An American President’s Voice Matters in Education, Local Leadership Matters More

The post below is by guest blogger, Kira Orange Jones. 

On the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I spoke at Education Reform Now’s annual Camp Philos, which “convenes an influential group of stakeholders in the education reform movement.” As publicized, some of the most powerful educators, elected officials and thought leaders in education expressed their beliefs on what direction the country should take. But on the actual convention stage, there was very little mention of K-12 education.

As an elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the entity charged with overseeing education in the state, I know the tone set by our next president can put wind at the back of our board’s sails. Like many others, I initially became concerned that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t offer a comprehensive vision for K-12 education. But before the last red, white and blue streamers were swept away, I became optimistic. The president should provide wind for our sails, but parents, students and local officials should steer the ship.

We must make our voices loud enough for the next president to hear the direction our states will take.

President Barak Obama’s administration put forth an ambitious education agenda the past eight years and pushed for things we all can agree to: great schools that serve all kids, quality teachers and more options for families.

But we can’t forget who moved President Obama to act: we did. Parents of all races, socioeconomic levels as well as of both parties demanded change. We broke through the partisan politics of the past to create a student-centered agenda.

Presidents will change. And the role of the federal government will change along with it. But calls for quality schools should remain constant. Certainly, the bully pulpit of the presidency matters mightily. But the tone set by local leaders matters more. We need a national leader who will listen.

Right now Clinton is hearing the same old tired either/or debates: choice or no choice, accountability or no accountability. But those who work on state boards know that we are always looking for the best way to offer quality options and hold ourselves accountable for setting the highest standards for our children. I believe the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows state leaders to continue that work.

What our presidential candidates are not saying shouldn’t add to the political gridlock that keeps us from doing the work that our children, families and communities need. Bemoaning what Clinton or Trump isn’t saying about education isn’t solving the education problems of the day.

After attending Philos, I became even more resolved in what I need to do – advocate on behalf of the children and families of my district in Louisiana. I will continue to push for high standards, quality schools and effective teachers. While we all would certainly welcome one, I don’t need a speech from a presidential candidate as much as I need my constituents’ voices in order to reach our goals.

Kira Orange Jones holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University, a M.Ed. in School Leadership from Harvard University, and is a second term elected member of the statewide education policy making board, the Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, representing New Orleans and five other parishes. Kira also sits on the national leadership committee of EdLoc (Education Leaders of Color), an organization comprised of leaders of color committed to ‘third way’ values in education and sits on the New Orleans advisory board of Education Pioneers. Most recently, Kira was recognized by Louisiana Life Magazine as a Louisianan of the Year and in 2015 was named to Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

One Reply to “An American President’s Voice Matters in Education, Local Leadership Matters More”

  1. I hope Ms Jones can influence her board to continue to direction of decentralization that the Every Student Succeeds Act makes an inadequate move towards, so that, when we get harmful federal legislation like No Child Left Behind repealed — that means actually repealing its zombie-like, undead replacement, ESSA — states like Louisiana will be prepared to respond appropriately by already having in place structures and policies that are more likely to respond appropriately to local needs than DC initiatives have in this century. At the top, perhaps, should be the expansion of educational choice through Education Savings Accounts that will enable non-rich families to send their children to private schools through the support of vouchers, which Louisiana made some progress towards under Governor Jindal, but which needs revising, so that families are empowered with information to make better school choices, and so that quality is less centrally determined by an out-of-date assessment system.

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