrollment Scandal Shows How Critical It Is to Guard Against Parent Privilege
Plucker: Gifted Education, Race & Poverty — How Do We Join Forces to Close America’s ‘Excellence Gap’?
Tucker Haynes: Proof That Charters Offer Excellence to All Children Goes Beyond U.S. News’s Top 10 Ranking
Avossa & Chang: As Immigrant School Leaders, We Know That No Immigrant Student Should Have to Live in Fear
Bradford — The Politics & Partisanship of America’s Education Reform Debate: A Growing Blue-Red Divide
Bradford — The Politics & Partisanship of America’s Education Reform Debate: Time for a Suburban Strategy?
Miles & Wiener: In Washington, D.C., a Road Map for Reinventing Professional Development in Schools
Analysis: From ‘Incarceration Pay’ to ‘Rule of 75,’ Surprising Contract Benefits for Teachers Union Staffers
DeGrow: New Detroit Supe Wants to Compete With Charter Schools. How He Can Start Raising the Bar
Lake: Why Personalized Learning Will Ultimately Live or Die on Its Ability to Manage Change
Bradford — The Politics & Partisanship of the Education Reform Debate: Why Being ‘Right’ Isn’t Enough
Rotherham: Why Won’t Betsy DeVos Answer Hard Questions?
Williams: When Students Own Their Academic Results, They Transform Their Schools
Fiddler: The Cost of Textbooks Is a Huge Obstacle for Poor Students. Here’s a Solution
Jeb Bush: What the Media Is Getting Wrong About Florida’s Push to Help Students With Disabilities
Bankert: If Rahm Emanuel’s Graduation Plan Is to Succeed, Colleges Must Lower Barriers for Poor, Minority Students
Student Voice: My Mother Is Undocumented. My Father Was Deported. I Am the Resistance
Campbell Brown: Hidden in Plain Sight — Education and the 2016 Campaign
March 9, 2016
Sign Up for Our Newsletter
You may be able to run for president without ever talking about education — at least in 2016 — but our nation’s next leader will contend with public school issues that directly affect and reflect the divisions and hopes driving this campaign.
How do we prepare our next generation given our agonizing failure to educate black and brown children historically — and given the fact that America’s future prosperity depends on an unprecedented improvement in prospects for our young people?
In the coming years, who will power the movement to improve U.S. schools? Are reformers diverse enough to speak for America’s communities? Do those of us who want more and better challenge ourselves as vigorously as we challenge those who want more of the same?
Are unions losing support in trying to keep it? Are they alienating poor urban communities when they stand against charter schools and private school choice — even as parents demand more and better options for their children?
Finally, is the angry environment surrounding educational policy inevitable, particularly when voters and our leaders in Washington are so polarized? Is an uncompromising approach necessary to effect change? Should reformers push even harder? Or is there a way to get more for kids — and our country’s future prosperity — by compromising?
There were some of the questions raised at a fascinating panel I was privileged to moderate, “Politics + Education in the 2016 Election,” sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation at the SXSWedu Conference & Festival in Austin. I was joined by TV and radio commentator Roland Martin; columnist, author and longtime-edwatcher Jonathan Alter; and Reihan Salam, the executive editor of National Review.
Martin, Alter, and Salam are living proof that a commitment to “school reform” can (and must) have many flavors. The tension between them is invigorating; I’m convinced that bringing together reformers with different ideas and priorities, but the same motivation — creating opportunities for kids — will lead to the best possible outcomes for students, communities, and America as a whole.
"This is the only issue where I step out of my role as a journalist to be an advocate because the stakes are too high"
Martin drew attention to the country’s changing demographics, emphasizing the difference between 30 years ago — when demographers first predicted that whites would one day become a minority in the United States — and, today, when that prediction is becoming real and our country is growing visibly more diverse.
“The only group that is not optimistic about the future of America is white folks,” he said. “When we talk about this fear about the future of America, that is what it’s about ... The America these folks grew up knowing and the America their parents told them exists is not going to exist for their children.”
The people who should actually be angry, Martin argued, are African-American and Hispanic Americans, “because they are the ones left in public schools.”
Martin said black voices are a vital asset in the push for more high-quality educational options that are too often missing in urban communities. “Black folks and Latino folks trust those they know to present a message,” he explained.
Alter added that school reform as a whole was being hurt by the failure of educators and policy makers to close low-performing charters quickly, and by reformers’ readiness to attack teachers.
He said he also foresees a widening rift between teachers’ unions and African Americans related to organized labor’s wholesale opposition to charter schools.
“They have to go back and distinguish between high-performing charters that are crushing the competition and those charters that aren’t working,” he said.
Salam argued that Race to the Top and the Common Core had spurred “transpartisan” alliances opposing it — alliances between groups across the political spectrum who share views on a common problem or, in the case of the Common Core, “a common enemy.” Salam suggested that reformers who favor better schools and educational opportunities learn from this to create their own coalitions.
Salam warned that reform is a hard sell to “working class and middle class people who crave stability.”
While our panelists called for reformers to ask some hard questions and adopt some new tactics, no one was calling for a pause — and I think that’s the right position. America’s kids can’t wait for grown ups: they need better opportunities and they need them now if they are going to be able to graduate from high school ready for college and ready to thrive in this increasingly competitive world we live in.
Alter stressed the importance of “civility” as a way to find common ground in debates over K-12 education. “We have to get to a place where we don’t hate people on the other side,” he said.
Martin, on the other hand, called for education reformers to learn from the National Rifle Association. “They only care about one thing,” he said.
“This is the only issue where I step out of my role as a journalist to be an advocate because the stakes are too high,” he continued. “We do have the capacity to change but do we have the foot soldiers to go toe-to-toe with our supposed friends and allies? The question is, ‘What are you prepared to do?’”
The standard, all the panelists agreed, is what benefits kids the most. We can all hope that whoever is elected president in November concurs.