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THE EDUCATION REFORM DEBATE IS NOT OVER

Letter to the Editor Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has taken a bold stand on the state’s new
Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission (editorial 8/5/99). The
Post-Intelligencer is alarmed because (horrors!) the Republicans “want to
use the commission to debate how education reform will unfold in this
state.” According to the Post-Intelligencer the “debate is over.” Why, then,
I wonder, should there be a commission at all? If there is nothing left to
debate, the commission is superfluous.

The Post-Intelligencer editorial damned one of us (it happens to be me) for
advocating “giving families more choices in educating their children.”
Worse, another of us advocates charter school legislation (which 36 states
and the District of Columbia have adopted). Far worse, another one of us
thinks competition might help and still another often disagrees with the
teachers’ union.

Apparently the Post-Intelligencer wants a rubber stamp commission, with
members who advocate establishment approved reforms only and who will reduce
choices for families. Interestingly, the editorial staff didn’t bother to
ask any of us how we see the business of the commission.

Now that it’s an issue, perhaps I should state my position as a nominee.

First, the Post-Intelligencer has the business of the commission right–it
is to determine how to turn around failing districts and their schools, and
how to reward those that do well for their children. Second (unlike
Post-Intelligencer) I do not regard the task so simple that I would end all
debate on how to do it. Third, (unlike Post-Intelligencer editorial writers)
I believe education reform must be the business of a broad spectrum of the
community. It is time to include a small voice from members of the public
who think outside the box.

Fourth, the Post-Intelligencer is right that I advocate more educational
choices for families. I also advocate trying everything possible for the
child who is not flourishing. My concerns are for children and their
families, and for our history and culture of constitutional liberty in
thought and belief. As a result, I respect both our public and private
school traditions and the fine people who make them work.

Finally, my personal choice for my son was public schools–including three
inner city public schools. In two I volunteered to help in the classroom. In
one I served on the Title I parents’ advisory committee. I was an assistant
den mother to a few dozen boys from that same school. I apprenticed myself
to one of those amazing mothers, a woman on welfare at the time, who faced
poverty bravely and took responsibility for the after-school education of
her child and every other child within her reach.

I learned much from these children and their parents at these schools. These
were good schools, although almost all the children (by the judgment of
professionals) had multiple educational disadvantages and were allegedly
“hard to teach.”

I would welcome the opportunity to figure out how to encourage and reward
such schools and all the people who make them work, including parents and
teachers. If this makes me unfit to serve on a state accountability
commission, I’m proud to be a misfit.

Patricia Lines is a research associate at the National Institute on Student
Achievement, Curriculum and Assessment in the U.S. Department of Education.

The Center for Education Reform is a national, independent, non-profit
advocacy organization founded in 1993 to provide support and guidance to
individuals, community and civic groups, policymakers and others who are
working to bring fundamental reforms to their schools.