The Whole vs. The Sum of its Parts

Last week, Michael Jonas of Commonwealth Magazine wrote a thoughtful rundown of the current state-of-play in the Massachusetts Common Core saga. The focus of the piece is Governor Charlie Baker's "hands off" approach to the measure, even though the governor suggests that a ballot initiative is superfluous:

Though Baker said he does not plan to weigh in on the ballot question, he suggested that the repeal effort is not necessary now that the state has opted to develop its own test and not simply administer the assessment developed by a multi-state consortium to align with the Common Core standards.

Later in the piece Jonas quotes Baker as saying that he'll be focused on the charter school ballot question in the fall, not surprising given the governor's outspoken public support for raising the cap.

This fall, I hope that Massachusetts voters find a way to vote in favor of both maintaining high standards, and creating more stellar new schools for vulnerable kids. The two issues are mutually reinforcing, no matter how the politics shake out.

Years ago I was in a private meeting with a group of education activists and a state education official (note: this was not in Massachusetts, sorry!). The activists represented several different facets of a recently advanced reform agenda, but individually tended to favor one particular facet of that agenda: one group supported high content standards, another focused on elevating the profile of educators, and so on.

In the midst of sustained public pushback, the various advocates had started to retreat to their preferred issues, while the broader portfolio of policies took on political water. The state official was pissed off, and he admonished the activists for hewing too closely to their favored reforms, for two reasons. First, from a technical perspective, the individual policies were mutually reinforcing when working together, but alone would never drive progress quickly enough. Second, from a political standpoint, the opponents of the policies were not so discriminating as the advocates; the opponents were lumping the "reformers" together in their public communications, and once one piece of the agenda fell, the opponents were sure to continue a long march to roll back progress.

The point is this: if we care about serving our state's most vulnerable children, we will be pushing uphill for a long time, not just against entrenched interests, but also against institutional racism and classism. We do not have the luxury of picking all of our battles in that struggle, and we will only win in the long term if we stand together for a whole range of ideas that advance the interests of vulnerable kids. All of the children in the Commonwealth deserve the highest educational standards, and our most vulnerable kids should have access to the kinds of options their wealthier peers enjoy. Education voters in Massachusetts should find a way to both walk and chew gum this fall.