08 January 2015

Opinion: Education Reform Strategy 101

As the dust settles on the last year and last election cycle, it's time to start thinking about school board elections once again in Colorado.  It has been my position for years that unless and until limited government advocates champion education (and school choice), no other progress... so to speak... will be made in the political arena.

At a Denver school choice conference in December 2014, hosted by the Franklin Center, outgoing State Board of Education Chairman Paul Lundeen presented on how he saw the conversation about education as being framed like a Shakespearean play:

  • Act One: Exposition, protagonist introduced, dramatic premise
  • Act Two: CRISIS, obstacle, protagonist blocked from fulfilling need
  • Act Three: Resolution, climax, denouement
State Representative Lundeen concluded by observing that choice advocates have been trapped in the second act for decades--and for real reform, we need to bring the conversation back to the first act.

2015 provides a perfect opportunity to get back to the basics of education, and education reform, with dozens of school board elections across the state of Colorado.  We don't need to make it a conversation piece; it already will be one.  We merely need to seize the opportunity to drive the conversation in the correct direction.

The most basic principle of all, one that needs public attention, is that the primary benefit of education is personal, and only secondarily is it a public benefit.  In other words, Education is primarily a private good.

The form education takes is driven by the fundamental end of education: is it a societal good, or a private, personal benefit?

If you asked the "man on the street" today, the focus is on the public (or societal) good of education, not the personal.  Our mission in Colorado's 2015 school board elections must be to shift that focus.

Right now, education is approached systematically, with forms and formulas in cookie-cutter schools to churn out the masses, rather than creating individual learning centers focused on the unique needs and achievements of each student.

As conservatives, we tend to focus on the first five of WWWWHW: the who, the what, the when, the where, and the how.  We are logistically driven, and that is shown in our concern for fixing the mechanics of the problem.  But that forgets the heart of the matter--literally; the more emotionally driven component of why.

We need to change our approach to school choice messaging by leading with the why: education should be personal, meaningful, and practical.  If you, as a student, put more into it, you will get more out.  That is our message box.

Education reform is much broader than just school choice (i.e. it exists outside the school choice box), but school choice is fundamental to education reform.  To obtain true, sweeping reform of education requires the realization that a cookie-cutter approach to education fails far too many of our students, and that choice is the first step down the road of personalized and individualized learning.

Perhaps ideally, education will once again be a private institution, but that idea is likely decades away (if it comes to fruition at all).  That is why school board elections are as important, if not more so, than funding private education--because it is our duty to view public and private education as parallel paths, and that we can both work to replace the status quo, failing system while protecting the most vulnerable still in it.

National School Choice Week approaches quickly--at the end of this month (January).  Let's make it our mission in Colorado to not just highlight the successes of school choice (of which I am a product), but change the conversation to make individualized, personal education a reality for all Colorado students.  That reality starts by changing the conversation as we approach November's ballot box.