The other day I was emailing with Joel Klein, the first Chancellor of New York City School under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The conversation brought me back to his tremendous 2014 book, “Lessons of Hope.” He wrote:
“The issue of poverty and its effect on our ability to educate kids dominates the contemporary debate on school reform and improvement. From the day I became chancellor, many people told me, “You’ll never fix education in America until you fix poverty.” I’ve always believed the reverse is true: we’ll never fix poverty until we fix education. Sure, a strong safety net and support programs for poor families are appropriate and necessary. But we’ve recently celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, and it seems fair to say that we must seek new approaches as our problems increase.
Safety-net and support programs can never do what a good education can; they can never instill in a disadvantaged child the belief that society can work for for him in the same that it works for middle- and upper-class children. it is the sense of belonging-the feeling that the game is not rigged from the start-that allows a child to find autonomy, productivity, and ultimately, happiness. That’s what education did for me. And that’s why, whenever I talk about education reform, I like to recall the wise, if haunting, words of Frederick Douglass, himself a slave, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair men.”
This election cycle it feels like we have given up trying to build strong children. The subject of public education is rarely mentioned, even though the last civil rights struggle in this country is being able to provide an excellent public education for everyone no matter their socioeconomic status. On the national stage Democratic candidates, if they talk about schools at all, make sure to broadcast their opposition to charters.
Even Mr. Bloomberg, who during his tenure as New York City’s chief executive drove enrollment in charters from 4,442 students in 18 schools to 183 charters serving 71,422 students, said this the other evening about the issue during the Presidential Democratic debate: “I’m not sure they’re appropriate every place.”
It’s all terribly discouraging. With academic proficiency rates across the country in the thirty percent range, an achievement gap between affluent and poor that only continues to rise, and stagnant national standardized test scores, no one is offering a blueprint to reinvent what is clearly not working.
Well, I’m not running for office and no one has asked my opinion but I will provide one anyway.
We desperately need to eliminate the top-down bureaucratic nature of teaching kids. Elected representatives must introduce school choice plans that impact as many children as possible as quickly as possible. These would include private school vouchers, educational savings accounts, tax credit scholarships, or charter schools. I’m completely agnostic about the specific structure, I just know that we need to immediately introduce competition for students that will drive all educational delivery systems to improve.
We say that our goal is to provide a quality seat to every student who need one. But we have been saying this for 25 years now.
Here in the nation’s capital we must greatly increase the number of charters. But first, so that they have a place to open, we need to pass a law that states that any approved charter or replicated campus gets the right to a permanent facility.
I’m done begging Mayor Muriel Bowser for buildings. I see the answer in the courts. Let’s teach her a lesson that no matter your position of power you cannot skirt the law. Hasn’t she said exactly the same thing about the President?
Here’s the bottom line. I’m out of patience and I’m completely frustrated. If you are a parent trying to get your child into a quality school in this city and you find out that there is a wait list of 2,000 kids, then the only option you have is to move. For most families, relocation is not possible.
Is this what we want for our town?
I’m done with the leaders who state they care about public education. They do not.