Laura Chapman has been doing research on the Center for American Progress, which the media views as the voice of the Democratic Party. This may be the most depressing thing you read today. It calls for a return to the principles of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Both failed. CAP wants to resuscitate the worst features of both. Maybe CAP can persuade Arne Duncan to return as Secretary of Education. Then the disaster would be complete.


And here we go with the new progressive agenda for schools.

Almost every week Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress (CAP) appears on television to opine about the presidential elections. Tanden is a former aide to Hillary Clinton. CAP is supposed to function as a think tank for Progressives, especially Democrats. On July 2, 2019, CAP published: A Quality Education for Every Child: A New Agenda for Education Policy.” The press release asserted: “The Next President’s Education Agenda Must Center Racial Disparities in Educational Opportunity.”

I have been studying this report. It is highly critical of K-12 education. It is also calculated to mislead casual readers. The authors claim the report is “a bold and comprehensive approach to K-12 education.” I think not. Many of CAP’s favored policies endorse two decades of federal demands for accountability. Think Arne Duncan and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (B&MGF).

CAP is on record as favoring teacher unions and higher pay for teachers, especially for those who work in low-income communities. However, CAP is also all-in for charter schools, known to be antiunion. This contradiction is one among others this report. The writers also bury important details in the endnotes. For example, CAP wants students to meet “challenging standards.” The endnote cites the Common Core. In addition, CAP’s website has over 50 articles pushing the Common Core, the latest in 2019. This affection can be explained by the $14 million CAP has received from the B&MGF, main financier of the Common Core, and specific grants: In 2013, $550,000 “for implementation of the Common Core,” and in 2016, a cool $2 million for “enactment of the College and Career/Common Core agenda, and to reduce opposition to it and associated high quality tests.”

CAP’s policy recommendations for the next President are bad news for public schools. The Introduction claims that a bipartisan consensus exists on key elements of education reform—standards-based accountability; teacher evaluations that include test scores of students; and school choice. The authors then say that these three reforms are not the problem. The real problem is that improvements have not been made “at the pace needed to give every student a fair shot at success in college and career.” CAP elaborates on all of these claims in five policy priorities for a new administration.

Applying An Explicit Race Equity Lens To Policy Development. “This means specifically looking at potential impacts on communities that do not identify as white or that have large concentrations of families with low incomes, without conflating the two.” This section is an argument on behalf of increasing opportunities for historically disadvantaged communities, schools, and students. CAP’s discussion of race ends in naming groups who are underserved: Students who are non-white, Black, Latinx, Native American, and some Asian American and Pacific Islander children, students from families with low incomes, students with disabilities, students who identify as LGBTQ, and students who are English language learners.

“A new administration must begin with a comprehensive strategy for addressing disparities in educational opportunity” (ideally) ”coupled with a comprehensive economic development strategy beyond the educational system.” CAP calls for $200 billion to modernize school buildings; a grant program to promote “culturally responsive pedagogy”; state audits of schools and districts for “disparate educational opportunity,” and USDE guidance to state legislatures on equitable funding.

Equitable funding seems to mean “filling the annual $23 billion gap in funding between predominantly white and predominantly nonwhite school districts.” I found the source of this estimate. It is EdBuild. EdBuild promotes “a weighted student funding formula” so that money goes to the school a student attends, aiding school choice, including vouchers. ALEC, the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange has also pushed this system of funding since 2010.

It turns out that CAP as a financial supporter of EdBuild. CAP and EdBuild also receive money from the same foundations: The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Helmsley Charitable Trust; Walton Family Foundation; Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and W. K. Kellogg Foundation among others. CAP traffics in ideas and money devoted to undermining public education.

Preparing All Students For College And The Future Workforce. CAP dwells on the economic return on investment from college and high-value work credentials. The report calls for states with “college-and career-ready academic content standards” (aka the Common Core) to make sure a K-12 ladder prepares students for careers “in the new economy.” Districts should make sure that families with children in kindergarten know requirements “for the future of work.”

CAP also wants “a new federal-state-industry partnership” empowered to identify middle and high school models for accelerated college credit and a meaningful workforce credential. This partnership is also supposed to ensure that career and technical education (CTE) programs “reflect upcoming, well-paid, in-demand jobs” in regions where the programs are offered.

CAP’s thinking about CTE is not bold. It is not progressive. It assumes that labor markets are predictable and that schools should be responsible for job training desired by potential employers. CAP’s policy ideas are vintage 1990s workforce training proposals from the National Center for Education and the Economy. They ignore the civic mission of schools and what life may offer and require of students beyond getting a job.
3. Modernizing And Elevating The Teaching Profession. Here is the major claim: “If states and school districts raised teacher pay to match that of other professions, provided training to help teachers meet the needs of the changing student population, and increased the selectivity of the teaching profession, the national narrative about and respect for the teaching profession would shift. A comprehensive policy agenda to achieve this goal should be multifaceted and must ensure that teachers are given the necessary training and resources to meet a higher bar.”

CAP’s discussion of teacher strikes, low pay, and other discontents has little bearing on a “comprehensive agenda to raise the prestige of teaching and improve teachers’ working conditions.” For teacher education programs CAP says: Be more selective in accepting candidates for teaching and explicitly seek diversity among candidates, provide high-quality clinical training and more rigorous coursework of use in modern classrooms.
For states and districts, CAP says: Align requirements for licensure with candidates’ observable readiness to teach; invest in supports for new teachers, such as high-quality induction and mentorship programs; provide dedicated time and support for professional development that improves student outcomes; and identify career pathways so excellent teachers can expand their effectiveness.

There is nothing daring or innovative about these recommendations. The puffed-up “elevating” language comes from a Obama/Duncan 2012 RESPECT program conjured by McKinsey & Company of the same points appear in CAP’s 2015 report “Smart, Skilled, and Striving: Transforming and Elevating the Teaching Profession.” Here is a scathing review of this warmed over Obama scheme from the National Education Policy Center.

4, Dramatically Increasing Investments And Improving The Equity Of Existing Investments In Public Schools. CAP writers note that about eight percent of public schools funds come from federal sources. Title I funding is dedicated to schools were many students are from families with low incomes. CAP wants Title I funding increased and full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

CAP’s big new policy idea is this: “The federal government should appoint a commission to determine a specific set of critical education resources that are typically present in privileged communities but missing from historically disadvantaged schools and districts. These resources could include guidance counselors, school nurses, mental health professionals, art and music classes, or extracurricular enrichment opportunities.” (I found no endnotes or details about who would appoint the commission, with what authority, or how their deliberations might be acted upon.)

CAP proposes federal “public education opportunity grants” as a way to address inequities. This is not a new idea. Such grants are available under Title I, Part A Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies. The grants are for schools with a high proportion of students from low-income families. In 2018, these grants were funded at $15,759,802,000. (CAP does not seem to have ideas on state and local funding other than money follows the student.)

Bringing A Balanced Approach To Charter School Policy. To its credit, CAP does not support for-profit on-line charter schools. It also urges the next administration to “include strong authorizing and accountability policies for charter schools as well as efforts to proactively address the shortfalls of the sector. These efforts should include solutions for pain points, such as issues related to backfilling enrollment during the school year, providing service to students with disabilities, and maintaining transparency in financial operations—to name a few.” (Pain points? Shortfalls? Not a single endnote refers to well-documented and rampant corruption in charter schools. Not one).

CAP is on record as favoring charter schools. CAP’s 2017 “The Progressive Case for Charter Schools,” offers praise for Teach for America and Relay Graduate School of Education. CAP’s 2018 “Charters and the Common Good: Spillover Effects of Charter Schools in New York City” includes this astonishing claim: ”There is suggestive evidence that spillover effects (from co-location) are larger if the charter school appears to be of high quality, (defined) as either having high average scores on annual 4th-grade math and reading exams or being operated by an established, respected charter management organization such as KIPP, Success Academy, or Uncommon Schools.” (Respected? Franchise cookie-cutter schools are great?)

According to CAP, charter schools represent a solution to racial and economic inequities in education. “In too many places across the country, there are not enough good seats in schools, especially for Black, Latinx, and Native American students, as well as students from families with low incomes. A strong charter sector is a critical component to expanding the number of good public school seats, and high-quality charter schools are a valuable strategy to address that problem.” (CAP refuses to acknowledge that charter schools are not legally equivalent to public schools. They are now and historically have been a means to further segregation. “Seats” is shorthand for a calculation used to market charter schools in any community where schools are ranked A-F or in league tables. The enrollments in all schools not rated A or B, or an equivalent system are counted as all of the “seats” that could be replaced by the imagined “high quality seats” in charter schools).

CAP wants the next administration to “apply a race equity lens to public school choice policies generally and charter schools specifically, with a focus on equitably expanding access to opportunities for underserved students. This means that decisions on where to locate schools and programs and how to make enrollment decisions—for example, boundaries, admissions requirements, and lottery rules—should be analyzed with a race equity lens.“ (CAP assumes that school choice is an uncontested and established policy. Notice the absence of any reference to elected school boards. Decisions are “just made” as if from some invisible decider).

“This approach should include a balanced assessment of potential charter growth and the impact on traditional districts. This assessment should always focus on how to increase the number of good seats for students but may imply different specific recommendations in different places and circumstances.”

CAP’s eagerness to endorse school choice and charter school growth is not just in accord with Trump/Betsy DeVos’ policies. It also responds to the wishes of key funders of CAP. For example, the Walton Family Foundation has sent CAP $1,228,705 in three grants for K-12 education, with a 2017 ”special projects” grant of $453,705 for work on “Supporting High-Quality Charter Schools” and “Implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

CAP’s report is designed to promote charter school growth and double down on every misguided policy of the last two decades. I have left a ton of references and rants on the cutting floor. By the way, all five of the authors of this Report had staff positions on the Hill and four worked in Obama’s Department of Education.