This post was written by Lisa Macfarlane the state director of Democrats for Education Reform and co-founder of LEV. The post originally appeared on the DFER blog
Sarajane Siegfriedt, the newly minted Democratic Party nominee for the 46th district open legislative seat in Seattle, gave this response last week when asked about education reform. It provides a clear example of the type of cutting remarks we need to move away from in order to see real improvement in WA’s education system.
“Education reform’ should be in quotes. It is a right-wing corporate business agenda being foisted on parents…”
It is disheartening to hear such unconstructive language from someone who chairs the platform committee of the King County Democrats.
And, she is not the only one with resistance to change. The Chair of our state Democratic Party, Dwight Pelz, recently told the Seattle Times, “Ed reform is like weather. If you hang around long enough, it will change.”
New flash: We reformers are here to stay.
Unfortunately, some of our Democratic Party leaders in WA have missed the memo that improving public education is the civil rights issue of our time. Our Democratic leaders should be embracing education reform as an economic development strategy.
After all, the Democratic Party platform is undergirded by a commitment to a healthy and growing middle class. This is reason enough to put ideology aside and look for ways to improve our schools. Employers of every size have precious few job-ready Washingtonians to choose from. Many have had to resort to importing talent from other states and other countries.
Democratic Party leaders and candidates need to start acknowledging the obvious – we must do better by the kids who are growing up here. We do not have to agree on all the solutions to acknowledge that improving the quality of our public schools is an economic, civic, and moral imperative.
There is plenty of outrage when one of our own dares to stray from the party platform (which is interesting considering that our state platform on education strays from the national one), or votes in a way that irritates the teacher’s union.
But there is precious little outrage over how poorly thousands of low income and minority children are faring in our public schools. How can Democrats defend the status quo and eschew education reform when African American students in South Seattle have a:
- 1 in 2 chance of passing 3rd grade reading standards;
- 1 in 5 chance of passing 4th grade math standards; and a,
- 1 in 10 chance of passing 5th grade science standards.
While other states and cities are fighting to close their achievement gaps, we act like ours don’t matter. We make excuses.
Our public schools can and should be engines of opportunity. But first we need to set aside the ideology and muster more political will for education reform. Obama is leading. Other states are following. Will Washington catch up?