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Education reformer calls on school choice movement to reform itself

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by Jason Russell
Washington Examiner
June 15, 2016

Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the pro-school choice Center for Education Reform, called on the education reform movement to change, boldly claiming that the movement saw more success in its first nine years than in the last 16.

“This is a clarion call,” Allen wrote in a manifesto published Wednesday. “This is where we stand on the cusp of an important election: off message, losing ground at the national level, losing fights in communities across the country and struggling to hold on even in the places where we have demonstrated the most dramatic success.”

Allen says the movement should spend more time on innovation in education, as well as upward mobility for low-income families to reach the middle class or above. “Too often, pushing charters and vouchers as an end in and of themselves rather than a means to spur innovation and opportunity and ultimately deliver on the promise of a great education for all children.”

Some of Allen’s critiques focused on education reformers’ response to the Common Core educational standards.

“The same kind of distractions from the business at hand must be said of the Common Core State Standards debate, which has drained our collective energies and focus on students,” Allen wrote.

“Opponents rarely took time to understand how the standards were adopted, why and how they were being used and what they actually said, while proponents regularly dismissed concerns without examining their cause or intent, resulting in a more fractured community of once powerful advocates, whose alignment on issues such as opportunity and innovation is now secondary.”

At an event to launch the manifesto Wednesday, Allen was joined by Donald Hense, chair and CEO of Friendship Public Charter Schools in Washington, D.C. Hense had harsh words for education reformers. “I don’t believe we have a movement any longer,” Hense said. “I just don’t.”

But Hense, a board member of the Center for Education Reform, made clear he still believes in school choice. “This is the reason we have choice: You can find what works best for your child.”

Jason Russell is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.