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Kevin P. Chavous Headshot

Education Reform Is Much More Than Partisan Politics

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We have seen it all before. A predictable plot, bad script, bad director and bad actors. All ready to perform their roles. All the while, we, the audience, are forced to choose between the good versus evil plot put before us.
 
But, I am not talking about a movie.  I am talking about the response to Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney's education plan announcement two weeks ago.  As expected, both political parties acted out their respective roles beautifully. Republicans sang Romney's praises, while Democrats eviscerated him. The most galling of the responses, however, came from USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham, who derided Romney's plan. Wickham actually believes that parental choice is "fool's gold of education reform."
 
Hold on!  Say what you want, but the truth is that the emerging cry for parental choice is warranted, and it's not coming from the Republican Party playbook. In fact, the national education revolution is being driven by low-income parents who are disgusted with the fact that they are forced to send their kids to bad schools with no other options. Parents like Gwen Samuel, who is driving the parent revolution in Connecticut and those public housing mothers from Louisiana who rallied and fought for the statewide voucher bill recently passed by the Louisiana legislature. And, of course, the primarily Latino parents in Los Angeles who stood up to the union and LA Unified bureaucracy by signing petitions for a change in leadership at their kids' school -- the first exercise of the innovative parent trigger law that is now sweeping the nation.
 
These parents don't care about partisan politics. They just want their children to get a good education. To that point, there is no Republican or Democratic way to teach a kid to read, write, count or compete. Only good teachers, good parents and good schools can do that.
 
The truth is that while the politicians and pundits continue to play their parts, more and more of our kids are falling behind. For this, both parties bear tremendous responsibility.  Instead of advocating for and enacting policies and approaches that truly put kids first, we now have an overly politicized education system where adult interests and politics take precedence over the education of our children.  This has led to tepid, watered down education policy positions from both parties that, if enacted fully, would take years to implement. Quite honestly, if we were to peel the onion on what Romney and Obama propose, there isn't much difference between the two.  Both say they want to reform our K-12 system; both support performance pay; both support charter schools and both support teacher quality initiatives. Yes, they differ on other forms of parental choice and the role of the federal government, but both tout their proposals in stark political terms.
 
Folks, if we want to change our education system, we need to elevate the discussion and be bold about it. The one issue we should rally around as Americans, without the political shenanigans, is the education of our children. Wouldn't it be a welcome sight to see the top presidential candidates discuss their education proposals with unifying and aspirational tones? Proposals calling for the immediate and radical change needed in this country to make schools work for today's kids. Proposals that, when offered to the American people, give no deference to the politics of education, but are thoughtful and forward-thinking with children yet unborn in mind. Pie in the sky? Maybe. But one thing's for sure -- that would be a movie well worth watching. 

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