Noted civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer summed it up best when she said, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired." While she voiced her discontent for racial inequality in Mississippi, I relate to her sentiment when looking at a recent debate within the educational reform community. I respect education policy debate and discussion, but the division and bickering on the Common Core State Standards initiative has me "sick and tired." Not only are education reformers embroiled in a growing verbal death match, but partisan politics has once again taken precedence over doing what's right for kids. I see this firsthand as I travel from state to state discussing education reform and educational choice with legislators and various local community leaders. Increasingly, where one stands on the Common Core debate is a new political litmus test akin to one's political party bona fides.
But what has me even more "sick and tired" is knowing that while the reformers are debating the debate about our kids' futures, we continue to lose kids because far too many schools don't work for them. Every 26 seconds, a child drops out of school in our country. Setting aside the debate for a moment, even if Common Core is adopted, it is a long term solution. What are we doing in the short term? What are we doing about those kids who need quality schools today? That is the question being asked by parents like Amanda Picket of Racine, Wis. She watched as her children struggled in their assigned public school. One of her children, Marcus, stuttered. He struggled with reading and writing and Amanda felt helpless as she watched him fall behind. All of that changed when she obtained a scholarship to send her children to a school of her choice, his reading has improved and her son no longer fears going to school. This is the power of school choice.
Betty Williams, a New Orleans mother has near identical story. Her daughter, Ahshiya, struggled in her traditional public school and would cry when it was time to go to school. Ahshiya could not keep up with her peers and her teachers planned to hold her back a year. Mrs. Williams wouldn't accept this; she gained access to the Louisiana Scholarship Program and enrolled her daughter in a private school. Today, 10-year-old Ahshiya can read; she excels in English; and even though she struggles in math, the teachers at her new private school offer her help and attention.
These stories are not unique. They're found in all 18 states plus the District of Columbia, who all have educational choice programs. These stories demonstrate the transformational power of educational choice -- the immediate impact when a child gains access to an educational environment better suited for their needs.
When I served as the chairman of the education committee on the D.C. City Council, I saw many proposed reform plans and while they were all well-intended, they were all three-to-five-to-eight year plans. That's utterly unacceptable for children in need of help yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Setting aside the conspiracy theories and focusing on the standards within common core -- if it were enacted today in the D.C. Public School system -- they would have new and higher standards that could be compared with other states. While this is a step forward in terms of raising our educational standards for the children of Washington, D.C., the reforms would have almost zero effect on the thousands of children currently enrolled today in D.C. Public Schools.
That's why educational choice matters. While education reformers debate the debate, educational choice is an immediate and positive solution.
Parents and children across the country are in dire need of quality educational opportunities. The families and their children, like Marcus and Ahshiya, who were given educational choice, don't know whether Common Core is implemented in their school or not. They just know that they have been given a life changing opportunity and the tools to succeed.
Today, we need to put a renewed focus onto the parents and children searching for immediate educational choice opportunities. Sure, accountability and high standards matter, as does the Common Core discussion. But I fear that political debating just for debates sake will only further divide the community and stall the momentum that education reform has been building over the past several years. And the end result only does harm to the kids we say we are serving.
When I wrote about the Common Core debate last year, I said that my fear was that after all the blood is shed, there would be limited energy and vigor left for changing the conditions that block our kids from receiving quality educations. Since then, the Common Core debate has even more animus in it and the politics associated with Common Core are toxic. So now, I challenge those on both sides of the Common Core debate to answer one, simple question: What do you propose we do to educate kids in bad schools today? Let's hope we all still have the energy to take on that question.
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