By Jennifer Wagner
Coalitions, no matter the issue, tend to loosely fall into two buckets: true believers and unlikely allies.
True believers are the bedrock, but it’s hard to move beyond a certain growth point without unlikely allies. In the school choice narrative, this breakdown has largely been partisan: Republicans got things started a few decades ago, and Democrats have come along for entirely different reasons over the last 10–15 years.
It appears we’ve arrived at the part in the narrative where the true believers are blaming the unlikely allies for coalition drama and/or a lack of progress.
When you come to this particular fork in the road, you can either:
- Recognize that the movement has a lot more credibility and potential because it’s bipartisan and thank those with whom you may disagree on every other issue for standing with you on this one; or
- Blame the other side for messing with your long-held ideological belief system.
I prefer the first option — with a healthy side dose of empathy.
The authors of this latest piece, both of whom are lovely people, make it sound like school choice was this amazing, well organized movement that was on track to be wildly successful before we meddling liberals came along with our social justice and equality talk.
Apparently, we’re also to blame for this year’s fair-to-middlin’ NAEP scores, which is weird because that test — otherwise known as “the nation’s report card” — is largely viewed as a low-stakes, fair-and-balanced assessment of student achievement, and scores have historically held pretty steady.
Democrats in the ed reform space obviously are the only possible culprit for these recent setbacks.
It couldn’t possibly be that the economic talking points we started with — aimed squarely at conservative, free market types — didn’t work for other audiences.
I’m sure we didn’t wind up in a world of hurt with teachers because we tied their pay to high-stakes tests and dismissed them as one large bloc of rabble-rousers instead of listening to their individual concerns.
And we definitely made the right move telling families their schools were terrible when they had no other options. Because everyone wants to be told they’re both wrong and stuck.
Republican friends, let’s get real: It’s hard as flippin’ hell to stand up for school choice as a Democrat today — way harder than it was four years ago. Don’t believe me? Check out where most of our presidential candidates stand.
Think it’s fun to be called a profiteering, privatizing sellout for challenging a system that hasn’t met the needs of our most vulnerable populations for a long, long time? To champion the kind of choice that’s expected in all other walks of life and be told we’re undermining the public good?
Yeah, things are really awesome over here in Unlikely Ally-ville.
If you want someone to say thank you for all the work you put into this movement to get us here, thank you. It’s a privilege to work with a lot of the people who were in the trenches getting those early programs started back when this was just an idea from some really smart people who believed that government should fund, but not necessarily deliver, K-12 education.
If you want Republicans to engage or re-engage with this issue, that’s a solid goal. We need more people generally to get the word out, and that includes those who are active political participants as well as those who are sick of partisanship.
But if you want all of us Leftist (by the way, we love being called that!) school choice advocates to get out of the way, think again. We’re not going away just because you say we’re making things harder or messing up your perfect vision of choice.
We may be here for different reasons, but we’re here because we understand — as do a majority of voters on both sides of the aisle — that providing educational opportunity for all families is imperative and urgent.
I thought that was what we were all fighting for, and I’d like to get back to it.
Jennifer Wagner is a mom, a recovering political hack and the Vice President of Communications for EdChoice, a national nonprofit that supports and promotes universal school choice.