Thursday, May 12, 2016

Politics or Students? … Part 2

In my last blog, I addressed a concern that political party affiliation seems to be more important than the needs of students when it comes to conversations about public education.   As a follow up, I recently read an excellent article by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post titled “Diane Ravitch has a most unusual conversation with a billionaire school reformer”.  A link to the article can be found here.

What struck me immediately about this article is that two individuals with very different opinions about public education can have an open and frank discussion about how best to serve the students in public education.  It is conversations such as this that will lead to more positive outcomes and enable all of us to focus more on outcomes than on process.  Ultimately, this discussion must center on the needs of the students, not political party ideologies.

The conversation between Diane Ravitch, a noted public education advocate who wrote the book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” (a great read, by the way, on why she changed her position on standardized testing and No Child Left Behind), and Whitney Tilson, a billionaire hedge fund manager, caused me to step back and not just read their exchange (via their blogs) but to assess my own position on each of the subjects broached.

As I read through the exchange between Ravitch and Tilson, I was struck by the commonality of interest in many areas, yet a completely different perspective on implications and how to address the needs of students.  And despite the fact that I am a lifelong registered Republican, there are many areas where I agree with either or both of them.  I am using their exchange as an opportunity to reflect on my own position on the topics, an opportunity that should impact how effective I can be as a public education advocate.

While political party affiliation, and specifically criticism of those in a Republican-controlled Congress, permeates much of the article, the two spend a majority of their time focusing on the factors that impact our students every day in the classroom.  My sense is that many of us, myself included at times, find it very easy to criticize those whose position may not be in alignment with our own beliefs.  In reading this article, however, I am reminded of the importance of not simply taking a stance and assuming that others who disagree with me are wrong, but of using these differences to engage and have fruitful discussions, all focused on the students, their needs and how best to serve them. 

It starts with open dialog and ends by focusing on the students themselves.  Ms. Ravitch’s change in position on standardized testing was a result of this open dialog and an objective evaluation of the impact of programs she initially supported.  The lesson learned for all of is that, regardless of political affiliation or prior beliefs, we can and must all come together to Make Education a Priority.  

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