D.C.’s Kevin Chavous on National School Choice Week

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This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Kevin Chavous, president of Stride K12, Inc. and a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia, on the growing movement toward school choice in education. Chavous discusses the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue and Carson v. Makin, as well as the expansion of private school choice programs, education savings accounts, vouchers, and education tax credits. Amid the successes, however, he also addresses some of the self-inflicted wounds that have harmed the charter public school movement in recent years, and what lessons educators should draw from the challenges schools faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, in the wake of recent nationwide declines in NAEP scores in both reading and math, Chavous offers key suggestions for governors, state legislators, education reformers, and school choice advocates alike on a constructive future for K-12 education reform.

Stories of the Week: The state’s education community paused this week to pay tribute to former Massachusetts State Senate President Tom Birmingham, who passed away Saturday at the age of 73. Birmingham was instrumental in passage of the landmark 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act. In recent years, as Cara notes, Birmingham was a distinguished senior fellow in education at Pioneer Institute, working tirelessly to defend high academic standards, U.S. history and civics, school choice options, and accountability. Gerard discussed the U.S. Supreme Court case involving a 24-year-old deaf Michigan man, Miguel Perez, who says he was denied a qualified sign language interpreter for years, and later sought relief under both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Court will decide whether federal law required him to exhaust administrative proceedings before seeking relief in federal court.


Kevin Chavous is the President of Stride K12, Inc. He is a noted attorney, author, and national school reform leader. From 1993 to 2005, Chavous served on the Council of the District of Columbia, where as the education committee chair, he helped to usher charter schools and parental choice into our nation’s capital. Mr. Chavous has served on the boards of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), and is a founding board member and senior advisor for the American Federation for Children (AFC). A prolific writer, Chavous has received wide praise for his book, Voices of Determination. Kevin graduated from Wabash College, where he was an NCAA District All-American in basketball and graduated from the Howard University School of Law. He tweets at @kevinpchavous.

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The Learning Curve Kevin Chavous

The Learning Curve Kevin Chavous

[00:00:00] GR: Hello listeners, this is Gerard Robinson from beautiful Charlottesville, where the sky is clear, it is somewhat warm, and the students are back on the grounds of the University of Virginia. So I wanna say welcome to the students, faculty, staff who’ve returned to Charlottesville begin another semester of academic learning and sports activities and all the things that go along with it.

[00:00:46] What is taking place in your world? .

[00:00:48] Cara: Oh, Gerard, you are so nice. So when you say, welcome back to the students, and of course I live in an area with many, many, many, many students as well. Mm-hmm … like so many colleges within a stone, [00:01:00] throw here at universities, et cetera. I won’t name the one that I live closest to because then you’ll come and find me.

[00:01:04] But you’re so kind to say, welcome back to the students. And instead I’m seeing things like, get outta my favorite taco restaurant.

[00:01:11] Kevin: Cause

[00:01:13] Cara: I’m waiting in line for way too long. All of you hungry college children? No. Things are, things are very nice here in Boston. We got a little bit of snow. We could use a lot more snow.

[00:01:25] Thank you. Global warming. It’s like winter hasn’t even started. I am not getting the, the best of my ski pass this year, Gerard. But other than that, oh, oh, other than that, things are very well here in Boston, I will say on some sad news. And if you don’t mind my… Goes right into what I was planning to talk about this week.

[00:01:43] Sure. on a sad note. Pioneer Institute. We, and we that have known him our morning to passing of former Senate president Tom Birmingham who was, you know, just a, a critical figure here in Massachusetts, especially [00:02:00] in the 1990s. And he was also until his passing a senior fellow at Pioneer Institute.

[00:02:06] Just a brilliant guy with a really big heart. and a wonderful human being. And Senator Birmingham, I first learned of his work when studying Massachusetts Education Reform. And he was just an integral figure in making sure that the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act actually happened.

[00:02:28] And why is this important? I mean, I. Probably more time than some would like criticizing my home state, for sort of not doing enough for not closing achievement gaps, for not, keeping up with, its, top of the top scores, but, but not like maintaining its top scores on NAEP as we would like to see.

[00:02:45] And, and if not, like, sort of pushing ahead. In recent years, Tom Birmingham was somebody who really dramatically pushed. The commonwealth ahead in education by, collaborating and, and working with people like former [00:03:00] Governor William Weld to make sure that education reform happened here in the early 1990s.

[00:03:05] And as you well know, Gerard, Massachusetts was an early adopter among a handful of states that said things like, We are going to make an investment in education and the Massachusetts Education Reform Act was sort of a grand bargain. That said, the state is going to dramatically increase its investment in school districts, especially those who can’t raise enough local property tax revenue.

[00:03:28] And in return, we’re going to expect to figure out what the return on investment is. Sounds a little bit like no Child Left Behind, right, Gerard? NCLB was modeled after states like Massachusetts and Texas, a handful of other states that adopted this approach. What we got out of the work that Tom Birmingham and others put in was really a system that pushed us to become in many respects, best in the nation.

[00:03:52] And we weren’t. And that system was one that embraced not only a. A common set of standards so that we could all [00:04:00] agree that kids would need to be taught and to reach a high common minimum standard of learning, especially in course subject areas. And a system of assessment and accountability that held school districts.

[00:04:11] And I use that really intentionally because not, it’s not about holding students accountable, it’s about holding schools and school districts accountable for making sure they’re giving kids and they’re giving families. The education that they are constitutionally due, that they are promised under the Massachusetts Constitution.

[00:04:27] so the me, the education reform was about standards, it was about accountability for outcomes, and it was also about school choice in that it gave us charter schools. And of course, this is the thing that in my career, Gerard, especially working with Pioneer, I’ve written the most about. And that is, you know, Massachusetts.

[00:04:43] There are things we can criticize about the way we’re doing charter schools now. And as you know, I, I criticize often the way we’re doing charter schools now, but we have a really although I would love for us to have another authorizer and I think that Tom Birmingham would’ve been open to talking about that.

[00:04:58] Meaning I’d love for us to [00:05:00] see multiple paths to authorizing but we have a really sound system of authorization. And I say that as somebody who’s not only researched and written about the process, Gerard. Been through it several times as the member of a charter school board and going really deep and seeing what it means to truly hold schools accountable, not just by looking at test score results, which are really important, as I said, to understanding if schools and districts are doing their jobs, but also by.

[00:05:26] Sending people in to understand if schools are actually, delivering what they have promised to families. So, fulfilling the mission that they have set if they’re serving teachers, if the administration’s serving teachers in the way they want to. And so mass ed reform was just such an important.

[00:05:42] Part of the history here in the commonwealth of, of our recent history, and I think many would argue that it’s what pushed us in many ways to become a top performer on NAEP to become a top performer on international exams. I will say in speaking with Tom just in the past year or two, he was [00:06:00] disillusioned with where the Commonwealth was headed.

[00:06:02] He was upset at the idea that accountability was not only out of vogue, but probably in danger. A person who grew up, he grew up in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Chelsea, Massachusetts is its own story of turnaround, but when Tom Birmingham was there, it was certainly not a place where many people wanted to send their kids to school.

[00:06:21] People had to send their kids to school there. So he was somebody who had lived the experience and cared deeply about access for kids and deeply about access for families. And so he just a great figure. Gerard, I feel so thankful to. Spent even just a little bit of time with him, but more importantly, to have learned from him and from his work and to have just had the opportunity to speak with somebody who had such a commitment to the Commonwealth and really just so deeply held that, you know, it was his.

[00:06:50] Duty. It was his job to give something back to this state that had given so much to him. So our hearts go out to his family and to everyone at Pioneer, who was very [00:07:00] close with Tom he’s a great man and we will remember him fondly.

[00:07:05] GR: Yeah, I had a chance to meet Tom several years ago at an in-person event in Boston, sponsored by the Pioneer Institute.

[00:07:11] And we had a chance to talk shop about public policy and more. Particularly what it was like in the 1990s inside the legislative body of Massachusetts to really bring forth reform. Massachusetts, as you mentioned, we mentioned with charter schools, you know, Massachusetts, one of the early states to do so, and he not only was a supporter of charter schools, he was a supporter of public schools writ large.

[00:07:35] Including the METCO program? Yes. And that’s where we had an opportunity to work together. In fact we coauthored a piece that appeared in the CommonWealth magazine on May 19, 2016, titled A School Choice Double Standard. And it was basically saying if you support METCO, why not support charter schools?

[00:07:54] Very similar students, but that wasn’t the only thing we had a chance to do. He just gave me some real, you know, good [00:08:00] insight into why things worked for some kids and why they did not. He grew up in a working-class family became one of the great role models of. Hard work and tenacity.

[00:08:09] Having gone to Harvard twice, was also a Rhodes scholar and then used his law degree to work with working class families and laborers. Very similar to his own. When I learned of his death, I sent out a tweet. But I mean particularly proud of the video that the Pioneer Institute released talking about Birmingham, his life and his impact.

[00:08:27] So I want to thank Jim, Jamie, and the team at Pioneer for the work that it did and for giving him a senior, a distinguished senior fellow space for a number of years. Because often when people leave public life, either elected or appointed, we don’t hear from them. And it’s organizations like the Pioneer Institute as well as members of the SPN Network who say, hey, we are an ideas place and we think you matter.

[00:08:53] And so gave him a place to land. So again, condolences to his family and he will be sorely missed. But I am sure, [00:09:00] like in many other cases, there’s a young Tom, young Tina, somewhere in Massachusetts waiting to pick up the reins where he

[00:09:06] Cara: left off. Absolutely. I think he inspired a lot of people, Gerard. But thank you for that.

[00:09:11] I know you’ve got a lot on your mind in beautiful Charlottesville today. What’s going on in

[00:09:15] your

[00:09:15] Kevin: world?

[00:09:15] GR: Well, speaking of Tom being a supporter of public education, he also worked hard to make sure that students with disabilities had second, third, fourth chances. So my story of the week is from the U.S. Supreme Court, and it’s not an issue dealing with school choice in the private sector.

[00:09:33] Something we’ve talked about on our show a number of times. But this is. A deaf student from your state of Michigan. In fact ,Sturgis, Michigan, a young man named Miguel Perez. Today he’s 27, but he immigrated from Mexico with his family to the United States and he’s deaf.

[00:09:53] And when he was in the school system uh, the school system said, listen, we’re going to give him services, we’re going to move [00:10:00] him along and we’re going to make sure he’s doing. Well, by the time he gets to the 12th grade, a lot of things aren’t great. And if you listen to Roman Martinez, who’s his lawyer, he said that for 12 years, the public school system in Sturgis, Michigan, “neglected, Miguel denied him an education and lied to his parents about the progress he was allegedly making in school.”

[00:10:23] And to prove this, the school had basically told the parents that he was faring. Well, guess what? When it was time for him to graduate from high school with a diploma, the school system said, oh, by the way, he’s not going to graduate with a diploma. He in fact, is going to graduate with a certificate of completion and the family’s why.

[00:10:41] It’s because he didn’t produce enough work and follow the guidelines to get a diploma. So, needless to say, his family was pretty furious. They filed a lawsuit and the lawsuit made its way through the federal system and is now on the desk the Supreme Court. Well, according [00:11:00] to um, Jessica Greco she’s the AP writer.

[00:11:03] Who published this article, she said that the justices both on the left and the right seem to be nodding in favor that Perez has a case. In particular, this is going to come down to what the court believes he has access to regarding two important laws at the federal level that works with students with disabilities.

[00:11:24] One is IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Act and ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. So let’s just do a quick overview of why this matters to the families that we have right now. So, IDEA was signed into law October 30, 1990. It’s a piece of legislation that said that if you are a student with a disability, our public schools are required to provide you with a free, appropriate public education and one that’s tailored to your individual needs.

[00:11:53] Although the legislation was signed by that would’ve been George H.W. Bush in 1990. IDEA [00:12:00] was previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and that was in place from 1979 to 1990. Well, that’s one piece of legislation. In 1990, July 26 of the same year, president George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

[00:12:16] At the time of the signing, approximately 43 million people. in the US had some type of disability. Approximately 68% of employment age adults who reported disability were not working during the mid-nineties. And only one third of youth with a disability actually graduated from high school and then pursued a college degree.

[00:12:36] And when George Bush signed the statement, he said that I’m doing this to put in line the American values and American ideas. Now when we think about. Even in modern terms and some of the information that’s pre-Covid, when you look at our workforce, at least one in five people in our workforce say they have a disability while 66% of students with a disability graduate from high school, only 7% [00:13:00] graduate from college, and we have over a hundred thousand people are incarcerated with a disability.

[00:13:05] So the family said, we’re going to do this, we’re going to sue. And the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to go through IDEA and they ended up reaching an agreement with the school district. The dual school district said, we’re going to do a few things. We’re going to give you services, we’re going to provide you with a better education.

[00:13:22] Now I get this, when the school system worked with student who’s deaf, they actually gave him an educator. Who didn’t know American Sign Language, who actually studied sign language in the book, and then ended up creating a different level of sign language where only her and Miguel could understand each other.

[00:13:41] Guess what? No one else could. Now why is that important to what we’re talking about right now when we talk about deaf students? Information from the National Association of the Deaf. They said that approximately 308,648 deaf or heart of hearing children between the ages of five to [00:14:00] 17 in the US of these, approximately 75,000 have an IEP and roughly 21% are in specialized schools and programs for students who are deaf and hard of hearing.

[00:14:11] We have a school like this here in Virginia at the college. Of course . Now the remaining 7% of the students of those a lot of them are actually mainstreamed into general education courses with the IEP, but that’s not counting the 233,648 deaf and heart of hearing students who are mainstream without an IEP.

[00:14:33] And so they went through the system and they made well, the family said, we want to go a step further. They decided they wanted to actually sue the school system under ADA because under IDEA there’s no monetary compensation where there is with Ada. Well, a circuit court actually ruled that the cause the family reached an agreement.

[00:14:55] With the family under IDEA, they can’t go through ADA to do [00:15:00] that. A lot of groups are going back and forth. It’s now before the court and we will see what happens. I think two big takeaways for me is deaf students are a part of the students with disabilities when we speak writ large. But they don’t really receive a lot of the services and often are overlooked.

[00:15:17] Number two, how the court decides to address IDEA and ADA is going to have a major impact on what families are going to do in terms of saying, am I going to go the IDEA route or the ADA route? Well, according to our new Justice Ketanj Jackson, she said that if you look at the Congressional intent, Congress created both laws allowing that under certain circumstances you can walk both.

[00:15:41] School boards and superintendents are one side Biden’s on another. This will be interesting. What are your thoughts?

[00:15:48] Cara: I mean, wow. So first of all, just heartbreaking story out of Michigan there, right? So that’s thought number one. Second of all yeah, it, great for a court to [00:16:00] decide that parents have option or recourse under one.

[00:16:04] Sounds like some justices were advocating for more than one avenue. But the fact of the matter is, Gerard, I am so bothered that, most parents that even are able to navigate the system because it is a complicated system, right? Most parents are going to know my kid is getting what’s. They need, or my child is not getting what they need or I think the school’s delivering, et cetera.

[00:16:28] But just having the, time, the resources, the, social capital to navigate this very complex and complicated system on behalf of your child is something that not all parents have the. Sort of assistance that they need to do. And I’m not talking about it. I don’t think it matters, whatever your level of education or something.

[00:16:47] Very few of us go into a school experience as a parent educated about. Special education law, right? You must need a lawyer on your side. And I, I myself, have navigated these scenarios. I’ve had a number of friends who have [00:17:00] navigated these scenarios and too often I’m very disturbed that I don’t think our system is set up to work on behalf of families and kids.

[00:17:08] , so that’s one. And the other thing is, we haven’t heard as much of late. About these so-called parents bill of rights laws that you’re seeing in a lot of state legislatures, which to my mind a lot of those laws aren’t personally filled with content that I would support.

[00:17:23] They’re more focused on sort of banning things from schools, but I think that this topic is one where it’s a. It’s a perfect example of how parents should be educated on it should probably be the school or the districts or somebody’s responsibility to help parents understand what their students’ rights are under the law, whether it’s under federal law or under state law.

[00:17:43] And special education law is a really, really important part of that. So I’m glad that you’re bringing this to our attention and I’m glad it’s something that is winding its way through. These IDEA and ADA are incredibly important programs for all American citizens. Unfortunately, I think[00:18:00]

[00:18:00] we just hear too many stories like the one that you’ve told of this child in Sturgis, Michigan who was absolutely not just not getting the services that he’s constitutionally do, but it seems even more egregious than that, like being told that he was getting some sort of service that in the end was probably a disservice.

[00:18:16] So, I know that you spend time with organizations that advocate for disability rights and advocate for student rights. I think that. I really can get behind organizations that support the education of all families in understanding what their constitutional rights are when it comes to receiving services for their

[00:18:33] GR: children.

[00:18:34] And thanks so much for mentioning my involvement with families and students who have disabilities. As many of you know, I’m on the board of trustees for Respectability. It’s a nonprofit organization. Headquartered in Maryland. And what we do is we advocate for better opportunities for both adults and students.

[00:18:52] And because we’re talking about aba, I want to give a special shout out to one of my colleagues chair Emeritus, Steve [00:19:00] Bartlett who is a former member of Congress. He was there for 1983 to 1991. He actually was the Republican. Principal author of the ADA and he also played a strong role supporting IDEA.

[00:19:12] When he was in Congress, he played a big role in making sure that people with disabilities were heard and he was equally an advocate of that having left office. He was also the former mayor of Dallas. So, Steve, thank you for your work and thank you for all the people in Congress who are the 1990s and even in 2023.

[00:19:29] Doing the heavy work of making sure that students and families with disabilities as well as employers who employ them have pathways from promise to prosperity.

[00:19:38] Cara: Yeah. Heavy work. It is. Okay, Gerard, we’ve got our guest waiting for us. In just a moment, we’re going to be bringing on Kevin Chavous.

[00:19:45] You know him, you know him well. I think he is the president of Stride, K-12 Inc. And a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia. So, learning curve listeners, hang on, we’ll be back with you…[00:20:00]

[00:20:25] Kevin: Listeners,

[00:20:25] Cara: welcome back to the Learning Curve, Kevin Chavous. He is the president of Stride, K-12. Inc. He is a noted attorney, author, and national school reform leader. From 1993 to 2005, Chavous served on the Council of the District of Columbia, whereas the education committee chair, he helped to usher charter schools and parental choice into our nation’s capital.

[00:20:47] And we should note as I read this bio, that the District of Columbia now has not only some of the best charter schools, but one of the most robust. Choice landscapes. It’s really knocking it out of the park in a lot of ways. Mr. [00:21:00] Chavous has served on the boards of Democrats for Education Reform, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and is a founding board member and senior advisor for the American Federation for Children.

[00:21:10] A prolific writer, Chavous has received wide praise for his book, voices of Determination. Kevin graduated from Wabash College where he was an NCAA district, All-American in basketball. He graduated from the Howard University School of Law noted. You should follow him on Twitter at Kevin p Chavous. Kevin Chavous, welcome back to the Learning Curve.

[00:21:30] Thanks for being here.

[00:21:32] Kevin: Oh, Cara, I enjoy it. And man, you, you, you make me sound good so that, that’s good too.

[00:21:38] Cara: listen, you earned it. I didn’t do much. Just reading. No, it’s so great to have you back in. here we are and it’s National School Choice Week. I don’t know if you’re wearing your yellow scarf. It doesn’t go with my outfit, but maybe I’ll wear it tomorrow.

[00:21:50] Kevin.

[00:21:51] Kevin: I. So scarves I give ’em away too. So it’s, it’s a great week, .

[00:21:56] Cara: It’s, it’s a great week. And listen for more reasons [00:22:00] than one. I, I see we’ve got some big choice reforms coming down the pike in a couple of states. I’m watching places like South Carolina and today, we have news.

[00:22:10] Iowa has what will be in just a few short years. The nation’s second universal, ESA Florida’s ESA is about to go universal. I mean, this is. This is good news for parents and students, Kevin, so I wanna, start there. So can you. Comment on the rapidity with which we are now the momentum in the movement for this expanded version of school choice in the form of education, scholarship accounts.

[00:22:38] I mean, we’re barely talking about vouchers anymore, and I know you’ve fought the good fight there, but, here we are talking about giving parents access to a wide range of options. How have you seen this trajectory that’s just really heated up in the past couple of. .

[00:22:51] Kevin: Well, as you said, Cara, it’s a beautiful thing and, and I have to remind folks that just like one size doesn’t fit all in terms of [00:23:00] the traditional public education system.

[00:23:02] One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to parental or school choice. It’s great that we have. All of these different options. It could be chartered schools, it could be cash credits, it could be ESAs, it could be vouchers. That’s a beautiful thing. And what works in one place may not work in another place.

[00:23:20] And the fact that the movement has progressed and migrated. To something that’s user-friendly for parents in a given jurisdiction or community. I think that’s a great thing, and it’s going to continue to grow and expand because at the end of the day, parents are more vested in their children’s education than ever before.

[00:23:42] And there are alliances among parents when it comes to this vesting, irrespective of socioeconomic status. It used to be Cara that. You know, a lot of folks who were in low income working class communities, they were fighting to get their share. But now it’s [00:24:00] interesting because even if you’re in a more stable middle class, high-income wage earning community, Your challenges with the public school system in many cases is even more pronounced.

[00:24:13] So you’re seeing these alliances floating across different socioeconomic demographic classes that we haven’t seen before, and that’s why making sure that you have a community minded. to what will fit in a given community is the way to go. And that’s why I think this ESA is taken off because it really consequence all of that.

[00:24:37] Yeah, no,

[00:24:38] Cara: it really does cut across all of that and opens up. Possibilities. I mean, as you know, we’re even seeing in some states what I like to call baby ESAs or micro grants. Like just sort of a first step in giving parents the ability to use state dollars to direct, towards educational experiences without kids having to, to leave the public school.

[00:24:58] Now I wanna ask you, [00:25:00] Kevin, I was going to ask you to sort of comment. The whole legal landscape, and I know you know it, and we’ve had lots of legal scholars on to talk about sort of the legal road to opening up school choice. There’s certainly some barriers that still exist. I mean, I’m here in Massachusetts, we’ve got one of like two Blaine amendments that.

[00:25:18] Most lawyers say will not be broken. Can you comment on number one if you see anything ahead for the legal landscape, but in addition to that, Kevin, number two, anything that concerns you about this rapid expansion, especially of private school choice in terms of, do you think, are we getting ahead of our skis here?

[00:25:36] Are there are some things we should keep in mind as we go full steam ahead into giving parents so much?

[00:25:41] Kevin: Well look, I think that, you know, some of the recent rulings Espinoza, Carson, I mean, those are major victories as you all know for school choice. Strong wins. And no doubt you know that anytime the issue of whether or not the money should follow a [00:26:00] child, whether parents should have a voice and their kids’ education creeps into the legal system.

[00:26:05] You know, there’s no doubt the way things are now that we will probably win. Programs will continue to be validated and found to be legal, but I think we’re at a different place than when we were 10 or 15 years ago when we were putting a lot of hope on what the Supreme Court might say, what courts might say.

[00:26:23] I think the law is going to be pretty clearly settled in that regard in favor of school choice programs. The big issue now. Is the politics. and what we do. having the legal authority to have these programs in place is one thing, but then the politics of getting them passed and having them passed in a way that will maximize and effectiveness for parents and kids.

[00:26:49] that’s another thing. And if you think about whether or not we’re getting ahead of ourselves which is a great question, Tara. I will say to you, you look at Indiana where they have, pretty much the [00:27:00] statewide voucher program. You look at what’s going on in DC with our scholarship program where, we could actually serve more kids, but there are limits in Congress.

[00:27:09] But at, at the end of the. Parents are becoming more and more educated consumers, so I’m not concerned about one sort of option. being oversubscribed by parents. We saw during the pandemic. Parents were even putting together these parent pods, these little neighborhood or many community schools.

[00:27:31] I think it’s an exciting time because we’re exploding the paradigm associated with. Traditional education, the industrial model where everyone is regimented to go to the same school, segregated by class and subject matter, and taking the same thing, algebra in the ninth grade, whatever, biology, chemistry, and physics, largely because they’re alphabetical 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

[00:27:58] All that stuff’s being [00:28:00] exploded. And I think that the, just like we talked about the ESAs, there’s no tell ’em well where we. , but the most beautiful thing about it, I think ultimately kids and parents will win.

[00:28:11] Cara: Yeah. No, I, I couldn’t agree more. I, I would, add to everything you’re saying. One thing that I’m.

[00:28:16] Slightly concerned about is just watching implementation as these programs take off. Making sure that, we’re doing them in a really intentional way so that the opponents don’t have any ammunition to propagate some of the myths that they, that we hear about school choice, you know, all of the, oh, it drains money.

[00:28:32] And, people who, basically assume that. Don’t know what’s best for their kids. That’s one of my favorite myths.

[00:28:37] Kevin: real quick, you’re right about that. We should always make sure that we pay attention to the implementation, but similar to when charter school movement first started and we saw that some schools didn’t work out and there’s big debates, you know, I remember when I was in office.

[00:28:54] I supported shutting down the charter school because the guys were stealing money or whatever, and they said, oh, I thought you were a charter school guy. I [00:29:00] said, no, I’m a kids guy. If it doesn’t work, we need to shut it down or change it. And so it’s okay if the implementation stumbles because someone’s going to call it on it, but will, it will be stumbles.

[00:29:14] Lead to significant backslide? I don’t think so. I think that genie’s out the bottle. I think parents are going to, recalibrate and, you know, legislatures can sort of fix the law or fix the implementation or fix the regulatory or compliance framework. and that’s a beautiful thing. But I actually think we’re, well past the point where the whole movement is threatened by some of those stumble.

[00:29:37] Cara: No, no, I think we’re on the same page. That’s, that’s a really good point. Now you bring up charter schools and I, I just have to ask you about it. And I noted at the outset, you know, you were integral in, DC and DC has got some, what I would say, like really robust public school choice, great support for choice in early childhood education, some amazing charter schools.

[00:29:54] But let’s be honest, I mean, we can celebrate the site of National School Choice Week that talks about,[00:30:00] opening up all of these. Opportunities for private providers, and in some cases public providers too, in ESAs. But charter schools they’re not having their heyday right now, especially if you sit in places like Boston and New York which have amazing charter schools and pretty strong charter sectors and, and authorizing formats, et cetera.

[00:30:20] But man, I’m telling you, it is just the political shifts between Democrats and Republicans. It used to be kind of a pretty bipartisan issue, and now it seems to be nobody’s willing to champion this issue. Except for our friends at, the Alliance and, and a few other organizations that are doing the really hard work.

[00:30:40] Kevin, can you talk about. What’s happened to the Charter School Coalition and how we can refocus because it is such an integral part of some of the choices that parents are going to want to make for their children. That’s a great

[00:30:54] Kevin: question. And, and I do think that the sort of challenges political and practical [00:31:00] challenges that the charter school movement is facing really in, in large.

[00:31:04] Was self-inflicted, the charter school movement when it began. , it was viewed as a potential laboratory for innovation. It was also viewed as an opportunity for community schools to emerge for, minorities who wanted to start schools. They could do so, even if they didn’t have significant funding, they would have that support.

[00:31:27] But then over time, . And some people won’t like this, but I think the arrogance of the movement and some of the leadership of the, and most visible public cases of the charter movement, they said, well, we can build a better mouse trap, but you have to meet certain criteria. You have to, you know, be supported by some of these foundations.

[00:31:47] You have to have, rocket, test. this drill and kill stuff took over. and while they were engaged in some of these, you know, localized fights, many people felt that there was [00:32:00] arrogance associated with that. And, they didn’t take the time to build community sentiment early on and, in some, New Orleans is the most high profile, charter school movement was viewed as outside invaders dictating to the community about what education looked like.

[00:32:17] And you know, at the end of the day, it really didn’t matter if the test scores were good. People still didn’t like the way they went about it. So, I think if the test book example of how things have be organic now you talk about. You never hear people talk about getting rid of the DC charge for movement.

[00:32:34] And you know why? And, and Gerard knows this, it’s the very beginning. when Kip wanted to come in and, you know, I helped get Kip in and, and all these other outside groups and some of them. Started talking about they wanted, you know, to get, blue ribbon or high profile board members.

[00:32:52] I said, no, you go Ms. Jones, who runs the community block on, police community, a block on Men Road, put her on the [00:33:00] board and you know, put, you know, Mr. Smith. Who runs, the neighborhood watch on the board or put so-and-so who’s an advisory neighborhood commission. , and so in DC from the very beginning, it was an organic, bottom up movement.

[00:33:15] A lot of people don’t know that, wasn’t a whole lot of outside, it wasn’t just high-profile lawyers or doctors or businessmen who lived on the other side of town. There were a lot of community-based leaders involved in the movement, and it had a built-in political support network as a result.

[00:33:35] That’s why it’s been sustaining, I do think that the charter movement. Test suffered from that and it played right into the toxic politics of the day where there’s a litmus test by Republicans and Democrats about, whether or not you can stay in the tribe. And on the Democratic side, the litmus test says you’re against charters because they’re hostile to the community.

[00:33:57] And I know that you [00:34:00] know the Alliance and others are trying to fight through. But we can’t lead with the fact that, you know, as a charter school community, we’re building a better mouse trap. That dog ain’t going to hunt. With all due respect, I think that what we have to do is engage people in the communities where we’re living.

[00:34:18] Make sure the boards, the localized boards, have local people on it. Make sure that you’re in touch with the local leadership and you’re working with them. Make sure you’re opening your doors and you, you engage in, which we’re doing a little bit in D.C. now. Some shared, you know, c. Or school related activities among D.C. charter schools and D.C. public schools.

[00:34:41] You should do some of that. The more you can explode the either or one side or the other kind of paradigm that is exists in our political structure and take that out of the school discussion, the better. And as long as we still try to, beat our chest and say, we’re the.[00:35:00] And we’re better than you, or people feel that that’s what we’re doing, then it’s still going to be political problems with charter schools.

[00:35:06] GR: Kevin, you were at the table when real discussions were taking place years ago about creating a national charter school week in the first place. And when we said then National Charter School Week, we primarily talked about charter’s private school choice program, state and local. Ideas and, and programs dealing with digital blended and remote learning really weren’t a big part of the conversation.

[00:35:32] Well, fast forward to 2023 as we’re somewhat beginning to move out of the COVID pandemic, and people have had to use remote digital and blended learning over the past couple of years in unique ways. , what do you think policymakers and school choice advocates need to think about in terms of embracing what the model looks like now, particularly as it relates to the idea of parents and

[00:35:57] Kevin: opportunity?

[00:35:57] So that’s a great question. [00:36:00] And, and you know, there’s a follow up to the answer about where the charter school movement is. I think another big mistake the charter school movement made, and you alluded to this, was that the built-in arrogance that is, charters are nothing, they really didn’t like to embrace.

[00:36:16] Some of the other choice options, like, you know, the digital and blended remote learning. Even some charters didn’t like the ESA, so even when they were going and advocate for charters and state legislatures, it was charters only. And I think where we are now to your, main question is when it comes to the future, always.

[00:36:41] say that more is more when it comes to parental choice. Less is not more, so the more the better. And I think that elected leaders, I said this when I talked to the Biden transition team, during the pandemic, they need to look at how they can build their infrastructure to [00:37:00] provide more quality options for parents and.

[00:37:04] in case there is another, pandemic, school shooting, natural disaster, flood, fire, a hurricane, what have you. It can’t be just confined to the bricks-and-mortar classroom. So I think that, you know, DOE for instance, instead of being viewed as a punitive in incentive, they should incent school districts that have digitized.

[00:37:32] so that they can be prepared in case kids have to go online in mass. They shouldn’t sent school districts that provide teacher training so teachers can learn how to teach effectively online and not just use PDFs or having secure platforms. the Department of Homeland Security has all these.

[00:37:53] Of infrastructure readiness needs in case there’s a cyberattack in case we have other sort of, [00:38:00] military tactics used against us. And on the list a lot of people don’t know. It includes making sure our education system is able to run in the midst of these attacks. And I think that, for the future of education in terms of, what school districts and policy leaders should be thinking, It’s having a whole pan of options available and see what will be needed to keep those options intact in case there’s something that impacts, a day-to-day schools operation.

[00:38:29] So I think that’s part of the future. I think the COVID pandemic highlighted that, but I think that this idea of online. it showed what could be possible if done effectively. It also shows how kids can, have learning loss if it’s not done effectively.

[00:38:47] GR: I’m so glad you brought up a part about a cyberattack because when we think about the federal government and who should be involved, we immediately think the Department of Education, and we should think about [00:39:00] them, but they’re not the sole organization.

[00:39:02] They are part of a, a federal system and Homeland Security, DOJ, and others can get involved. In fact, I guess in the recent. Sure, that we had, we talked about the millions of dollars school systems had to pay in order to get access back to their own data system because of outside hackers.

[00:39:20] So you’re, you’re right there. So let’s also stick with the idea of digital blended and remote learning. During the pandemic, the needs of at-risk students, particularly those with special needs, was highlighted in just numerous ways. And there’s some skeptics who said, you know what? The pandemic showed that at risk students, particularly those with special needs, didn’t benefit from digital blended or remote learning.

[00:39:43] You actually work in the area with real superintendents, teachers, and others. Are the skeptics correct. Are we missing something? Are there some victories that we know nothing about?

[00:39:53] Kevin: I think the skeptics are not, and I think, I will buttress my answer [00:40:00] with this sort of global statement.

[00:40:01] There’s a difference between emergency remote or online learning administered by people who’ve never done it before, as compared to online learning administered by people who know what the heck they’re doing. Teaching techniques that work really effectively when you can use the technology effectively.

[00:40:21] And we know that there’s some teachers, and I’m not trying to be overly critical, who even have a hard time cutting and pasting online. So once teachers are taught on how to use the technology the right way, there’s some really cool stuff that can happen that meet kids where they are. Cuz keep in mind a lot of these.

[00:40:41] Have been, raised and nurtured on this technology and what we have found when it comes to kids with special needs. We’ve gotten awards at our schools at Strive for helping kids who are autistic. many of our special needs kids really do well with the one-on-one personalized [00:41:00] learning model.

[00:41:00] And, being able to not sort of be it a bricks-and-mortar classroom setting. And we’ve had a lot of success with kids who have certain special needs. And I do think it comes down to the training, the knowledge, the expertise, the mentoring, the monitoring, day-to-day the peer review process.

[00:41:26] You just can’t get that, when you have a teacher, Trying to teach in this, that model and they’ve never done it before. Now I will say that it’s not for everybody, but early on you can tell that, when it works for kids it really works well. I can tell you also from our point of view at Strive our retention kids who came to us and decided to stay has been bigger than it’s ever been in the history of the company.

[00:41:55] And that’s largely because there is a segment of the student [00:42:00] population that really, really embraces. The fully online learning experience. And I think that’s, a beautiful thing when it comes to parental choice. As I said, more is more, the more options you have and the more kids and parents have access to them, they can find what works for them and if it doesn’t work, they can move on to something else.

[00:42:20] GR: No, great to hear those stories. So, here’s the last question. The 2022 NAEP scores in reading and math were not great, just across the board and Americans are, even our students even struggling on PISA and TIMS, you’re one of the few people in the United States who not only was an elected official but who can pick up the phone and have calls with governors mayors, school board members, state elected officials, across parties in most of the states you mentioned being a advisor to the Biden team.

[00:42:49] We just had, over 34 well, really over 30 gubernatorial elections if you were talking to. Upcoming governors state chiefs, ed reformers, or just [00:43:00] those who might only think about school choice this week because it’s National School Choice Week. What are three pieces of advice you would give them about this topic as relates to just improving the learning opportunities for all children across the board?

[00:43:14] Kevin: You know, that’s a great question. You know, I’ve been, I’ve asked that very question by several governors and legislators, oh, and actually a handful of mayors since the first thing I will say the Pisa and the NAEP scores are important. They’re instructive. It is sustained that two thirds of our high school graduates don’t.

[00:43:39] Or count at grade level and academics matter. And so I do think that we need to figure out ways to double down on assessing where kids are early in the game and finding the right approach to remediate with them and throw everything at them, you know, the right reading approach, the [00:44:00] right mentoring, tutoring, what have.

[00:44:03] But the other thing I will say is that secondly because of the pandemic and the parent voice and sort of this over focus on academics and still not moving the needle. and because the, impact of social media, many parents are looking beyond academics. You know, a lot of schools said, well, we’ve gotta get the test scores right.

[00:44:26] So they poured a lot into that, but they weren’t doing it the right way. They weren’t meeting with kids where there are, and as Ernie Dun said, you know, after all the billions of dollars he spent. Our educational system in turns, academics was a picture of stagnation and in along the way we cut arts programs, music programs, life skills programs.

[00:44:46] And a funny thing happened on the way to the pandemic and that is that beyond academics with the mental health challenges the kids have and some of these other sort of community-based challenges, [00:45:00] you know, one question to. each classroom teacher and each superintendent, are the kids happy, healthy, and thriving in their school?

[00:45:10] have the children’s innate sense of curiosity and wonder been nourished at school or diminished. are parents satisfied? We need to ask those kind of questions. Are all of your teachers and everyone in the school district including. Cafeteria workers and sanitation workers, are they trauma informed so they know how to interact with children who have mental challenges or are suffering from trauma or suffering from the trauma associated with poverty?

[00:45:43] Have you increased life skills programs at your school? Do you have music and arts? I think to help get there with the academics. , we’ve gotta look beyond academics at the school community and how they’re embracing families [00:46:00] in a big way. That’s the second thing. And the, I do think that we need to be future focused.

[00:46:06] the traditional education model, and this is an attack, it’s. because of technology, social media, the mental health of students. It’s all going to change. project based learning is going to be more relevant. the school to prison pipeline will only be busted up in a school to career.

[00:46:25] So career learning, interacting with groups and, and kids, learning how to collaborate with peers and interact with business leaders, and having an idea of what kind of career. Job readiness options are out there. and I think that, legislators and governors and mayors need to ask superintendents and school leaders, how are you future facing with your approach to education that extends beyond, the traditional brick and mortar?

[00:46:51] And that leads me to the last point I always give to these elected and policy leaders. [00:47:00] It’s so hard for school districts and, and Gerard, you know this well, it’s so hard for school districts to change. So what say that they should take, ask every one of their school district leaders to stop doing, two or three things they’ve always done and to start doing something new that’s future facing or innovative focus that they’ve never done.

[00:47:22] and then they find a me a way to measure how that new thing is working. But you, you have to have the discipline to stop some things that we know aren’t working instead of sort of giving it a slow death and then start doing something that you heard about that may work somewhere else or what have you.

[00:47:43] Because I think that’s the only way we can cut into the sameness of what education has always.

[00:47:50] GR: Absolutely. Well, Kevin, Cara and I thank you for joining us for providing some good wisdom, straight talk, a better understanding [00:48:00] about politics from someone who’s seen it from multiple levels. Happy National Charter School Week and Personal.

[00:48:06] Thank you for making our country safe to have conversations like this.

[00:48:12] Kevin: Thank you, Gerard and Cara, you too. I appreciate you guys a lot. Take care. ,

[00:48:18] GR: And. Year of the week is from our friend Jeanie Allen, who is the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, as well as the author of An Unfinished Journey: Education & the American Dream. And her tweet is a quote that was given by Kim Reynolds from Iowa. She says she’s a rockstar, and here’s the quote.

[00:48:37] When equity is everything that we hear, it truly baffles me that those who fight so hard for it are the same ones who are so strongly opposed to parental choice. What could be. Be more fair than supporting every Iowa student equally. And that’s the quote.

[00:48:54] Cara: Awesome. And as of this morning, as you know, governor Reynolds of Iowa signed that [00:49:00] bill, an ESA bill that will in very short time be a universal education savings account to give all Iowa families access, which are the schools of their choice.

[00:49:10] So cheers to that. we can open the next show talking about what’s going on in Iowa. Gerard next week we are going to have with us George Weigel. He’s a distinguished senior fellow and William E. Simon Chair at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He’s also the acclaimed author of a two-volume biography of Pope John Paul II.

[00:49:30] We’re going to be back with the Learning Curve listeners for our usual banter, but you’ll also. Here with Pat Wolf, uh, good friend of the show, university of Arkansas, professor who’ll be interviewing George Weigel for us. Until then, Gerard, you take care in beautiful Charlottesville.

[00:49:45] I’m going to go get a taco and kick those kids in line.

[00:49:48] GR: Woo. That sounds good. Take care.

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