As we start off another new year, many of us have made resolutions about the things we need to do to lose weight, save money, improve relationships, etc. Unfortunately, most resolutions are abandoned by mid-February. Those resolutions fail as we slide back into our routines or because we just can’t sustain never eating chocolate again.
Instead, how about we all commit to improving the tenor of our conversations about public education in general? The polarization of opinion that is overwhelming the news these days has many of us reluctant to engage in discourse about matters that are important to us and our society’s future. Education is just as susceptible to an “us versus them” argument as any other political topic and school choice tops the list—but it doesn’t have to.
Maybe in 2018, we should keep our focus on kids. The fact is that students are achieving great things in schools of all stripes: traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, even homeschooled and “unschooled” kids. Unfortunately, the members of these groups consider the other groups’ competitors and denigrate the other groups and even want to see them vanquished.
What both sides need to acknowledge is that good education has transformed the lives of people—and those educations have come in packages of all shapes and sizes. If someone says that being able to attend a charter school saved her life, changed the trajectory of his life, got her to college, or helped him graduate from college how can anyone say that they shouldn’t have had that opportunity? On the other side, let’s make sure we celebrate the great things that our traditional public school partners do in education, too. After all, the vast majority of us are products of that system.
Everyone in education has a common enemy: poor performing schools and lack of opportunity for so many of our young people. Rather than see schools as competing against each other, we can unite around a common enemy. How can we all work with each other and with legislators to improve funding for education? How can we share best practices so that we become more efficient, more nimble, and more successful? Why don’t we share resources so students have access to all kinds of opportunities and programs across and between districts?
That’s a pretty heavy lift, but if we start from a place where we believe in the good intentions of one another and we work together to defeat the pernicious enemy of a poor education, we could do it. Not only would more kids learn and be successful—which is more than enough as a goal—but a virtuous cycle could also begin. And it could all happen without sore muscles or grumbling stomachs.
Originally published in Michigan Association of Public School Academies’ January 2018 Charter Connect magazine