Monday, August 2, 2010

Searching for Common Ground

Education is a civil right. However, over the past week different groups have offered varying perspectives on how to secure this right. Responding to their perceptions that aspects of the President’s education agenda were moving in the wrong direction, several civil rights organizations released a counter proposal suggesting that the President abandon some of his policies (e.g., Race to the Top). The Obama Administration met with civil rights leaders about their concerns and both Secretary Duncan and President Obama publicly pushed back on the framework at the National Urban League’s conference. As the debates over manifestos and policy agendas continue, the Coalition feels it’s important to share with you the areas where we see common ground.

The civil rights framework cites community schools as strategy to provide opportunities to learn to ALL students. They state, "The best approach to school turnaround is to reinvent low-performing schools as community schools, offering high-quality programs, strong instruction, and wraparound services." (Click here for more.) We agree. Community schools across the nation (e.g., Cincinnati, Tulsa, Kansas City, New York City, Portland (OR), and South King County, WA) are producing positive results for our youth.

While the Administration isn’t always as explicit about their support for community-based strategies, we see areas of agreement between the Obama Administration’s education reform strategy with the aforementioned groups. The President recognizes the important pieces we need in place to ensure that our youth succeed: schools, parents, communities, and social supports. He said,

“It’s [education] about investing in that school’s future, and recruiting the whole community to help turn it around, and identifying viable options for how to move forward.”

Clearly the President understands that complex problems require comprehensive strategies like community schools. However, a challenge still remains. Despite the Administration’s calls for more parent and community engagement, along with high standards, accountability, and quality teachers, education reform continues to be dominated by a false “either/or” debate. We believe that without question, our schools need qualified teachers and strong principals. But, just as surely, our young people and their families need more connections, more support, more opportunities, and more learning time to be successful.

In contrast, the community schools strategy is a “both/and” proposition. As we’ve said before in The Community Agenda for America’s Public Schools, the Coalition and its partners will continue to advocate for this broader vision – and we urge you to do the same. Through this vision we will continue to create the conditions for learning to ensure that all students graduate high school ready for college, career, and citizenship.

As your community members, networks, and policy makers debate what happened this week, we encourage you to emphasize that we don’t have to choose either high standards OR support for students and their families. We can and we must do both. And the President agrees. He said to the National Urban League,

“…to paraphrase Dr. King, education isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s [education] a both/and proposition. It will take both more focus from our parents, and better schooling. It will take both more money, and more reform. It will take both a collective commitment, and a personal commitment. “

The time is now and we must seek common ground. It is clear, that neither schools nor social supports alone can achieve the results we want. Together, parents, community leaders, community based organizations, educators, and students, must engage in the work of improving the lives of our nation’s youth.

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