Education could become a unifying force after divisive election
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Politics is a rough-and-tumble affair, and this past election will, undoubtedly, go down in history as one of the most divisive in modern American politics. But at some point, campaigns must end and the hard work of governing must begin.

The critical question is: Can our nation’s leaders come together in a bipartisan way to get things done?

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The first 100 days of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE's presidency will largely determine whether our leaders can accomplish anything or find themselves mired in endless gridlock. This is why I'm hopeful education emerges as a priority for the Trump administration and the 115th Congress.

Education, especially the plight of K-12 education, was clearly a sleeper issue during the campaign, with candidates only occasionally raising it (almost exclusively) within the context of higher education access and student loan debt.

But there is great potential for K-12 education issues to become a great unifying force in American politics.

Education is the key to a prosperous future for any nation, and yet our K-12 education system is overwhelmed with an array of challenges from overcrowded classrooms and child poverty to lack of access to technology and severe fiscal pressures.

If national leaders coalesce around a broad education agenda that includes priorities both Republicans and Democrats have been championing for years, along with the demands of both Trump and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE voters, it's possible we could be on the verge of truly impacting America's education system for the better.

Trump has vowed to immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion toward school choice. That's a good first step in the right direction. I was critical of both presidential candidates for failing to put education, in particular school choice, front and center as a national priority throughout the campaign.

However, Trump's nomination of school-choice champion Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education (an excellent pick, in my opinion) demonstrates seriousness about this issue. DeVos has been a longtime advocate for strengthening public education and empowering parents with the freedom to choose schools that best meet the needs of their children.

Moving forward on a robust school-choice plan means families across the U.S., particularly those in economically disadvantaged or underserved communities, will have access to better educational options for their kids.

Children stuck in crumbling schools that are failing them are in desperate need of options now. They can't wait. If we allow education policy to continue at the present rate, students will have grown up too fast before they realize the benefits.

To garner widespread national support, a school-choice initiative should be aimed at all children, not some. Up until today, school choice has focused primarily on urban communities, and for very good reasons. While it must continue and expand in urban areas, school choice needs can also benefit other communities where alternative learning options don't exist.

Charter schools are typically concentrated in highly populated areas, leaving families in rural areas with little in the way of access. As a result, there is a disproportionate focus on charter-school development and growth in urban areas despite a growing need in burdened rural areas where one in four students reside.

A recent National Charter School Resource Center study found only 2 percent of rural students were attending charter schools, compared to 6 percent of urban students.

A responsible national school-choice initiative should be aimed at reaching suburban and rural areas, too. It should be combined with a focus on expanding online schools and course choice programs, as well. Digital learning actually expands the geographic reach of school choice in ways that traditional charter schools cannot.

Rather than transporting a student to a school every day, thereby dramatically increasing the overhead for education outcomes in an era of budget pressures, online learning delivers school to the student — wherever they live. This gives families in the often-overlooked, flyover parts of America access to education choice.

But let's not stop with just choice.

Trump should make good on his acceptance speech pledge to address our nation's failing infrastructure with a plan that includes an ambitious initiative to rebuild and modernize our nation's public schools, including stepping up all programs to provide robust internet access and computing devices.

It is unconscionable that America's families are driving on highways and over bridges that are falling apart. It is equally unconscionable that America's families are sending our children to schools that are falling apart and lack quality broadband access.

This is not a red-state, blue-state issue. Schools in urban and rural America are crumbling, while schools in wealthier communities modernize and infuse their classrooms with new technologies and other advanced capabilities.

We're the most advanced country in the world. We should guarantee a safe and technology-rich experience in every school, in every classroom for every child.

When K-12 education was raised as a topic, Trump and many of his supporters opposed Common Core and what they perceived as top-down regulations. Clinton and her allies were staunch critics of high-stakes testing requirements. Neither were calling for the end to all standards or the elimination of all testing.

What both sides were saying is exactly what parents and teachers want: more flexibility and more autonomy to do what is best for their children.

Polling consistently shows that while Americans believe assessments are important, they reject using standardized testing as a hammer to punish teachers, close schools and overrule parent choice under the guise of "accountability." Assessments should be used to inform instruction, drive continuous improvement, and provide timely intelligence to families.

Rather than pushing a one-size-fits all, single-measure accountability system, the federal government can encourage states to adopt student-centered accountability models that include multiple performance measures (e.g., the dashboard data approach) which are far more relevant to teachers and parents.

Democrats and Republicans in Washington may not be ready to unify on everything, nor should we expect them to anytime soon. Still, opening up the new administration and Congress with a serious, bipartisan plan to improve our schools and expand education opportunities for all communities would infuse some needed calm and collaboration into the nation's public policy discourse after a stormy political season.

Nate Davis is executive chairman of K12 Inc., a technology-based education company and leading provider of online learning programs to schools across the U.S. He is also a regular contributor in The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @VoicesOfK12.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.