Equal Opportunities for Success?

There seems to be virtual agreement that much more needs to be done to improve our nation’s public schools.  Education is, and should be, the great equalizer.  Under the current law of the land — NCLB — our nation is committed to providing access to a high-quality, effective education for all students.  For those who can’t get such an education at their community school, the law provides for vouchers, supplemental services, school choice, charter schools, and even improved instruction through Reading First.

For months now, Eduflack has been waiting for the presidential candidates to jump into the rhetorical debate on the future of public education.  Aside from a few quick phrases and taglines along the fringes, most have stayed away from the education issue.  After last week’s NEA conference, it seems a few are starting to dip their toes into the water.

The latest is John Edwards.  Seeking to promote his “two Americas” agenda, Edwards chose New Orleans to take his first stand on improving public education.  The Politico has the story.  http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0707/4957.html

His solution?  Busing and housing vouchers.  Sure, he offers a few additional ideas, but once his stump speech makes its way through the media filters (if the media even notices), it will be remembered for two issues — busing and housing vouchers.  And that’s a shame.

In promoting these ideas, Edwards is saying that some communities in this country are beyond assistance.  We need to bus kids away from struggling schools, hoping a change of scenery will boost student achievement.  And we need to uproot families, telling them that opportunity can only come to those in some, not all, communities. 

This is the wrong message at the wrong time.  At the root of meaningful education reform is the belief that all schools can be improved if they have access to proven instruction and high-quality teachers.  NCLB strengthens that belief, committing the nation to ensure that no child is left behind and all children have access to a high-quality, effective education.

Spending $100 million on a busing plan doesn’t solve the problem.  Instead, we’re playing three-card monty, hoping that no one flips over the underlying problem.  Shuffling kids around doesn’t improve educational quality.  It may help a few kids improve, but it doesn’t fix the problem.  Don’t believe me?  Take a look at how well busing worked in the 1960s and 1970s.  Many cities have just recently ended that failed social experiment.  In 2007, we should all rally around the belief that all students should have a chance to succeed, not just those fortunate enough to gain a seat on the bus, a slot in a magnet school lottery, or a voucher for a new apartment.

Senator Edwards, if you really want to tear down the walls between the two Americas, offer an idea for getting effective teachers in some of the most struggling of classrooms.  Provide the means to ensure that proven-effective instruction is taught with fidelity in every school, regardless of socioeconomic standing.  Commit to holding all schools accountable, giving all students the resources and support they need to achieve.

Edwards has put a weak volley across the education reform net.  Who’s up for returning it with a little umph?

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