As the Executive Director of Parent Revolution, our organization has always had one simple mantra -- it is time to make decisions in public education based on what is best for children, not adults.
We believe that education policymakers need to start casting every single vote as if it would literally affect their own child, and that such decisions would lead to radically different outcomes for our children. So when I was appointed to the California State Board of Education nine months ago, I decided I would put this creed to the test, and try to cast every single vote as if it would directly affect my own two daughters, Fiona and Eloise.
Nine months later, and working alongside other reform-minded board members, I've used that kids-first philosophy to compile a record that I'm proud of. I have fought to transform teacher evaluations and include cutting-edge "value added" data, so that teachers can be evaluated at least in part based on how much their students ultimately learn. As a parent, of course I want to know whether or not my daughters' teachers are effective based on common sense, fair evaluations, so I stood up for change. I strongly supported President Obama's revolutionary Common Core standards, so that our children can have access to the best curricula and assessments -- moving us past the days of multiple choice standardized tests, and into the 21st century where critical thinking skills will trump rote memorization.
And to the surprise of many, I took the lead on charter school accountability, authoring groundbreaking regulations to increase accountability and ultimately shut down our state's lowest performing charter schools. On individual votes, I supported good charter schools and voted against bad ones, even when sometimes under immense political pressure to do the opposite. A failing school is bad for children no matter what label we give it, and we should not tolerate failing schools of any type for our children.
In California and throughout the country, we are all too often mired in a stale and irrelevant debate around education reform. Advocates for charter schools line up in one corner, advocates for teachers unions in another, and both sides pull as hard as they can on the Gordian Knot that is our education system. I have tried to use my tenure on the State Board as a proof point that this false-ideological choice has lead us to the precipice of today's failed status quo. It is time for a new paradigm: kids-first reform. Make every decision based on what is best for kids. Period. End of sentence.
Sometimes that means supporting charter schools; sometimes it means opposing them. Sometimes that means going against the wishes of the California Teachers Association (CTA); other times it means joining hands and marching alongside them. I'm a lifelong Democrat, a pro-union progressive, and a veteran of the Clinton White House, yet I've worked with and supported high-quality charter schools. I have led multiple initiatives -- in direct partnership with the CTA -- to raise taxes in order to invest in public education, yet I firmly believe we are in desperate need of increased adult accountability. There need not be contradictions here, once we can discard irrelevant ideological battlelines and focus instead on putting kids first.
After two decades in politics, I'm hardly naive about how this game works, and I know that some of the most powerful interest groups California aren't thrilled with the reforms I have supported. These are the same interests that have publicly called California's historic Parent Trigger law -- the law we championed which creates a new right for every parent in California to transform their school simply through community organizing -- a "lynch mob" law. These are the same interests that invested millions of dollars to help elect our next governor, Jerry Brown, who now has the power to pull many of us off the State Board of Education. And they are the same interests that have ominously predicted that I and other reformers "may not be on the school board in a month or so."
Maybe they are right.
The Governor-elect has shown himself to be a reformer and an independent thinker throughout his political career. I supported him for governor because he pioneered cutting-edge environmental and labor policy as governor, because of his strong education reform record as mayor of Oakland, and because of his intellect, which I think may be his most appealing quality. Politics in this day and age has devolved into a cacophony of cable news hyperbole that has lost much of its intrinsic meaning. Jerry Brown has a long history of challenging the status quo, questioning long-held assumptions, and standing up for social justice. That's why I think Jerry Brown will make a great governor.
I hope Governor Brown stands with parents and kids and supports me and the other reformers on the State Board. But the most important thing to recognize about these decisions are that they don't ultimately matter.
If I've learned one thing from my time on the State Board, it is that the type of kids-first change we seek is never going to come from inside the system. We certainly need a few brave reformers on the inside; leaders like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, President Obama, and hopefully Governor-elect Brown. But now, thanks to our state's historic Parent Trigger law, parents no longer have to sit around and wait for someone else to do it for them. They can do it themselves. If half the parents at any failing school sign a petition, the parents can turn their school into a high-performing charter school, or they can keep it a district school but bring in new leadership and a new staff. For the first time in American history, parents now have real power over the education of their own children.
Parents are already organizing throughout California to take back and transform their children's failing schools, and they will not rest until they succeed. The kids-first change we seek is infinitely more likely to come from a small band of determined parents in Compton, fighting for the future of their own children, than from the dais of a board room in Sacramento.
Parents can't wait. They can't freeze-dry their kids. They operate on a different clock than district bureaucrats and politicians. They get one shot to give their kids the education they need and the future they deserve. And they are going to take back their schools for their kids and their future -- whether I'm a member of the State Board of Education or not.
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