In a state as red as Georgia, local suspense concerning the presidential race died with March’s GOP primary. Nor will any coattails worn by Mitt Romney sweep across our red clay: The only contested statewide races for November are the oft-neglected ones for the Public Service Commission.
No, the only question facing everyone from Trenton to Thomasville whose outcome is unclear is the charter-schools constitutional amendment. One surprise from last week’s GOP convention was that champions of the amendment, and school choice more broadly, got a three-pronged boost.
Let’s hope they paid attention. And are cutting ads from the video.
It came from the very top of the party, as Romney himself said education reform would be one of his tools for reinvigorating the economy. Specifically, he said, “When it comes to the school your child will attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance.”
Florida’s Jeb Bush, whose gubernatorial record on education reform was second to none, sounded a similar note after reciting familiar statistics about U.S. students’ slipping global competitiveness.
“We say that every child in America has an equal opportunity,” he said. “Tell that to a parent stuck in a school” — i.e., a parent who can’t afford choices for her child — “where there is no leadership.”
“The sad truth,” he continued, “is that equality of opportunity doesn’t exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all. That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time. And it’s hurting all of America.”
But no one in Tampa made a more eloquent or powerful pitch for confronting the crisis of status quo-ism in education than Condoleezza Rice.
“You see,” she said, “the essence of America, what really unites us, is not nationality or ethnicity or religion. It is an idea. And what an idea it is. That you can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things, that it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going. …
“But today, when I can look at your zip code and I can tell whether you’re going to get a good education, can I honestly say it does not matter where you came from, it matters where you are going? The crisis in k-12 education is a threat to the very fabric of who we are.”
Rice pointed to three principles of reform that are anathema to the educational establishment but obvious to many of us:
“We need great teachers, not poor ones and not mediocre ones. We have to have high standards for our kids, because self-esteem comes from achievement, not from lax standards and false praise.
“And we need to give parents greater choice, particularly poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.”
“This,” said Rice, who grew up in segregated Birmingham but became the face of America as our secretary of state, “is the civil rights issue of our day.”
To hear the status quo-ists tell it, to challenge teacher tenure is to denigrate the profession. No, protecting poor and mediocre teachers at the expense of children and learning is what debases the profession.
To hear the anti-reformists tell it, to insist on high standards for children is to adopt the warped priority of “teaching to the test.” No, the idea that well-taught students won’t perform well on standardized tests — or, worse, that measuring success will drive even good teachers to cheat — is what’s warped.
And to hear the educational establishment tell it, to let parents choose where to spend the tax dollars already allocated for their children’s education is to seek the destruction of the public school system. No, whistling past the graveyard of failing schools and wasted potential, suggesting we only pump more money into an educational system that already far out-spends many higher-performing countries, is what’s already causing many parts of the system to crumble around us.
May Rice’s words reach many more Georgians than the ones who watched her speak last week.
– By Kyle Wingfield