Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have decided to start talking about the state of K-12 public education in recent weeks. This is a very positive, if overdue, development, with both of them questioning the efficacy and priority of charter schools in the national dialogue on educating our children; and Sanders recently proposing a new, equity-focused approach to funding education in the United States.
Still, the candidates’ words don’t seem to resonate with many of the largely untapped public education parents and teachers who are in search of a candidate. Neither candidate really has a grasp on the varied and complex issues that have to be addressed when considering the changes and reforms our schools and children truly need. Let's help their campaigns by outlining the speech that at least one of them ought to give -- and soon.
Which campaign wants to lay claim to public schools supporters? Easy. Whoever embraces these ideas first. Just imagine:
Somewhere in New Hampshire:
A SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT ON A TRULY CHILD-CENTERED AND EFFECTIVE PUBLIC EDUCATION POLICY
Good morning. I want to spend a few minutes today considering the past, present and future of public education in our country— a topic too long ignored in this election year.
We know several things about public education. We know it is the road out of poverty for many children. We know many or most of our public schools are doing a fine job of educating our children. But we also know our nation still suffers from generations of neglect, discrimination and underfunding that drive unconscionable disparities in how we educate our privileged and our less affluent children. Clearly, education does not exist in a vacuum. We cannot expect schools or teachers alone to solve the immense problems many of our youngest children face in their home lives. Schools are expected to do more and more in an age when we are making it harder for them to do the basic job of educating their students. It seems that teachers have less control over what and how they teach, yet teachers are blamed more than ever for how their students perform on standardized tests. Is it any wonder we have an impending shortage of teachers? Even those who have long dreamed of being teachers may be hesitant to enter the profession as it is currently defined. Is that really what we want? Is that really what our children deserve?
John Dewey once said, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that we must want for all of the children of the community." Well, under my administration, we will actually govern that way and foster the kinds of schools where we would all be proud to send our children. We all know the factors that make a school great: excellent teachers who are respected, compensated, and supported so they can better teach our children; a rich and varied curriculum that includes the basic academic subjects as well as the arts and physical education; safe and healthy learning environments; the school as a center of community; strong leadership that focuses on enabling educators to collaborate, develop, and improve as they teach; reasonable class sizes; and an active and engaged parent and community presence. These describe some of our best schools -- both public and private. And these are the attributes our policies need to be building and sustaining, not undermining and discouraging. For too long, our policies have created a de facto parallel system -- schools for the Haves and other schools for the Have-nots. We need to shift our thinking and try a different approach — one that strives to improve opportunities for all of our nation’s children, not just a select few. Put simply, we must redouble our efforts to expand on our schools’ existing strengths, while freeing teachers to teach and addressing the lingering inequality that presents challenges to teachers and administrators.
Thus far, there’s been very little campaign time devoted to public education policy. I guess that’s not surprising given the amount of money and power at stake. Someone recently joked that on the Democratic campaign trail it’s as if children go straight from pre-K to debt-free college, and there’s no such thing as K – 12 education in between. Well, I want to change that mistaken perception. I want to address the hard questions, face the obvious challenges, and examine current practices to discern what works and what needs to be expanded. We also have to determine how to equitably allocate our resources strategically to solve problems. And then our nation has to set about the real work to make all our schools work for each of our children.
How do we do that? Well, in recent months, I have been quietly talking with teachers, principals, parents and students. These are the true stakeholders in this debate, after all. Many of these true stakeholders are affiliated with groups like the Network for Public Education, the Badass Teachers Association, Parents Across America, Class Size Matters, Education Opportunity Network, National Education Policy Center, Journey for Justice, FAIRTEST, Save Our Schools, United Opt-Out and the growing movement of student activist groups in many of our major cities. These are grassroots groups with smart, dedicated and hardworking people who believe in the value of public education and work hard every day to strengthen and improve the system. Groups like these will have a seat at the table in my administration. Together, we will carefully consider the various approaches of Community Schools — public schools that incorporate social service agencies, local businesses, and health and adult learning resources, to ensure that children and their families have the support they need. These programs have had promising results where implemented, but they have not been fully embraced or built out to their potential. That needs to change. Communities all over America are doing this work— building communities around and within schools, positively affecting the culture by addressing out-of-school factors that we all know have a major impact on school performance.
I am listening to educators and parents – the true stakeholders — and I will put some educators with actual real-world, real-school experience in positions of power in my administration. For a long time now, we have pursued so many of the corporatized policies: test and punish, drill and kill, stack, rank and close. These practices are not helping our children learn. And from my lifelong travels around the country and the globe, I know that no other country uses standardized testing the same way we do. There is a better way— our teachers and parents know there’s a better way.
This approach will support children and begin to address the socioeconomic factors that pose challenges for our students at home. Let’s try an approach that values educators and supports their efforts to innovate and try new things. And let’s figure out ways to reward schools that look like America, with the rich and sustainable diversity that has long been one of our nation’s essential strengths. Integrated schools are healthier schools. In the wise words of Thurgood Marshall, “. . . unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”
We say we want good schools for each child. But the policies we have pursued at the federal and most state levels have not produced that result— not even close. Mine will be the first administration in a long time that not only makes speeches about strengthening and improving our public schools, but actually adopts policies that will strengthen and improve our public schools. To those of you who have said my campaign hasn’t emphasized public education enough: you are right. Admittedly, I am looking at this with new eyes as I consider the education of my own grandchildren. How we educate them, and the millions of peers coming up alongside them, is one of the nation’s greatest responsibilities. I, for one, am ready to do my part.
Signed, the next president of the United States