As Choice Week Ends, Common Challenges Remain
January 26, 2018

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

Foreword by Suzanne Kubach, Executive Director, PIE Network

As the clock started on 2018, three amazing leaders joined the PIE Network board. This week’s commentary features new PIE Network board member Derrell Bradford, executive vice president at 50CAN. (We’ll feature new board members Scott Laband, Colorado Succeeds, and Evan Stone, Educators for Excellence, in upcoming editions of Game Changers.)

Derrell’s wit and wisdom have made him a highly sought out speaker and writer on a wide range of topics. While best known for his passion for school choice, his resume includes impressive systemic reform work on issues like tenure reform and management of both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) campaigns.

Derrell is one of a handful of leaders who have been recognized by his Network peers as the Most Valuable Player (2016)—an honor acknowledging those who contribute much outside their own state lines to advance reform. He brings to the Network insights from other board service, including Success Academy Charter Schools and EdBuild, among others.

In the Network, like minds diverge on how extensive choice options should be. Derrell’s commitment to this issue draws from his personal experience—he’s working to make sure all kids get the chances he’s had to attend great schools. Here he offers commentary about some of the effects of today’s system of public schooling that have been a hot topic in charter school debates, broadly impacting all kids, and especially those least well-served by their public schools.

By Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President, 50CAN

National School Choice Week is drawing to a close after starting the year with a powerful demonstration of the movement’s momentum. Especially when contrasted with the rancor of the perpetual news cycle, I find thousands of people coming together around educational opportunity refreshing and hopeful. The week signals an ascendancy of the issue…one that accepts that choice as a concept is largely out of that bag, and that future fights won’t be over choice or no choice but, instead, over how much choice and for whom.

If you support choice in all of its forms—as I do—you’ll also notice that this happy and inclusive time also brings out lots of haters. Haters have flavors, as you know, so you’re as likely to get trolled by a libertarian loyalist who wants to dump the Department of Education as you are to get hammered by an Upper West Side progressive who wants to force kids in Harlem to attend a school he or she would never send their own child to. It takes all kinds to make a revolution, but it takes all kinds to hate one too.

Lately though, the emergent anti-choice conversation is one about the perceived role of charters and choice more broadly in segregating the nation’s public schools. This argument has emerged despite the fact that states with neither charters nor broader choice programs sport deeply segregated schools. But no matter. Segregation as a concept is something no American, and no progressive white American in particular, can support. I mean, it’s bad form to do so (even if that segregation is self-selected association wrapped in academic excellence).

Much like folks offer that “we get the government we deserve” since it’s the one we vote for and ultimately the one we are willing to accept, we only have as much segregation in the country’s schools as we are willing to tolerate. Which also proves the inverse: that there is only as much integration in the public schools as Americans—and by that I mean white Americans, of all stripes—are willing to allow. It’s important to remember that integration in the nation’s schools is not a problem for black and brown kids clustered in geographically dense areas to solve. It is a problem that white folks must reconcile through their own school choices, and rationalize in their broad support of residentially assigned public schools.

I am not white so I can’t set a timetable for when this great reckoning will happen. What I can offer, however, is that no minority kid should have to delay the search for the right school, district, magnet, charter, private or otherwise, while the world awaits this magic moment of ally solidarity or total systemic reform.

Choice, and the urgency of being able to choose, exists in its own bubble that may not be above, but is certainly outside of, conversations about how we integrate “the public schools.” I’d urge all folks to consider that reality as we try to improve education for children in neighborhoods that—now and for the foreseeable future—will remain segregated.

And therefore, a common challenge remains: how to ensure that kids get into the best schools available when they are still kids.


Derrell Bradford

Derrell is 50CAN's Executive Vice President

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