Democrats push to improve education

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

February 27, 2013

By Alex Little and Natasha Kamrani

(From The Tennessean, February 26, 2013)

Like many of you, we firmly believe that a first-rate system of public education is the cornerstone of a prosperous, free and just society. But we are all too aware that thousands of children in Tennessee are trapped in persistently failing schools that are part of troubled school systems.

In Nashville, where the majority of voters pull the lever for Democratic candidates, far too many children and grandchildren of those voters — particularly low-income children and children of color — are not receiving the education they deserve from the officials they elect to provide it.

One example is the current inability of many of our public high schools to prepare students for college. Consider this: Last year, only 2 percent of Pearl-Cohn High School students had ACT scores that demonstrated they could go to, and succeed in, college.

As Democrats, we recognize that this must change — now. And we are prepared to actively work for that change. To begin to do so, we are proud to launch the Nashville chapter of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

DFER aims to return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children, first and foremost, in America’s public education systems. Fighting on behalf of our nation’s most vulnerable individuals is what our party is supposed to stand for.

We know the party is up to the task, starting with President Obama, whose largest reform initiative, Race to the Top, was brought to Tennessee by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.

In addition, Democrats in Tennessee are leading charter schools and traditional schools, serving in government, and shaping an agenda to reform public education for the better through PTAs, nonprofits and volunteer groups. These hard-working Democrats understand, from their experience on the frontline, that education reform is a moral imperative.

It is time our party leaders shared their urgency.

Through advocacy and education, DFER will push them to do just that. And those leaders who confront this challenge head-on, with fresh ideas that go to the source of the challenge, can count on our support.

Right now, ideas for change are abundant, and many are controversial.

One initiative deserves particular mention and support: the effort to improve the charter school authorization process.

Why? Because changing our schools for the better requires us to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Right now, Nashville’s high-performing charter schools are helping their students see some of the highest levels of achievement in the Metro area; in some cases, they surpass their colleagues in Williamson County.

This is no small feat, and we should seek to replicate their success.

To that end, we must promote policies that will encourage our nation’s best school leaders to come to Tennessee to open more high-quality charter schools.

In the past, when it came to charter schools, some school board members focused their questions on the effect these schools would have on the board, rather than on the education they can provide to students.

For those serious about positive change, and moving with urgency, this history is good reason to weigh the merits of alternative paths to opening new charter schools.

We are making progress in Tennessee, but we’re just at the beginning of the journey. There are many hard problems we need to solve to guarantee that all our kids receive the best education possible.

Natasha Kamrani is executive director of DFER-TN, and Alex Little chairs the DFER Nashville Steering Committee