It’s getting uncomfortable out there.
Amidst a national period of divisiveness and polarization, “edu-politics,” the politics of public education, is in a tender state.
Rank and file education reformers—this broad and increasingly diverse collective of educators, community activists, advocates and wonks—who work every day to deliver on the promise of a great education, are persistently misrepresented in our motives and our impact. Our efforts are framed as though we are a movement exclusively championed, led and funded by a small group of wealthy donors, when we know we are really a movement made up of committed people.
Yes, education reformers rely on support from generous philanthropists, but we are united in our commitment to improving learning for all children. We understand that intensive social and systemic change must be sustained with authentic, organic demand.
Three decades in, we hail from every corner of the country, we span the political spectrum, we believe every child has the capacity to achieve and that it is the responsibility of adults to cultivate that innate genius. We believe that the achievement gap is not representative of a child’s true potential and that a great school should not be a matter of luck or privilege, but a right.
To be clear, there is much on which we do not agree but our shared values and commitment to children motivate us to show up every day to do our work in education.
We are alternately inspired by what is possible in great classrooms and schools, and flummoxed by the inanity of edu-political discourse. We are troubled by unsavory associations drawn between our motivations and our funders, and incensed by falsehoods that run contrary to facts and evidence.
Some have taken steps to advocate, support others to run, or to run for office themselves, in order to secure support for reforms at all levels of government. We need more of this and know that more of us on the ballot will lead to both new opportunities, and to new challenges.
We also know that continued progress requires community buy-in. To that end, more of us are working to engage, inform and empower parents and it is paying off, though its message will only endure if the supporting infrastructure broadens its funding base.
A, potentially powerful, missing ingredient thus far is our own—personal—money behind this movement. Our opponents have been doing this for years, through union dues, and they’ve been much more effective when it comes to politics. At times their narratives catch on while ours falls flat, their bills pass while ours get stalled in committee, their work gets implemented while our’s gets caught up in budget fights.
But if we were to put our own money behind our work—if we were literally “bought in”—we might have a better shot at unifying our movement and making real progress. And, it doesn’t take a lot of it. Political giving, after all, is a form of civic engagement.
As we know, there is no silver bullet. The comradery we have built through coalition work in our cities and regions, and when we have the chance to come together nationally—like at the recent PIE Summit—offer welcome reminders of our connective tissue: policies that assume high expectations, rigor, and with the student at the center of it all.
As we endeavor to persist in our work amidst a particularly troubling time for our country, we must fundamentally alter edu-politics and make it safe to talk about, and vigorously support, education reform.
Can we come together, consider putting our own skin in the game, and form a political strategy?