School Choice, Twitter & Trump

by Jeanne Allen

Racing into a fundraiser for the Italian Earthquake relief Friday night, my twitter feed was lighting up. In classic Malcolm Gladwell “Blink” fashion, I immediately knew that my Wall Street Journal interview on the Trump education plan had not only been taken completely out of context, but was being used to infer support for the candidate and his positions; which was absolutely not the case.

I’ve never met The 74’s Matthew Barnum in my 20 plus years of leading a prominent education reform group. I’ve never talked to him about policy, seen him at our events, or in state and local venues where we fight to ensure that education opportunity is as expansive as humanly possible.

But like so many people today with license to blog or tweet or even write for respectable journals like this one, he decided to broadcast distortions of what I said — resulting in numerous likes and retweets from people who didn’t necessarily watch the interview.

The tweet?

Sick joke? I said nothing of the sort. Thanks to digital media, you can see it yourself.

Asked whether I agreed with his comment that school choice was a civil right, my immediate thought was, you bet it is, and he’s repeating what scores of intelligent people have said for decades. No-where, no-how does that imply a confidence in Donald Trump as good for civil rights.

Upon her retweet, I challenged another 74 reporter, Naomi Nix, who said I should have gone deeper, discredited him, or made it clear he was only pandering to black voters. That, however, was not the point of the interview.

Nor does the very natural and political thing of trying to attract voters particularly interest me. What does interest me is whether and how candidates address issues that are often relegated to the style section of a newspaper, mentioned just before the commercial break or not at all.

The tweet distortions are reminiscent of the statement I made earlier this summer, applauding Hillary Clinton’s embrace of innovation in higher education.

For that, I was chastised by a donor who viewed the statement as an endorsement (it wasn’t) and said he’d pull his funding. Others sent “how could you?” notes. Ridiculous.

A few truths (Naomi, Matthew and others): I have worked with people diametrically opposed to one another’s views on all sorts of issues. Joe Nathan, Clint Bolick, Eric Premack, Linda Brown, Tom Patterson, Sara Tantillo, Judith Jones…and hundreds more. These are the people who created the modern education reform movement that you have the privilege of writing about.

I knew the late Democratic State Rep. Polly Williams, a member of the Black Panthers, whose allegiance with a white conservative governor brought vouchers to Milwaukee. Polly believed school choice was critical to putting children of color on a par with white children. Dozens of African-American lawmakers like Fannie Lewis, Dwight Evans, and T. Willard Fair showed us that respect and civility trumps disagreement (no pun intended) in the cause of education reform.

As school choice warrior Howard Fuller argued in his speech at this year’s national charter school conference, we must partner with anyone who is aligned on helping kids. We must never be ambivalent or remain silent when the truth about education reform is at stake. We can fight over other issues when that battle is won, but with recognition that there is greatness in all of us, no matter where we might stand on a policy. Indeed, this was the example set by our founders, willing to lay down their swords and fight together when they were called to unite on the most important of issues.

After the Hillary statement backlash, another set of critics reacted to my praise of Mike Pence as Republican running mate. He not only has a noteworthy record on education reform but I have personal knowledge of his work from years before, having started in the public policy world at the same time, same space.

Since its founding, the Center for Education Reform’s staff and board members have had varying political allegiances. When George W. Bush won the hanging chad election, our top leaders donned black armbands. We argued, sighed and then went back to work.

When President Obama was inaugurated, I carted my family off to the public festivities. He was, after all, our new president. I wish he would embrace Ed Reform fully and expand the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. I disagree immensely on many of his actions. But I have given credit where credit is due nonetheless.

In May, I told Education Week that I did not want Trump to even talk about school choice. My concern was that any association with the candidate would be bad for policy. Yet as the teachers unions nationwide have ramped up their game spreading lies about education reform and with no national counterweight to match their reach, I wonder. Trump may not be your candidate, but if one appreciates the impact school choice has on poor children, having the issue gain national exposure of an unprecedented nature has its advantages.

Agree or disagree, but live school choice in DC, see it in action in hundreds of communities and spend years talking to the people who it affects and one hopes there will be a better appreciation for why some of us applaud its recognition in the public eye. And before pontificating on how it’s talked about, or malign those who talk about those who are talking about it, spend some time talking to the leaders and parents whose lives were saved by the opportunity to get out of a failing school. Then go tweet about it.

Jeanne Allen, Founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform (CER), is one of the nation’s most relentless advocates for education reform. CER’s mission is to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans, particularly our youth. Learn more at Follow Jeanne on Twitter at @JeanneAllen.