In Partnership with 74

Presidential candidates need a primer on what’s really wrong with public education

Layla Avila and Ana Ponce | January 27, 2020

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

Getty Images

Do the presidential candidates understand what it will take to ensure our public education system serves all students? It’s hard to know because they haven’t said enough in debates and other public sessions, so far, about how they plan to improve public education. We know they agree with us that increased funding is necessary and way overdue. But, we need much more if we want to ensure that both resources and results matter.

The majority of students enrolled in public schools in this country are children of color, too many of whom are stuck in a cycle of intergenerational poverty our subpar educational system is perpetuating. They need to be prioritized. They need a president who will follow the examples set by visionary people of color who are improving outcomes in schools across the country because they see public education as an urgent priority, and a fundamental anti-poverty measure.

We belong to Education Leaders of Color — a community of black and Latino leaders in education who are dedicated to providing all children in this country a world-class education in order to end generational poverty. We are more than 300 strong, bringing a distinct and invaluable perspective to the debate because we share the experiences black and Latino students and their families live every day. We can be authentic partners because two out of three of our members were Pell grant recipients, and one out of two are first-generation college graduates. We are examples of what success looks like when our public education system works as it was intended. We won’t stop until the opportunities we had become permanently commonplace.

Importantly, our network is united by Third Way Values intended to break through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education. They are the commitments we believe any viable presidential candidate should honor, and every voter should require. When our values manifest as policies and practices in schools, children do better.

We recently released an educational platform that illustrates what we think it would take to successfully improve public school outcomes. It calls on our leaders to execute on a bold vision that is more holistic than what we’re hearing from the presidential candidates so far.

For example, our leaders must commit to putting low-income children at the center of proposals for universal access to high-quality early education, rigorous academic curricula and enrichment activities, and college access and completion. Education policies must address the intersection of health, housing, community development and reinvestment, job creation, and career pathways.

Solutions must be developed in partnership with those directly affected, which requires our leaders to value the often-overlooked assets in our communities, and build the capacity of local leaders as agents of change within their local schools. This means giving them access to school performance information and a seat at the decision-making table.

We must collectively redefine expectations with the understanding that children in poverty deserve the same high-quality academic experiences and access to resources as their affluent peers. This commitment is only meaningful if our leaders provide adequate and equitable funding, regardless of zip code, to maximize opportunities for all children.

Finally, our leaders must accept that educational success is inextricably linked to issues that go beyond education, and we have to advance multiple solutions in order to make an impact. We must fight for the resources, supports, and policies low-income and underrepresented families need because all children have the right to attend inclusive, safe, and supportive schools.

Too many students are underserved by the status quo. It would benefit everyone, regardless of race, to elevate the dialogue around public education and avoid easy, divisive labels. Our children have no political voice. Their futures depend on us adults pressing our lawmakers to set a bold new vision that ultimately fulfills the promise of public education.

Layla Avila is the CEO of Education Leaders of Color and Ana Ponce is executive director of Great Public Schools Now.

Read Next