Education Needs A Radical Middle

Apr 18, 2023 9:00:00 AM


Culture wars from the fringes, preaching to their loudest bases, who do not reflect the opinions of the majority of American voters, are co-opting our TV screens and social media feeds. 

In one corner, red states give power to the far right, seeking a “safe,” white-washed school day that reinforces racism, misogyny, and bigotry by giving power to a minority group of parents who align with extreme conservative values. 

This small minority attempts to dictate what knowledge is accessible to all students by censoring curriculum, banning books and, thereby, erasing accurate historical context they find to be personally too politically uncomfortable. The term “woke” is a catchall for any policy or priority that doesn’t align with their narrow views.

In the other corner, blue states concede to the far left, claiming to represent the voices of the oppressed, yet quashing a family’s right to choose the best school for their kids. The far left protects a broken, status-quo system that only works for a few with means, while severely limiting opportunities for Black and Brown families. 

These radicals deny the reality of each student’s individual learning needs that demand a variety of public school options, including public charter schools which are proven to help all kids, especially Black and Brown kids succeed. 

One of today’s biggest fights is over who will own the narrative of parents’ rights. But let’s be clear, this battle is a distraction getting us absolutely nowhere.

Ideology is trumping reasonable and necessary conversations and peddling a forced choice: let our schools be indoctrinated by wokeness or align with the status quo. In both instances, the battle isn’t about parents or students. And it certainly isn’t about creating a more equitable public education system. 

Culture Wars Don’t Speak to What Parents Really Want

These disparate education agendas, largely based on politics and defined by geography, ultimately dictate the education our students receive. Is this what we really want for our kids? 

Neither side represents my voice. 

While all of this noise swirls around me, low-performing schools still exist in Black and Brown communities. Even though one of the most concrete ways to break the cycle of poverty and change life outcomes for generations of families is access to a great education. Yet education leaders are staging performative strikes and districts are getting federal bailouts that still have nothing to do with getting our children on grade level.

I am a first-generation college graduate. During my K-12 experience I didn't always have great public school options. This work is personal to me. 

Like many other parents today, I’m navigating out of the pandemic while ensuring my children have access to the fundamentals: attending safe schools and recovering in reading and math.

We’ve been led to believe that there’s nothing parents agree on, but that’s not true. All families want our kids to have a better life, be educated and safe at school.

The Radical Middle Can Take Back the Education Narrative

Those of us who refuse to be defined by partisan politics--the radical middle–can and must take back the education narrative. 

We agree the long-standing, one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work for our kids. A new national EdChoice poll of Black parents shows more than one-third of Black parents believe education needs to change. Over 50% of Black parents support school options, including charter schools. 

We expect our children won’t get a homogenized learning experience that doesn’t respect their identity and culture. We expect for them to receive a well-rounded education taught by teachers prepared to meet the realities of post-pandemic learning. 

For the Radical Middle, Charter Schools Matter

The Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS) works in 10 cities across the country to ensure parents can choose the best school for their child. We educate elected leaders on the priorities that matter to Black and Brown parents and support Black and Brown-led charter schools improving outcomes in our most marginalized communities. 

In my experience, charter schools are a valuable model within the public education system, building stronger communities and delivering an education that works for all students, proving there is room for more than one type of public school.

In the Atlanta Public Schools (APS), where 77% of students attending charter schools are Black, charter schools are helping improve the district’s overall graduation rates and increase the percentage of students enrolling in college. Georgia State University research shows Atlanta property values increased over 8% in areas closest to a start-up charter school. In the Atlanta suburbs, property values were 4% higher when located within a half-mile radius of a charter school. 

Real education issues are being overshadowed by political partisanship. The radical middle must speak up as an alternative voice to thwart the polarizing voices heard by those in power. Otherwise meaningless debates will drag us further to the margins and we will never make meaningful progress for our students. 

Parent voters should urge elected officials to listen to the voices of their broader constituencies who know what’s best for their families. Only as voters can we change the tide. And only then will our elected leaders have the courage to tackle the issues that will make a real difference for our kids today and generations to come.

Photo courtesy Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools.

Jay Artis-Wright

Jay Artis-Wright serves as the Executive Director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools (FCCS). The FCCS advocates for the enhancement and establishment of high-quality educational choices for students from these communities. Jay has more than two decades of experience spanning public policy, education, advocacy, and community mobilization.

The Feed


  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...

  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...