Retired teacher Fred Klonsky points out the stark difference between national Democratic education policy and the views of Chicago’s new Mayor Brandon Johnson. He would love to see the party follow the lead of Mayor Johnson, who was a teacher in the public schools and an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union.

The national Democratic Party was once a strong champion of public schools, it once understood the importance of resources and funding for needy students and schools, it was once skeptical about the value of standardized testing.

All of that changed, however, after the Reagan report “A Nation at Risk.” (In a recent article, James Harvey explained how that very consequential report was distorted with cherry-picked data to smear the nation’s public schools.)

Democratic governors jumped aboard the standards-and-testing bandwagon, led by Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. When Clinton became president in 1993, his major education legislation was Goals 2000, which put the Democratic Party firmly into the standards-and-testing camp with Republicans. Clinton was a “third way” Democrat, and he also enthusiastically endorsed charter schools run by private entities. His Goals 2000 program included a small program to support charter start-ups. That little subsidy—$4-6 milllion—has grown to $440 million, which is a slush fund mainly for big charter chains that don’t need the money.

George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation was supported by Democrats; it encompassed their own party’s stance, but had teeth. Obama’s Race to the Top rolled two decades of accountability/choice policy into one package. By 2008-2020, there was no difference between the two national parties on education. From Clinton in 1992 (with his call for national standards and testing) to NCLB to Race to the Top, the policies of the two parties were the same: testing, accountability, closing schools, choice. And let us not forget the Common Core, which was supposed to lift test scores everywhere while closing achievement gaps. It didn’t.

Democrats nationally are adrift, unmoored, while Republicans have seized on vouchers for religious and private schools that are completely unregulated and unaccountable. Despite evidence (Google “Josh Cowen vouchers”) that most vouchers are used by students who never attended public schools and that their academic results are harmful for public school kids who transfer into low-cost, low-quality private schools, red states are endorsing them.

Mayor Johnson of Chicago represents the abandoned Democratic tradition of investing in students, teachers, communities, and schools.

Fred Klonsky writes:

In his speech yesterday, Mayor Johnson addressed the issue of schools and education, an issue that as a retired career school teacher, is near and dear to my heart.

“Let’s create a public education system that resources children based on need and not just on numbers,” Johnson said.

I hope so.

Some have predicted that the election of Brandon to be mayor of a city with the fourth largest school district in the country might represent a shift in Democratic Party education policy.

Chicago under Mayors Daley and Emanuel gave the country Arne Duncan and Paul Vallas who together were the personifications of the worst kinds of top-down, one-size-fits-all curriculum, reliance on standardized testing as accountability and union busting.

Corporate school reform groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children dominated the Democratic Party’s education agenda for two decades.

Joe Biden’s Department of Education has mostly been silent on these issues.

If Chicago’s election of Brandon Johnson does reflect a national shift, let alone a local one, it must do it in the face of a MAGA assault on free expression, historical truths and teacher rights.

None of this will be easy.

So, yes. I wish the Mayor the best and will do what I can to help.