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Moving Beyond the Politics of Education

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On the heels of the most expensive, hype-driven presidential campaign in U.S. history, it is probably blasphemy to suggest that we depoliticize education. But I am convinced, particularly after this election, that we must do just that. For weeks, I have been calling on President Obama and Governor Romney to take the education issue off of the debate agenda and to set up a blueprint for a unified bipartisan national movement around learning in America. In response, both campaigns found ways to pick at each other about their respective education platforms when the truth of the matter is there wasn't much difference between the two candidates positions. In fact, this election would have provided an opportunity to build on the commonalities between the parties on education policy as opposed to fighting over the relatively small differences.

Of course, I understand the argument suggesting that since education is mainly a government enterprise, primarily funded through state legislatures, there will always be some measure of politics involved in the education reform discussion. But now is the time to elevate the discussion and create a national passion around learning that transcends the politics of the day.

What do I mean? As a starting point, we need to look at education quite differently than we do now. So much of our approach to educating our young is cloaked in politics. The traditional teachers union leadership is totally engulfed in Democratic party politics, while the new breed of education reformers, including the charter school and parental school choice leaders, Teach for America types and educational entrepreneurs, are portrayed as tools of the right wing. And it doesn't matter if these folks are helping kids. Even the emerging parent advocacy groups are being considered more as a political faction than groups of parents legitimately concerned about their kids education. As a result, any and all discussions relating to how we fix our schools are viewed in stark political terms and the various stakeholders feel compelled to pick sides before all of the relevant issues are fully understood. Take the Chicago teachers' strike. Most people have little or no understanding about the specific issues of contention that led to the strike, nor did they really give deference to the resulting impact on the children. Rather, many of the interested, yet uninformed, formulated their position about the strike based on an instinctive political antenna which was often guided by historical political allegiance. This must change. It is time for us to upgrade our approach to education in America.

So how do we get there?

First, our national and local leaders need to encourage a positive national dialogue with goals and aspirations to match the educational dreams many parents have for their children. Practically, this means that Republicans and Democrats nationally and in every state legislative chamber should reach across the aisle and build on their common points of agreement and create measurable goals and objectives, both short and long term, that will advance the academic achievement of our kids. Tough issues like tackling the common core standards, teacher effectiveness and accountability, parental choice and early childhood education won't be easy. The key is that those agreements need to be reached without the input or influence of political party caucuses.

Second, lets make it a priority to educate each and every American child. By honoring this commitment, we accelerate the urgency associated with closing our achievement gaps and in eliminating the education disparities between race and class so that all children can benefit.

Finally, our leaders, especially our president, needs to make education in America a national cause; part of a national obsession around teaching and learning as a critical part of our future. This can happen by creating an aspirational environment in which all citizens can participate. I have always believed that most people will embrace change if you hug them and include them while you change them. By encouraging a national dialogue, our leaders can help guide the reforms needed to provide Americans with a competitive edge in education.  Through technology, innovation and strategic public cheerleading, we can move our nation to become more competitive with the other industrialized nations that are currently outpacing us educationally.

Imagine an America that fosters a culture of lifelong learning, K-16 and beyond. A nation that puts such a premium on the education of its citizens that even the proverbial man on the street knows that the country's leaders care about HIS education. A nation that motivates its students to value education, love learning, and realize their duty to their families, our nation, and themselves to maximize their educational potential without giving any thought to the politics of the day. We need to make that vision a reality.

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