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Education Reform Lessons from My Greatest Teacher: My Mom

• Nadia Hagberg

While there are a lot of people who would say that their mom was their greatest teacher, there are significantly fewer who can say that their mom was literally their greatest educator. I’m one of those lucky few. And on the heels of Teacher Appreciation Week and Mothers’ Day, it seems fitting to share a little about an incognito education reformer and dynamite educator: my mom.

Though she may not be able to tell you much about the crucial policy points or political battles around ideas like school choice, competency-based learning, higher academic standards, literacy-based promotion, digital and blended learning, or course choice, these are things she implemented day after day, year after year in her own home. Making the choice to homeschool wasn’t a popular one when she decided to take on a new level of personal responsibility for her kids’ education. Fortunately for me, she recognized that there were options on the table and that she—the parent—was the best equipped to decide what educational opportunity would be the best fit for her family. While “Education Reform” was never part of our curriculum, here are a few things I picked up from my teacher somewhere along the way:

  • School Choice is necessary. It works to the benefit of kids and it’s worth fighting for. Choice allows students to thrive in a setting that works for them and empowers parents to take responsibility for their children’s education. Parents have decision-making authority in every aspect of their kids’ lives—they are entrusted with that authority because they have the best interest of their children at heart.
  • Progression through the ranks of education is about mastering content and applying it to the real world—not about how many days are spent sitting at a desk (or the kitchen table, in my case). The thought of moving-on to more advanced content without having mastered the basics wasn’t entertained in my school-house. Is this common-sense idea scalable? Just take a look at Westminster school district in Colorado for an example of innovation in competency-based learning.
  • High academic standards and honest assessments should not be negotiable. Parents recognize that as the world gets smaller, competition for jobs and opportunities grows, and they want higher standards for their kids and assessments that give an honest look at what they know. My parents realized that standards set for their four-year-old’s pre-k program didn’t measure up to what they thought she should know and achieve so they exercised their right to educate her themselves. Higher standards are for everyone—let’s be honest about where we are as a nation, state, district, school, classroom and raise the bar for all kids.
  • The greatest teachers in world are only a few keystrokes away. Digital and blended learning can bring the worlds’ best educators into our classrooms, homes and really anywhere with an Internet connection. Technology has had, and continues to have, the power to expand opportunity and supplement daily learning. Do you remember the old-school Math Blasters? Oh yes, there’s a new-school app for that.
  • Course choice has the power to customize education for every student. No two students are the same and their educational path can and should reflect their individuality. Technology is now allowing us to scale course choice and has made it the next logical step in creating a more customizable and competitive public education system. Picking and choosing which science course and math curriculum she was going to teach and enrolling her kids in music at a local school and PE with a neighborhood group was the way my parent was able to take advantage of course choice at a micro-level. Today, states like Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, and Utah are leading the way in making high-quality, individual course catalogues available to students on a macro-level. Millions of parents in these states are now empowered to help customize their student’s education without having to make the decision to educate them at home.

All of these tools, implemented simultaneously by a great teacher, gave me and my fellow students (read: my siblings) the gift of a high-quality education that was tailored to meet our individual needs, pushed us beyond what we thought was achievable, and taught us to leverage the technology that continues to shape the way we learn and live. Mom wasn’t out there waving the flag of reform or trying to make a point. She chose this educational path for her kids because it made sense for our family. As reformers, we believe common-sense policies should reach into every classroom—and be available to every student.

So, thanks, Mom for being a great teacher. The lessons you shared have empowered me and given me the chance to invest myself in helping to ensure every child has the same opportunities that you took advantage of on my behalf. Happy Mother’s Day. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. You’re the best.

Author’s note: And if you’re muttering something about social-skills right now (you know who you are), we should go get dinner sometime—you might be surprised.

About the author

Nadia Hagberg

Nadia is the National Advocacy Director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Nadia helps coordinate the Foundation’s work with governors, law and policy makers, business leaders and organizations who are working to advance state-level, student-centered education policy. In addition to helping coordinate nationwide advocacy efforts, she is also the Foundation’s main point of contact for Texas and Hawaii. Contact Nadia at