Ed reform is left, right and center

The lineup for this week’s Jeb Bush education conference is further evidence that a growing centrist coalition has emerged to move the ball on education reform and school choice.

This is the Foundation for Excellence in Education’s fifth national summit, and it grows in both stature and bipartisanship every year. Two years ago, it made headlines when President Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, was announced as a keynote speaker. This year, Duncan’s speaking again. So is John Podesta, the former Clinton chief of staff who heads the left-leaning Center for American Progress; and Gloria Romero, the former Democratic California state senator who authored the original parent trigger bill; and, on various panels, other Democrats like North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Virginia State Delegate Algie Howell.

So, on the one hand, it’s no longer so notable that more and more liberals and progressives and Democrats are part of this constellation. On the other hand, holy smokes! Clearly, they’re not on the same page with Jeb Bush and fellow conservatives on every education issue. But the strength of the arguments in favor of ed reform and school choice, and the leadership of folks like Bush and Obama, have galvanized people from all across the political spectrum to have respectful, thoughtful discussions about our schools and our kids in ways that just weren’t possible 10 or 15 years ago.

I don’t know how long this will last, but the 2012 elections have at least produced a renewed call in Congress for a bipartisan solution to the deficit crisis. I suspect this is a rare opportunity in education, and reformers of all stripes would be wise to recognize it as such, and to do what they can to extend it. One way to foster that political cooperation is to make the public better aware that all this is happening – that Republicans and Democrats have actually found common ground on more than a few planks of ed policy.

A few months back, Democrats for Education Reform put out a nifty video highlighting some of the bright, young stars of the Democratic Party who have assumed leadership roles on education, often at odds with many of their fellow Dems and with the historic positions supported by teacher unions. It’d be nice to see something similar with faces from both parties. I think reformers have the arguments on their sides; in places like Florida, evidence is on their side, too. But far too little of that has filtered down to the public. And that leaves a vacuum that is easily exploited by those for whom partisan division has become a convenient tool to maintain the status quo.

One place to start is to pay active attention to events such as Bush’s National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, D.C., where there is likely to be no shortage of good ideas. The redefinED crew will be there. We’ll let you know what we hear via the blog and facebook and twitter. Follow us on twitter@redefinedonline.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.