Vinny Badolato is vice president of public affairs at the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
I definitely place myself on the left of the political spectrum. I am not going to defend my position by stating what I am for or against; take my word for it. And as a “lefty”, I am frustrated with all of the recent diatribes from the left fringe concerning their convoluted take on education reform and elections in Colorado (see here, here, and here).
What they obviously don’t understand is that their wild conspiracy theories and follow-the-money “exposes” are not grounded in truth and are really nothing more than the continual verbal diarrhea that masquerades as public discourse but actually masks what should be the real education discussion: Finding ways to deliver a quality education products that prepares all kids for success in life.
I equate these fringe-left finger-waggers with the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh on the right – charlatans preaching to their own choirs. I am usually content to let both ends of the spectrum lob their vitriol at each other while the rest of us who find themselves somewhere in the middle of these edges of the bell curve get to work building coalitions to support real change to benefit kids.
But it bothers me when folks from the side I identify with hide behind distorted ideology and use faulty rhetoric to make their points think they are speaking for me. You don’t speak for me or most of the left; progressives that want to preserve the “public” aspect and delivery of a free public education, but don’t think that the current system or power structure works to benefit all kids and the future of our nation.
I honestly could care less about who’s funding what or who may make a profit on providing a publicly provided education as long as the product they provide is high-quality and is providing kids with skills, knowledge and opportunity.
(it’s funny that these lefties decry profits being made on education by entrepreneurs or – wait for it – corporations, when everyone who works in education – from the teachers in the classroom or administrators in central office – profit off of education; I don’t know anyone who works in education for free, do you?)
We can of course critique and debate the quality of actual products and services, as we should, but the profit motive is a total canard. The real discussion should be focused on accountability for student learning and public dollars by ensuring that the product being provided meets the end goals of the public education social compact.
If a for-profit provider isn’t producing, then they should go out of business. And the same goes for a non-profit or district provider. If a district school is not producing, then they should be out of business as well.
It all centers on the goal of a public education system. If what we want is a clunky behemoth providing a one-size-fits-all product, governed by unwieldy laws and rules that sacrifice fresh ideas and flexibility for job security and outdated hierarchies, overseen by weak accountability schemes that protects the one best system, couched in false notions of small-d democratic decision-making, all the while producing mediocre results for most kids, then by all means listen to the left fringe and fear progressive change.
Conversely, if what we want is a totally unregulated hodge-podge of deliveries and operators driven by generating the biggest profits for shareholders, which sacrifices the “publicness” of education because government is too big or we don’t believe in the public purpose of education and schooling, overseen by misguided accountability that threatens to produce massively inequitable results for kids, then listen to the right fringe and leave it totally to the “market”.
But if you are like me and desire a system that wants to be nimble and adaptive to external factors, is open to entrepreneurial ideas, balances true flexibility and autonomy with strong accountability, funds kids and not structures, maintains the concept of public education as part of the commons, is meant to educate a tremendously diverse populace in the collective notion of what it means to be an American in a global society and that holds promise to get real results for all kids, then ignore the fringes and keep pushing forward with smart changes.
If you agree with me, then block out the noise and think for yourself. Pay attention to elections. Support the politicians that transcend party platforms and don’t advocate for ideas that are politically expedient. Dig through the rhetoric to find education models and new ideas that are working or show promise, regardless of where they come from or who’s advocating for them.
Most importantly, fight like there’s no tomorrow to provide a high-quality public education that changes kid’s lives. Because there probably is going to be a tomorrow, but it sure won’t be so bright if we don’t get this right.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.