Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Obama's Victory and Education Reform

It was a GREAT day for education reform, for many reasons:

A) It means Obama (and, I assume, Duncan) will remain in place for another four years, which is critical in three main ways: a) They can continue to push their outstanding reform agenda; b) With Obama never having to face the voters again, I think it’s likely that he will be even bolder in pushing the envelope for education reform; and c) It’s impossible to overstate the importance of having a DEMOCRATIC president and a DEMOCRATIC Secretary of Education pushing reform. It just changes the whole debate, providing cover for Democrats at all levels nationwide. And it completely undermines the unions’ traditional talking points, as it makes it much harder to scream that whatever ed reform initiative is underway is just a Republican plot to privatize public education and/or undermine the Democratic party. The messenger is often as (or more) important than the message…

Exhibit A is the ballot initiative in the state of Washington, which failed three times previously, when it was seen as part of a Republican agenda (it’s not clear that it passed – see below – so cross your fingers, but regardless it did much better than previously). The framing (and the reality) this time around was that this was coming from the political left (meaning "less scary for Washington voters.") This storyline was reinforced by stories about DFER's Lisa Macfarlane having led a previous battle AGAINST charters in the state and her quotes about how she reconsidered her stance after listening to ed reformer in chief Barack Obama. Lisa's co-conspirators (the League of Education Voters and Stand For Children) also could not be pegged as right-wingers, but the "D" in DFER was a crucial ingredient in the mix for success.

B) Obama’s victory shows every current and future Democrat that it’s possible to buck the unions – to REALLY anger them (heck, Obama was willing to take a teachers strike in the third largest city in the country less than two months before the election!) – and still win re-election. What – the unions were going to support Romney??? HA! (Why the Republican party hasn’t figured out that their extremists aren’t going to defect to the Democrats is beyond me…)

C) It wasn’t just Obama who won – Democrats at every level who bucked the unions and stood up for kids won! DFER supported 30 candidates and 22 won, including all three U.S. Senators and 7 of 9 House members. Here’s the summary from DFER and attached is the list (in addition, TFA alum Allison Serafin (, whom I supported and blogged about, won a seat on Nevada’s state board of education with 68% of the vote):

D) Charter schools were big winners as well. It looks like voters in the state of Washington will narrowly approve a ballot initiative that will, for the first time, permit charter schools in the state (HUGE kudos to DFER’s Lisa Macfarlane, though there are still a lot of votes to be counted and the lead is only 2.5 percentage points) and a pro-charter ballot initiative in Georgia passed as well. Here’s Nina Rees, head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:

Statement from Nina Rees on the 2012 Election
Washington, D.C. – The 2012 election is an important moment in the public charter schools movement.

In two states, voters sent a clear message that they want public school options that are unique partnerships between teachers, parents, and students and that respond to the specific needs of their communities.

Voters in Georgia rejected the status quo and created conditions that support the growth of high-quality public charter schools that are accountable for student achievement. Now, charter applicants who are rejected by school districts will have access to a fair appeals process.

In Washington state, where votes are still being counted, voters are on the verge of making their state the 42nd with a public charter school law. If the results hold up, families and children in Washington will have the chance to attend schools that are as innovative as the companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing that drive the state’s economy forward.

In addition, the re-election of President Obama maintains leadership for charter schools at the national level. In his first term, President Obama created an environment where charter schools could thrive through the incentives in Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, Promise Neighborhoods, and other reform programs. Over the past three years, almost half of states have revised their charter school laws to support growth and quality. Over the past four years, enrollment in public charter schools has risen by almost 1 million students. Today, more than 2 million students attend these unique public schools that serve the needs of students and their parents.

With the support of voters in Georgia, Washington and other states, and with the leadership from elected officials in state houses and Washington, D.C., the best days are ahead for the public charter school community.

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