Instead of debating charters vs. public schools, focus on educating kids

ByDan Katzir and Marcia Aaron (op-ed)

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There is one reason that someone chooses to dedicate his or her life to education as a teacher, administrator or community advocate: a sincere, deeply held belief that making a difference in the lives of children is the best way to build equity and move our society forward. Every educator and advocate shares that goal.

Why, then, do we so often fall into the trap of treating education as just another partisan fight?

On both sides of the charter vs. traditional public school debate, heated political rhetoric has infiltrated the speech of people who should be united by a desire to help kids. On behalf of four public Charter School Networks — Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, Green Dot Public Schools and KIPP LA — representing over 35,000 students in some of our most economically distressed neighborhoods, we are calling for a ceasefire.

Let’s keep our focus on kids, not partisan politics.

As adults and stewards of the future generation, we must set a better example and rise above the divisiveness that is rampant in national dialogue. We have the opportunity in Los Angeles to send a message of inclusion and unity for the common good. Let’s not be distracted by polarizing messages from the work that we are all doing as part of the Los Angeles public school community. All children benefit when LA public schools of every type focus on sharing and celebrating promising practices.

Like Los Angeles Unified, our schools serve overwhelmingly minority and immigrant students. Our children are the future of Los Angeles and of our country, and they deserve every chance to succeed. Our belief that children from all backgrounds can learn and achieve at the highest levels have led to the U.S. Department of Education, the California Department of Education, and U.S. News & World Report recognizing our charter public schools as among the best public schools in the state and nation.

Through hard work and careful planning, we are proud to provide a college preparatory education to all students, regardless of how they arrive at our schools. We graduate nearly all of our students and send the vast majority to college, and we are at the cutting edge of “to and through” K-16 pedagogical techniques.

But most important, we strive to be more than schools. We pride ourselves on integrating into the fabric of each unique community that we serve. From sharing resources with local families to standing up for immigrant rights, we know that a school does not exist in a vacuum but is wholly reliant on the community around it to succeed.

So to our opponents, we say: Let’s focus on what we have in common, not what tears us apart.

This is especially critical now, in a national political landscape that makes so many of our families’ stability uncertain. Let’s work together on a call to action that says every single student in our community deserves a high-quality education, that each and every student is our responsibility to nurture, and recognize that students and families do not care that their school has a label on it — magnet, pilot, charter, district, or parent trigger. These are all our children.

It is time that we focus on making sure students thrive, not only in the classroom but through college and beyond. Everything else is window dressing, and a wasteful distraction.

Let’s support all of our public schools — whether they are traditional or charter public schools — and focus our energy on delivering the promise of American public education: equal opportunity for a quality education for all of our children.

Marcia Aaron is CEO of KIPP LA Schools. Dan Katzir is president and CEO of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools. They wrote this with Cristina de Jesus, president and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, and Ana F. Ponce, CEO of Camino Nuevo Charter Schools.