Part I: What will education look like under a Biden administration?

On November 7, President-elect Joe Biden pledged “to be a President who seeks not to divide, but to unify. Who doesn’t see Red and Blue states, but a United States.” And who believes this country has the possibility to look “ahead to an America that never leaves anyone behind.”

But will he apply this message to education? Will he support efforts to give all children access to an education that sets them up for future success? Or will he side with special interests and national education leaders who fight tooth and nail to only protect a top-down education system that has its limitations and has for years left too many students behind?

Will he stand up for every child, or just be another politician? asks Chris Stewart, CEO of BrightBeam.

Driven by an entrenched sense of scarcity, we have seen the powerful lobbies representing public education systems position themselves as the victims of much smaller players in education. They have wrongfully labeled charter schools, private schools and home schools enemies of the common good. Education has become so divisive that many families who choose alternative learning programs for their children fear talking openly about their choices. I hope you live up to your promise of being a president for all Americans, even as national education leaders fail to include families who educate their children outside of the traditional system.

A narrow view of education and how children learn, Stewart adds, hasn’t played out well in academic achievement and readiness assessments. He shares some sobering results: Only 44 percent of white fourth graders meet the benchmark for reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Among African American and Hispanic students, reading proficiency drops to 18 percent and 23 percent. Less than half of African American students who took the SAT in 2020 met reading benchmarks, and only 21 percent did so in math. On the ACT, 64 percent of African American students met zero benchmarks, and only six percent met the college readiness benchmarks for all four ACT subjects.

COVID has further exposed that a one-size-fits-all education system doesn’t meet the needs of all families. And while supporting the status quo is popular among Biden’s teacher union allies and other political groups, it comes at the expense of families, including many from marginalized communities, who look for and support a variety of learning opportunities, Stewart continues.

…[I]nstead of stoking ill will between district schools and charters and pitting parents in those schools against each other, we should find every opportunity to develop collaboration between the best of each of these school models. Instead of treating homeschooling parents as if they don’t matter to the national education debate, we should act as if public education includes the entire public. Instead of defining education solely in terms of unionized, industrialized, standardized, and bureaucratized systems, we do better to realize learning can and does occur in many different ways and means.

From Catholic college preparatory high schools that serve students in “urban education deserts” to micro-schools and autism charter schools, real work is being done to create spaces for all children to succeed, writes Stewart, and these efforts shouldn’t be seen as a threat to public education. “Pitting parents against each other only serves the interests of political people.”

Will Biden continue his track record of putting teachers’ unions and their political agendas first? Or will he “stand up for all families who want and need a variety of educational opportunities”?