A new definition of public education

The aim of redefinED is to recast the way we perceive public education. Far too often, the debate over any education program begins first with an assessment of whether it undermines traditional neighborhood public schooling. But today’s school systems and public policies have exploded the historical definition of a public education. It’s time our discourse did so as well.

The resistance to customized forms of education is not new. Well-meaning principals and administrators fought back-to-basics schools and International Baccalaureate programs and gifted education for fear they would dilute other public schools. Now, as these family choices move into the arena of charter schools, private-school scholarships and online education, the conversation often devolves into rhetorical warfare. The purpose of redefinED is to move beyond neighborhood school assignment and the increasingly blurred line between “public” and “private.” And we will do so through the lens we have established in a state that ranks as the national leader in the provision of learning options, a state that has allowed even its poorest families to customize their child’s education.

In Florida, more and more high-achieving students take advantage of the privately owned International Baccalaureate curriculum, dual enroll in a local community college and complete courses at the Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest online-learning provider. More than a half-million students attend magnet programs, career academies or schools with open-enrollment policies. Low-income children and disabled students can attend a private school on a state-backed scholarship. Nearly 140,000 students attend charter academies, which are ultimately public schools managed by private companies, guided by private boards and staffed by private employees.

Readers should know that we represent professionally the interests of a nonprofit organization in Florida, Step Up For Students, that administers a scholarship for 32,000 low-income children. But redefinED won’t be a platform merely for school vouchers and won’t be a promotional vehicle for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship. Rather, we will use our collective experiences to speak more broadly about learning options. Our editors have more than 40 combined years of experience in journalism, most of it covering educational policy. Our key contributing writers are leaders in the education reform movement, whether they’ve presided over a local teachers union or launched the largest tax-credit scholarship of its kind in the nation. Our posts will be frequent and respectful, and we hope the responses will be the same.

We plan to use our collective experiences to underscore a basic truth in education — that different children learn in different ways. It is a point that reaches across ideological and partisan lines, so we turn to the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democratic senator of New York who more than 30 years ago waged his own effort to convince a nation that educational options defined a public education: “Diversity. Pluralism. Variety. These are values, too, and perhaps nowhere more valuable than in the experiences that our children have in their early years, when their values and attitudes are formed, their minds awakened, and their friendships formed. We cherish these values, and I do not believe it excessive to ask that they be embodied in our national policies for American education.”

Please join our dialogue.


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BY Adam Emerson

Editor of redefinED, policy and communications guru for Florida education nonprofit