DFER-CO: Plenty of Room for Progressives Who Stand for Real Change in Public Education

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

February 9, 2017


Plenty of Room for Progressives Who Stand for Real Change in Public Education

By: Jen Walmer, DFER-CO State Director

It’s important for DFERs across the country to explain – yet again – what we stand for, and why.

The battle over the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education broke largely along partisan lines. Simple enough, right?

(We won’t get into all the other reasons we feel DeVos was not the right fit for this incredibly important Cabinet position).

Here’s where it gets complicated. DeVos also supports school choice and charter schools. But her record in Michigan is deeply troubling, where for-profit charters and lack of oversight have too often shortchanged students. So when Democrats opposed DeVos and listed her support for charters among the reasons, it became difficult to create daylight between our values and DeVos’ approach to public education policy.

We believe in accountability in education reform policies be it linked to choice, higher academic standards, or other innovative approaches to bolster student outcomes. We believe that choice works for families and communities only when married with accountability and oversight. Without that, it’s no choice at all.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet did a remarkable job of making a clear distinction during the Senate’s all-nighter designed to protest DeVos’ confirmation. Bennet, a longtime DFER champion and former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, cast the debate as a false choice between DeVos’ brand of school choice and the status quo.

Here are a few excerpts from Bennet’s stirring speech:

“The goal is, and must be, to offer high quality education at every public school so that parents can choose among great schools in their neighborhood and throughout their cities and towns. We must refuse to accept the false choice that I’ve heard over and over again during this confirmation process, that you either support school choice in whatever form or you defend the status quo.”

“Just as we must resist the fact that you cannot support public schools and advocate for change. This old rhetoric and manufactured political division will not work for our kids. We need to rise above the narrow small politics that consume our attention and prevent us from making tough choices. Instead we need to recognize that a 21st century education can and should look very different than a 19th century education or a 20th century education and no matter what approach or method of delivery it must be high quality.”

“The bipartisan progress achieved over the last 15 years in American education was predicated on a deep commitment to three principles: transparency, accountability and equity.”

As DFERs know, there is a robust policy spectrum that can and should be occupied by progressives. It’s where school choice means supporting high-quality public schools, whether they be charter, innovation or traditional schools. It’s a commitment to transparency, accountability and a focus on equity. It’s where adults put children first.

Maybe it’s not so complicated, after all.