Education “Reformers” and “Status Quo”: Timeout!

Democracy is messy, but this election season at times was downright filthy. The partisan pot-shots and polarization was most prevalent in social media – let he who hasn’t retweeted @LOLGOP cast the first stone – but the campaigns had their moments too.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, President Obama called for unity. He challenged us to put the rancor of the 2012 campaign behind us. And in a refrain familiar to those who have witnessed warring parties in a divorce, the President pleaded to do it for the kids:

“We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools, the best teachers. We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the disruptive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world.”

“Let’s do it for the children” is a message that resonates strongly in me. Yet like political operatives, I often fall prey to divisive sniping – all too common in the sphere of public education. It frequently reminds me of a high school cafeteria. The jocks at one table, the geeks at another. Except in our case it’s the “reformers” and “the status quo.”

Just like high school cliques are built on misleading stereotypes, trying to pigeonhole the two sides in public education debates is overly simplistic. Those of us in education with proven track records should not be made to feel that we are part of the problem. Likewise, those of us in education should not view anyone outside “the system” as enemies of the state.

Education advocates have been patient. As National Journal noted, our “pet issue [was not] a prominent feature in the presidential campaign.” But there’s a huge pile of work to tackle during this new term, and lot of room for common ground. Renewing No Child Left Behind is a potent opportunity to bridge differences and cooperate – the education bill’s update has been languishing in Congress for years.

There is widespread agreement that we need to do a better job of educating our minority students to compete and excel in a global workforce; expanding access to quality early education programs; and making higher education affordable for every student who wants the opportunity to attend college or a vocational program.

To make real progress toward these goals, we need to stop pointing fingers, stop the squabbling and forge a path to work together, despite our divergent views. I’ll go first.