“Not All Public Schools Are Created Equal”

Earlier this week, I got into an interesting Twitter debate with another edu voice. On the morning in question, I had posted a quote from Sen. Rand Paul, taken from a Politico story on his speech before the National Urban League.

The quote was a simple one. Senator Paul said to Politico, “I grew up and went to public schools. My kids have gone to public schools. But frankly, not all public schools are created equal.

I was taken by the statement for a few reasons. One, it is a belief that I share. Two, it was an interesting statement delivered by a Libertarian at the National Urban League. Not the typical speaker for Urban League, and definitely not the usual audience for Rand.

And then the back and forth began. I was accused of being irresponsible for giving credit to someone who wanted to “destroy public education.” How dare I say all public schools aren’t equal? This is just a veiled effort to promote charter schools. Paul’s budgets are irresponsible. Why am I elevating his man in his search for the presidency? How can I contribute to the rapid decline of this great nation?

A little hyperbole, yes, but interesting responses none the less. While I’d like to think a tweet from me would determine whether someone could win the highest office in the land, we all know nothing could be further from the truth. But let’s go to the edu-portion of this debate.

Can we honestly say all public schools are equal? When parents are charged with “stealing” public education by sending a child to a non-assigned district, is there really any question? When we look at data from the Schott Foundation, citing the vast inequities in access to college prep high schools, should we still be debating they “all is well?” When we still have dropout factories and pathways to the Ivies, must we ask the question? When upwards of half of black and brown students struggle to read at grade level, yet well-to-do white students are doing fine, is there any doubt?

Rand Paul raised a point that we all need to examine. We should all be supporters of public schools. I, for one, am a product of public schools. My mother is a retired public high school teacher. I insist my kids attend public schools. And I know, each time we have moved, that the quality of the local schools was our primary factor in decision making.

One can question whether we should scrutinize a politician’s rhetoric to see if it matches his actions and whether his votes match his public commitment to an issue. We should analyze records and seek out a bigger understanding. We should cast our votes based on the totality of a candidate and his record. And yes, this is sounding like a Schoolhouse Rock song.

But we should also look for every opportunity to raise the profile of education issues. We should hope that Rand Paul’s statement forces more Republicans to see the value and opportunity in truly public education. We should hope that groups like NUL recognize that public school support should not be a partisan issue. And we must all realize that, even if we have unimaginable love for public education, there are leaders and laggards and we all can do more to ensure that all kids have a great public education, regardless of race, family income, or zip code.

If not, we will be fiddlin’ as edu-Rome burns. For too long, too many kids have been at risk or left behind because we argue over whether all is well. Ask a fifth grader who can’t read, a recent graduate who needs to take all remedial classes, or a teacher who hasn’t had books for three years if all public schools are equal. Go ahead. I dare you …

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