How Education Reform is Like Gay Marriage

There’s been much discussion, in the wake of New York State’s passage of a gay marriage bill, of the shifting views of Americans on this hot topic. A recent CNN poll demonstrated that for the first time a majority of Americans, 51%, support equal marital right for gay couples, a sharp uptick since 2008 when only 44% did. Another poll from Gallup looked at views by age group; for 18-34 year-olds, 70% support gay marriage, 16 points higher than only one year ago.

For many years the argument was dominated by those with strong religious beliefs who firmly opposed same-sex marriage. Politicians were loathe to challenge the Church, dependent on its support. While there’s certainly no shortage of push-back, there’s also an inevitability about the issue. One day we’ll look back and wonder what took us so long.

It's only a matter of time until legislation catches up with consensus. The gay rights movement has successfully (and accurately) couched the issue in terms of civil rights, equity, and equality. There’s a rising corps of leaders in industry and politics, both Democratic and Republican, who believe passionately that bans on gay marriage are relics of an anachronistic paradigm that withholds equal rights to a portion of Americans.

It’s sort of like education reform. For many years Americans regarded our public education system as the best in the world, a paradigm of excellence. However, there’s a growing recognition that we fall short, particularly in urban education where only 8% of poor children finish college by the time they’re 24 years old. Politicians on both sides of the aisle – Daniel Patrick Moynihan (back in 1965), Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama – have initiated programs to address our public system’s failures. More and more Americans recognize that a major restructuring is in order, including elements of school choice and accountability, and an emerging corps of leaders are passionately committed to the cause.

For many years the argument has been dominated by those strongly connected to teacher unions, invested in the status quo. Politicians have been loathe to challenge NEA and UFT because they’re dependent on their support. That’s still true, but less so.

Eventually (I’m going out on a limb here) legislation will catch up with consensus because the education reform movement is successfully (and accurately) couching its platform in terms of civil rights, equity, and equality. We’ll look back and wonder why it took us so long to give impoverished children education opportunities formerly available to only those with wealthy parents.