What Massachusetts Can Learn From The Trump Victory

by Jeanne Allen

The failure of Massachusetts voters to lift the artificial cap created to prevent more charter schools from educating vastly more children is tragic, yet not unexpected. I am not only disappointed in the outcome, but disappointed in the cause. The failure was not because the unions and opponents fought so hard, but because we failed to fight on the very front that caused the biggest upset in presidential history.

Donald Trump won the American people’s support because he recognized that beyond the cities and poor communities that often get the most attention from federal, state and local policymakers were a nation of people of all colors, at all income levels, who are left out of the equation.

Massachusetts’ most well-intentioned political experts assumed that to win a liberal state’s support for more school choice, they had to cast the issue as a matter of helping the urban centers. While indeed God and justice call on us to help our most in-need brethren, oftentimes the families that don’t look needy have needs, too. Their strategy to win was calculated incorrectly from the beginning. Ads on the air with the same language and messaging each time to an isolated demographic, revisiting the same pollsters for data, and not talking to the middle and working class while only focusing on black and brown people were just a few of the strategies used. The needs of parents and children in the suburbs were ignored, and thus the ballot question failed.

Charter schools and school choice did not start 25 years ago because one segment of the population wanted better schooling options for their kids, but because a diverse array of parents, educators and lawmakers wanted to bring expanded options to all communities. They wanted better education that fit the needs of their children and were not subject to bureaucratic, top-down controls.

Most of all, they wanted the recognition that parents, not school systems, are children’s first and most important teachers and thus should determine where and how their children are educated.

Too many people forget that even our nation’s best schools leave our children less than 50% proficient in core subjects. That’s the case in Massachusetts, too. Having campaigned on the ground in the suburbs there, I can attest to the fact that most suburban voters not only knew little about the charter school cap lift but that which they did know came directly from the school districts and union officials that paint charters as harming their children. The way to counteract that is not to run TV ads but to engage in meaningful conversations in every suburban community around the state, not at their front door but in the community and civic institutions they most trust.

Like Donald Trump, advocates for charter schools should be going to the Knights of Columbus halls, to the Rotary and Kiwanis meetings, to the diners where the workers grab their lunches and to the storefronts where the middle and working classes earn the living that allows them to buy into only mediocre schools.

These are the people that would have voted in favor of the Massachusetts ballot initiative to lift the cap on charter schools. But they didn’t. Because no one talked to them. And far too few charter school advocates today even think they should be making this about more than just the urban core. The same cause for President-elect Trump’s victory is what was ignored and which caused the Massachusetts ballot initiative’s defeat.

This is not the first time the education reform movement has made this mistake. But it could be the last, if we are smart enough to eschew the political campaign “experts” and focus on the common sense and understanding of how people are really thinking, that our president-elect just demonstrated a unique understanding of.

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 edreform.com. Follow Jeanne on Twitter at @JeanneAllen.