Signal on D.C. education reform from Gray's camp
On Sunday, the All Opinions Are Local page of washingtonpost.com ran a commentary by former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous. I am rerunning it because I think it has unusual importance as we look toward the future of D.C. schools under Vincent Gray. The piece doesn't indicate ties to Gray. Nor does the identification of Chavous that ran with the piece. But Chavous is close to the presumptive mayor and the commentary provides many clues to what Gray might try to do.
I realize this is a throwback to my China-watching days, reading more into an editorial than it seems to say. But Gray has expressed his support for charters, a theme of Chavous's piece, so there are clear links between Gray and this line of thought. Chavous is worth reading in any case, and it is important to note that he is probably the best-informed and best-connected person in the Gray camp on educational innovation and education policy issues.
The Black Alliance for Educational Options, of which Chavous is board chair, has been the most aggressive African American organization in the country in pushing for increased parental choice in schools, particularly urban schools. It has supported not only charters, but taxpayer-funded vouchers that would allow students to attend private schools, such as the D.C. program that is being ended by Congress. It is always possible, once the Gray administration gets started, that it will be even more revolutionary (Chavous's word) and infuriating to some educators than the Fenty administration was. Whether Gray can be innovative and still remain in tune with community leaders, as Chavous recommends, remains to be seen, but it is an intriguing line of inquiry.
Read the full Chavous piece after the jump.
By Kevin P. Chavous
Enough already! I love Michelle Rhee, and I introduced Adrian M. Fenty to the issue of education reform back when he was on my D.C. Council staff. I applaud both of them for their commitment to changing the D.C. public schools. But to suggest that Fenty’s and (let’s face facts) Rhee’s upcoming departures from their positions will be devastating to education reform in the District is not supported by our history.
In fact, maybe the change will provide the impetus we need for something lacking in the education reform movement in America: a true revolution.
For several years, starting with our unique charter school initiative, the highly successful federal government partnership that created the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and, more recently, the reforms driven by Rhee as schools chancellor, the District has been a laboratory for education reform admired by reformers throughout the nation. Changes in leadership will not turn back the clock. But as with other education reform efforts across the country, many believe that the District’s quest for change has lacked a soul — that it has been a top-down, elite-directed effort.
Yes, there has been progress. The work of folks such as Rhee, New York’s Joel Klein, Louisiana’s Paul Pastorek, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, President Obama and others has been laudatory. So is the work of our emerging new education leaders like KIPP, Teach for America and countless charter school operators such as Friendship Public Charter Schools’ Donald Hense. These innovators toil every day to close the three primary achievement gaps affecting the lifeblood of our nation: the education deficits between children of color and white children, between all low-income children and children of means, and between all U.S. children and children from other industrialized nations. Despite our best efforts, however, each of those achievement gaps are either stuck in place or growing. At this rate they’ll never be closed. Worse, the education reform movement in America has no sense of urgency in closing these gaps. So the gaps remain. They will only be closed by a sustained, people-driven revolution.
Why a revolution? Throughout history, no meaningful movement for change has ever occurred without one. Such revolutions are needed to overthrow an entrenched oppressor that is working against the masses or infringing on their freedom. When the masses become fed up with the oppression, a revolution is inevitable. As history teaches us, leaders such as George Washington, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. provide leadership in freedom fights. But it is the people who turn those fights into revolutions. Revolutions have a sense of urgency.
In our national education reform movement, the people have yet to weigh in, but they are increasingly becoming fed up with the status quo. The masses intuitively know that what we do in our schools largely doesn’t work for many kids, yet they aren’t engaged in the fight for change.
Often, those of us fighting this fight every day unwittingly push away the very people needed to turn reform into revolution. We do so by not engaging parents, by not being inclusive, by knowing it all. Now is the time for us to let the revolution in education take hold. In places like D.C., Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, there are parents and other stakeholders who are ready to go to the streets and fight for the education for their children. These folks understand what past revolutionaries understood, that revolutions are messy, not nice. And that the people’s demand for change must be addressed immediately, not by way of an incremental three- to five-year reform plan.
So while we acknowledge the contributions of Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty to the cause of education reform in the District, their exit offers us an opportunity to engage those stakeholders needed to transform our movement into a true revolution in education. Once that happens, the goal of ensuring that each American child has a quality education becomes far more important than arguing over who is in charge.
The writer, a former member of the D.C. Council (D-Ward 7), is chairman of the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and a distinguished fellow with the Center for Educational Reform.
| September 28, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
Categories: Jay on the Web | Tags: Kevin P. Chavous, Vincent Gray, a clue to Gray's education reform plans
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