Ashley Carter understands how to defy odds. As the sole Republican member of the Washington D.C. Board of Education to be elected in November — ousting an incumbent Democrat — she understands the power of grit.
“I tell everyone ‘no guts, no glory!’” Carter said in an interview. “You must believe in yourself first for others to believe in you too. Campaigns, like life, can change on a dime. If you give it your best shot and see it through, you may be impressed with the outcome.”
Ashley Carter, sole Republican member of the Washington D.C. Board of Education
Carter, a graduate of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, said she faced many doors closed in her face, yet the experienced served to give her a thicker skin.
“I led a grassroots-oriented campaign and knocked on doors in every ward across the city to introduce myself to voters and listen to their concerns,” Carter told Opportunity Lives. “The first few times someone slammed a door in my face was tough, but I kept going and if I had stopped campaigning the first time someone told me they weren’t going to vote for me, I wouldn’t be in the position now.”
A lawyer by training, Carter, who is white, won in heavily black areas, she said, because of a desire to change the status quo and voters were willing to give her a chance.
“D.C. has a very diverse community and while I am a white woman with blue eyes and blonde hair, I won with a majority of the votes in areas east of the Anacostia river which has a high African-American population,” Carter said. “I noticed early on while talking to voters that my opponent didn’t spend much time in these wards and hadn’t spent much time there over the course of terms in office. I knocked on a lot of doors and many told me that it was refreshing to see someone campaigning in their area. Many residents often felt spoken at instead of listened to and that their opinions were ignored. I want to change that.”
During her day job with the Independent Women’s Forum, an organization promoting freedom and personal responsibility, Carter travels the country speaking to groups of women about the importance of women in politics and the need of having more female representation in public office at the national, state, and local levels. It was through this experience that Carter realized she could practice what she was preaching.
“It was during one of these speaking engagements where I was telling an audience of young women how they should stand up and run for office, when the question was posed to me ‘have you ever run for office?’” she said. “While I had worked on the backside of several campaigns in various positions, I never thought I would be the candidate. I had to answer ‘no,’ but at the same time, interjected ‘don’t let that stop you from running!’”
After returning home to D.C., not thinking much about the question, that same week Carter said she had dinner with her neighbors. During their conversation over dinner, her neighbors, who have a young child, admitted that while they love the city and our neighborhood, they would probably be moving to Maryland or Virginia when their daughter becomes school age because they couldn’t afford the high cost of private schools and the public schools were unacceptable.
“Mind you, I live across the street from an elementary school,” Carter said. “Going home that night, I was angry. I know several families who have left the District simply because there are better public schools in Maryland and Virginia. I thought, ‘Why are we losing good residents to other states, when we can fix our schools here?’ I have lived in D.C. for over 11 years now. D.C. is my home and I want to raise my children in D.C. I knew something needed to be changed and that’s how a campaign was born.”
Even though the D.C. Board of Education is not a full-time position, launching a citywide campaign was no easy feat. For more than six months, Carter’s life centered around the campaign. If she was not at work, she was answering and returning calls and emails, attending events, knocking doors, and speaking to D.C. residents.
“Sometimes I would wake up at 4 a.m. and other nights I wouldn’t go to bed until 2 a.m.,” Carter said. “My opponent was an incumbent who had been in office for almost a decade. It was a challenge defeating her and took lots of hard work. Now that I’m in office, it’s a puzzle trying to play catch-up on all the work that was going on before I joined the board.”
Carter said she wants to work on the three top priorities: raising the graduation rate, providing more resources for career and technical education and more student support in schools.
“D.C. currently has the lowest high-school graduation rate in the country,” Carter said. “While we have made strides and are now at a 69 percent rate, it is still well below the national average of 83 percent. Without lowering standards, I would like to get us to the national average over the next four years.”
By increasing resources for career and technical education, Carter said she believes this can raise the graduation rate and bring more jobs to D.C. by connecting skills training to the classroom. Carter believes this would allow for students to get well-paying jobs directly out of high school without the high cost of student loan debt.
“We want students to be career ready when they graduate, not just college ready,” Carter said. “With more students taking a gap year (like President Obama’s daughter) we need to make sure our students see a path into adulthood that is upwardly mobile whether that is college or career.”
To improve student support in schools, Carter said she would like to address what she believes are class sizes that are big and students within classes with varying levels of education, especially in the subject areas of reading and math. In D.C., she said, one class can have students who range up to four grades levels difference in competency and mastery of skills.
“Our students often need more individualized attention than teachers can currently give,” Carter said. “Without expanding the budget, I would like to add more trained volunteers and work with area nonprofits to get students the attention they need and deserve and help teachers be able to teach the required curriculum. Working together, we can close the achievement gap and create strong futures for our students.”
Carter said while the district currently has McKinley Technology High School and others concentrating intently on STEM/computer science topics, she would love to see more and also engineering courses in schools. She said she has spoken companies like Microsoft and Google offering programs and certifications for D.C. students to allow them to get a jumpstart into this world. Carter also pointed out that a proposal worth considering is looking at whether coding could be allowed as a language option. By way of example, Texas recently allowed this change.
“Options like this allow our students to be prepared for working in a 21st century world upon graduation from high school,” Carter said.
Carter has praised the Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s embattled nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education, admiring how the Michigan philanthropist has spent her life working to promote school choice. She hopes the new administration can expand school choice options over the next four years.
“I think she will be a breath of fresh air for the education community,” Carter said. “Children don’t all learn in a one-size-fits-all box and giving the power to parents to choose the best educational decisions for their children is a great opportunity.”
Though onlookers have speculated about her political future beyond her school board seat, Carter said she’s focused on her current role.
“Since it’s my first month in office, I’m concentrating on my duties with the D.C. State Board of Education, representing the residents of D.C., and making good on my promises for this term,” Carter said. “As the only Republican elected to office in D.C., I would like to work to strengthen the party at both the city level and nationwide. Republicans won overwhelmingly at the local, state, and national level this year and I would like to continue promoting the policies of free markets and limited government.”
Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others.