Everyone trying to influence policy dreams of leading “an organized whole that acts as a single, unified, powerful or influential force.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary will tell you that is the definition of a monolith.
Experience in policy advocacy will tell you it’s a pipe dream. Good luck finding a great example of that in practice.
This applies to any social issue, but particularly to education reform, where our differences of opinion have always simmered, and often for good reason.
Because we are a broad and increasingly diverse group of committed advocates, community leaders and practitioners, we bring with us a variety of perspectives on all the issues and practices at stake.
But a few months ago, I challenged my peers with the question: “Are Education Reformers Willing to Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is?”
The lively range of responses I received told me our connective tissue is stronger than you may think.
At Allies for Educational Equity, we believe the connective tissue of education reform centers on the core tenets of choice and accountability.
Our guiding belief boils down to one proposition: If we, the adults paid to teach and to lead education systems, are responsible for ensuring kids are ready for life and work after graduation, then we need to do whatever it takes to draw out their innate genius and get them ready, even if doing that makes us uncomfortable.
Choice provides a pathway for adults to create the kind of school that meets student needs. Accountability rests on meaningful data that gives insights into how kids are doing, and demands action to ensure adults’ incentives are in place to close gaps and move the needle for students.
There is no end to the often vexing challenges that stem from putting these core tenets into practice, but a spirit of innovation and a deep belief in the power of knowledge and potential of each child are the common threads of our movement.
There is no end to the differences of opinion that exist among education reformers on a plethora of issues: “No excuses” versus restorative justice, academics versus whole child, “mom and pops” versus network charter schools, choice-charter versus choice-voucher, district reform versus charter, proficiency versus growth, increasing rigor in teacher prep versus diversifying the teacher workforce.
Some recent opinion pieces by our peers—Kate Walsh asking if the education movement has lost its way, Garris Stroud on EdWeek’s teacher survey and Derrell Bradford on a suburban strategy—capture all of this well.
But we in the education reform community would do well to remember there are no silver bullets and the truth is nearly always “both, and.” How often are these oppositions really false choices, when the real answers lie in a middle way that draws from the best of both poles?
It’s Time To Embrace Our Differences and Search for Common Threads
Today’s harsh political discourse and highly divisive climate, well beyond education, have further complicated edu-politics, threatening to sever our delicate alliance across the political spectrum and further alienate potential new donors and allies.
We should endeavor to embrace the tensions and resist fragmentation. Listen. Understand. Debate. Collaborate.
At our best, we in the education reform community recognize and value the commonalities we share across a variety of perspectives.
We keep our arguments within the family and we are willing to push back when our friends—who may not work in education reform and may even have opposing viewpoints on some of the issues we work to advance—as well as our own policy makers misunderstand the impact, motives and principles underlying education reform efforts.
Most importantly, we are constituents, too.
I’m grateful to be part of a social movement that is willing to question why and how we have done things in the past to do more and better going forward, and that is unapologetic in supporting all children in realizing their innate potential and holding adults accountable to help them achieve to the fullest.
Just a year in, Allies for Educational Equity has already, through our own network of more than 130 allies from 26 states and D.C., opened up conversations within our community by connecting us with each other to one another’s context in a more meaningful way.
We aren’t a monolith. But we have shown up for each other from the belief that out of many, we can be one.
Social and systemic change is hard. It will require a variety of partners, perspectives and talents coming together to achieve success. But the underlying premise of all our endeavors is the same: to fundamentally alter incentives for adults so that the best interests of children are front and center.