For the past three years, Eduflack has touted the role the states (and localities) play in true school improvement. As “interesting” as the federal role is with its carrot/stick approach, the real work is happening at the SEA/LEA level. That was the case during the NCLB era, and it is certainly the case as we move into the College- and Career-Readiness Act era (OK, we need a catchy acronym for what EdSec Duncan and company are dreaming up for ESEA.) Real change, real improvement, and real decisions are ultimately found in our state capitals.
This is even true in Eduflack’s home state of Virginia. This year’s legislative session was an ongoing battle of priority between K-12 education (and to a lesser degree higher ed) and transportation. Do we focus on roads or schools? Add in the Old Dominion’s continued refusal to sign onto the Common Core standards, our inability to fund all-day kindergarten, our continued struggle with the role of charter schools in the state, and the highs and lows demonstrated in measures such as Quality Counts, and one can see that Virginia could be ground zero for a statewide effort to improve public education for all students. Yet Virginia is rarely seen as a “reform” state. In fact, most advocates and school improvement voices stay away from Virginia, concerned our state is not “open” to the sort of changes necessary to offer a lasting improvement that can narrow the achievement gap and provide real opportunities to students, particularly those from historically disadvantaged groups.
So why the background on Virginia and its commitment (or not) to public education? Indulge me a little. Historically, Eduflack likes to stay away from the personal on this blog (with the exception of bragging on my two perfect, incredible children). I try not to write about my work on my local school board. I try to stay away from detailing my day job and the organizations I do business with professionally. Separating that side of Eduflack’s life from the opining and ranting on this platform just seems the prudent thing to do. But today will be an exception.
On Friday, Eduflack’s state senator announced her retirement, after nearly four decades in public service. This year, the residents of Arlington, Fairfax, and Falls Church will elect a new state senator to send to Richmond. And dear ol’ Eduflack, apparently, is on the list of potential candidates to replace her.
Why do I post this here? Simply as a matter of full disclosure. The thought of serving in the Virginia State Senate never crossed my mind until I was approached this week. I’m happy with my life. I enjoy my work. I love serving on the school board. And I treasure every moment I get with my incredible wife and my perfect children. Why in the world would I want to upset that balance?
At the same time, I can’t shake why I am motivated to do what I do in the first place. Back in the fall of 2008, when I was bringing my daughter (the future governor of Virginia, and likely the first Latina woman governor of the Commonwealth) home from Guatemala, I wrote on my educational hopes for her and why I’m in this game in the first place. Nearly two and a half years later, those concerns haven’t lessened. If anything, they’ve grown stronger.
So those voices in my head ask a very simple question (simple to ask, not to answer). is it better to focus on the local, ensuring my own children have the very best public education available in the Commonwealth? Or is it better to fight for those conditions for all kids in Virginia? And if the latter, can the Virginia State Senate really focus on public education (early childhood, K-12, and higher ed) in the sort of way where those conditions can take hold just as easily in Petersburg as they can in Arlington?
No wrong answers here. Just pesky voices.