School choice advocates across the country are planning a rallying point for the new year: National School Choice Week. Spearheaded by the Gleason Family Foundation in San Francisco, the event is scheduled for January 23 through January 29.
Conceived as a way to shine a spotlight on policies offering effective educational options for every child, organizers say National School Choice Week will be an opportunity for the media and the public to learn about the promise school choice holds and to bring new activists into the movement.
The National School Choice Week Web site states “there is no one organization behind this effort,” and one key goal will be to create a network of supporters and advocates for school choice.
Emulates ‘Day of Action’
Tracy Gleason, president and CEO of the Gleason Family Foundation, noted a broad coalition of groups have come together to create National School Choice Week.
“The school choice movement is made up a broad variety of people and organizations, each with distinct and independent personalities,” Gleason explained. “Unlike the armies of unionized labor, our organizations take pride in their uniqueness, so trying to move forward in a united way has been difficult for us.”
Gleason says National School Choice Week is loosely modeled after a teachers’ union effort called “Day of Action,” which was designed to raise awareness about education budget cuts. “Unlike any union effort, National School Choice Week is designed to allow organizations and people to handle the week in whatever way they choose,” Gleason said.
Gleason says the goal of National School Choice Week is to attract new supporters to the cause by highlighting the problems now plaguing the public education.
“We hope that NSCW will raise the volume of discussion about the K-12 education system, its serious problems and real solutions, and lay the groundwork for a strong and broad national network of school choice supporters who can be mobilized to action,” Gleason said.
National School Choice Week comes after a year in which education reform has received nearly unprecedented attention by the public, with more than a half-dozen documentary films, a week-long series of specials by NBC-TV, and attention from Oprah Winfrey.
Films released in the past year include Waiting for Superman, The Cartel, Let Me Rise, The Lottery, and The Street Stops Here. That makes NSCW timely as parents, lawmakers, and reform advocates consider the messages of these films. ?
National School Choice Week affords policymakers and reformers a unique opportunity, says Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Foundation for Educational Choice in Indianapolis. “Charter school operators, virtual school providers, choice groups, think tanks, tax groups, and everyone else that supports greater educational options can band together and dramatically increase our power and effectiveness,” Enlow said.
Call to Action?Virginia Walden Ford, executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, said she hopes National School Choice Week will serve as both a call to action to parents and a way to educate the public about the possibility of real and lasting reform.
“I am a longtime advocate for education reform, and I am looking forward to standing with scores of people in solidarity and commitment in support of an educational system that will prepare our children for the future,” she said.
“The week should not only bring attention to the work of organizations and supporters who have, for years, fought to bring about change in the education of our children, but also get the word out to the general public,” Walden Ford added.
Seeking Wider Audience
Clare Mullin, a project manager at the Gleason Foundation, says one reason National School Choice Week is important is to spread the message about the benefits of school choice to a wider audience.
“A great deal of time, money, and energy is spent talking about solutions and proving that they work,” Mullin stated. NSCW will build on those efforts and work to “create the groundswell of support among the population that will lead to demand for educational options,” Mullin noted.
“I think one of the potentially great things about the NSCW effort is that it can increase the collaboration within our movement, which we are already starting to see, while also drilling down to build our ranks,” she said.
“Advocates from diverse organizations across the country are very interested and want to get involved, which is very encouraging,” Mullen said. “We will be empowering advocates with the tools and support they need to effect grassroots change in their communities.”
Lindsey Burke ([email protected]) is an education policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.
SIDEBAR: Who’s In?
National School Choice Week has received endorsements from a bipartisan group of education reform advocates. Many well-known reformers are “in” for school choice week, including:
Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Speaker of the House
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT)
Jon Secada, Grammy Award-winning singer
Ursula Wright, COO, National Alliance for Public Charter schools
Eva Moskowitz, CEO, Harlem Success Charter Network
Kevin Chavous, Black Alliance for Educational Options
Dr. Tony Bennett, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction
Jeb Bush (R), former governor of Florida
Herman Kriegshauser, Citizens for Educational Freedom, Manchester, Missouri
To learn more about National School Choice Week and get involved with the effort, visit http://www.SchoolChoiceWeek.com. Information on National School Choice Week can also be found on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/schoolchoicewk, and on Facebook.