I'm not comfortable with conflict. There. I said it. I never joined a debate team, I have friends on all sides of every fence imaginable, and was always that kid who tried to get everyone to get along. So it's hard for me when people position me for or against anything. Context makes a huge difference. There are exceptions, of course, and a few things I absolutely won't budge on. But for the most part, I can see both sides.
Which is why it is so interesting, and sometimes frustrating, to work in education. People are so polarized on this subject! I often feel as though I'm struggling to keep my head above the waves being splashed in both directions.
I went to private elementary school - my mom taught music there. Then on to public middle and high schools in Los Angeles. There were certainly pluses and minuses in both arenas, but for the most part I feel like I obtained a good foundation, and life experiences which have taught me well. I thank my family, friends and a few exemplary teachers and coaches along the way. I was pretty lucky.
But changing California demographics and economic realities in the past 25 years, not to mention Props 13 and 98, have changed things. While there are always challenges, it’s no longer a given that all public school kids are being well educated here. It makes me sad to say this. I am a big supporter of public education. I want there to be great schools for all children. Knowing there are kids - and not just a few - who are growing up with little to no structure, who are exposed to violence in their neighborhoods and attend schools too overwhelmed to provide what they need - children who will literally disappear as a result, absolutely breaks my heart.
So I am so encouraged by, and will continue to support, all of the innovative
efforts to help public schools. I think charter schools, when done well,
provide an excellent example of innovation. What I’m hearing about CCSS
sounds promising, as are efforts such as Tony Smith's Community Schools
initiative in Oakland. No matter your opinion on how effective he has
been in carrying out those plans, I hope Oakland finds another visionary
Superintendent like Tony – we certainly need one. But the reality is there
are still a lot of crossed signals, competing priorities and tremendous
financial hurdles in correcting the challenges in California’s Public
In the meantime, I am plagued by a question - one that is particularly relevant here in the Bay Area: Is it ok to live in an America where only rich people have choices?
Common Core, Community Schools, Blended Learning, Teacher Evaluation, Pension Reform… these are all promising ideas. But, I am skeptical that those ideas will change this picture by September. Call me crazy. Already I know of at least 2,000 families in our back yard who are not just unhappy, but desperate for an alternative by September. They can't move to find a better school district. They can't transport their child across town to find a school where there isn't a dropout epidemic for their demographic. They can't just decide to move their bullied child to another environment. Not only that, they have identified a school where it could work for them, but they don't have that choice – they can’t afford it. As a parent, I can't imagine what kind of stress they are under. And yet, given just a little help they persevere! They scrape together what little they have - they sacrifice, work more than one job, and bend over backwards, to make it possible for their child to go to a school where they will have a future. I am literally in awe of these families.
So that's why I, public school educated, public education advocate, with children in a (thankfully great) public school, don’t find this complicated. I want to make sure these children have an option that will see them through. They deserve it. If some of us can choose for our children, we all should be able to. It's as simple as that.