Archives for category: Democrats

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, writes here about the conflict between Democrats for Education Reform and educators and how it might affect the next administration. It is to be expected that the misnamed DFER would achieve its policy goals in a Trump administration: charters, school choice, the elimination of teacher tenure and unions. But what about in a Clinton administration? Why should an anti-teacher, anti-public school group have a “seat at the table”?

Teachers and our unions are uniquely poised to help unite the Democratic Party. Not only do educators celebrate the difference of opinions, but it’s our job to do so in a respectful manner. Our professional practice embodies the need to listen, to disagree agreeably and, often, help synthesize seemingly incompatible perspectives. Not only do we model the sharing of ideas in the classroom, our edu-political practice illustrates the type of democratic principles known as the “loyal opposition.” Teachers and our unions defend our profession and promote the welfare of our students by treating our opponents as opponents, not enemies.

My students were more socially conservative than I was. They were aware that I was a former ACLU/OK board member and a pro-choice lobbyist, but they knew that all of their opinions, values, and judgments would be treated with equal respect. They also knew how much I preferred addressing persons who disagreed with me on abortion with the term, “pro-life,” not “anti-choice.” Teaching our Government class with an open door produced a bonus. Students, patrons, or other visitors continually joined our debates. Often, parents would send their children back to school with their counter-arguments about politics, culture, and history. One junior brought his pastor to class to present an alternative worldview, and he concluded with the words, “We can count the seeds in an apple, but not the apples in a seed.”

The metaphor speaks to the Democratic Party Convention. We can count Bernie’s delegates, but we can’t even guess as to the number of future voters and activists unleashed by “the Bern.” In the meantime, we should unite behind Hillary.

And, that brings us to the second contribution that teachers, our professional organizations, and our representatives can make. Where would public education be if we embodied the ethos of “my way or the highway?” Unlike those with more money and power, we need to be trustworthy participants in the team effort to advance equity and justice. Educators know that losses are a part of the game. Even so, teachers have participated in some of America’s greatest victories; we were loyal members of the coalitions that carved out civil rights breakthroughs, that established a social safety net, and expanded economic opportunity.

As I often explained to my students, politics is a contact sport. Elbows are thrown but taking out your opponent’s knees is never appropriate. This is especially pertinent to contemporary school reform. Although this is heresy to top-down reformers, teachers know that in our world, we win some and we lose some. Our political defeats may be bitter, but they sure don’t sting as much as the all-to-frequent losses of our students. And that brings us to the coverage of Democrat for Education Reform’s (DFER’s) – or should I say “FER’s” – troubles.

When they were racking up political victory after political victory, DFER celebrated as if defeating adults was their true purpose. Alexander Russo explains how DFER benefitted from the Obama administration’s $5 billion Race to the Top and millions of dollars from Rupert Murdoch and the Walton Family Foundation. DFER donated to the pro-Scott Walker American Federation of Children, and distanced itself from Wisconsin workers when Walker attacked public sector workers’ bargaining rights. DFER remained true to its commitment to high stakes testing and to anti-union hedge fund managers, but ducked the opportunity to address the school to prison pipeline. The former DFER executive director, Joe Williams, acknowledges the mistake of pushing teacher evaluations at the same time as Common Core. He notes the resulting political turmoil, but not the mess that those inherently contradictory policies created inside schools. Neither Russo nor any of his sources try to document the idea that the DFER agenda improved schools.

Russo cites the judgment of liberal reformers that DFER was completely on board with the corporate reform wish list, but not so much with the Democrats’ agenda. Andre Perry also notes that “DFER and other education reform groups have grown comfortable working with Republican leadership – in many cases they’ve thrived,” and adds that perhaps the reform movement should go by the name For Education Reform. Perry opposes the way that DFER/FER criticizes the Democratic base “which is especially problematic in an election in which worker rights are in focus.” He explains that Democrats aren’t buying DFER’s “selling [of] school choice as justice.” The amended party platform “was a political victory for those who repudiated the brand of reform that DFER promotes.” Reformers should have accepted their loss as “a result of real political work, and as “changes designed to get Hillary Clinton elected.”

Democratic political infighting over education pulls the rug out from under black families

Perry’s account should be read along with the Hechinger Report’s Emanuel Felton, who explains how reform effected teachers and political reality in Philadelphia.

He reminds us:

Over the course of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office, a coalition formed among his administration, governors, many of whom are Republican, and big city education reformers. Together, they doubled down on former Republican President George W. Bush’s education policies, pledging to turn around long-struggling urban school districts like Philadelphia’s by holding schools accountable for their students’ test scores. If results didn’t improve, officials could tap federal funds for turning around schools, to either close a school or transform it into a privately operated, publicly funded charter school, the vast majority of which employ non-unionized staff.

Of course, student performance didn’t improve. On the whole, decades of improvements in NAEP scores slowed with NCLB, and stopped around 2008. Felton writes:

Over the last decade and a half, the union — which represents the city’s public school teachers, nurses, counselors and support staff — has been nearly halved, its ranks shrinking from 21,000 to 11,000. Come election time, that means 10,000 fewer members to go door to door campaigning, 10,000 fewer people paying union dues to finance political ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.

I just wish he’d explained how the knee-capping of educators also undermined other progressive coalitions and the battle for justice in other sectors of society. I also wished he’d recalled the damage done to students. To name just one example, the conservative reform Governor Tom Corbett cut the Philadelphia school budget by $700 million.

It might be different if reformers like DFER had a record of improving public schools. Take a look at the issues that (publicly) outrage corporate reformers, however, and they all come back to two demands that are based on faith in their hypotheses, not evidence. Reformers insist that high stakes testing must be used to sanction individuals and systems, and on the mass charterization of schools. Test-driven accountability has demonstrably failed but bubble-in scores are the metrics that keep score as charter management organizations spearhead school closures, thus breaking union power. Test scores also fuel the Billionaires Boys Club’s high-dollar, anti-teacher, anti-public school public relations campaign and, less publicly, they are seen as necessary to encourage for-profit education start-ups. In other words, all roads lead back to the insistence that the punitive is nonnegotiable.

If Democrats who remain true to output-driven reform weren’t so committed to punishments, as well as rewards, they could go along with a 2-1/2 month pre-election moratorium on attacking fellow Democrats. They could temporarily stop slandering those who disagree with them, and focus on win-win policies such as early childhood education, wraparound services for traumatized kids, fighting chronic absenteeism, restorative justice, high school graduation, reducing the college debts, and making higher education affordable. They could also help us advocate for a $15 dollar minimum wage, the end of mass incarceration, and the refusal of the conservative allies to accept Obamacare.

Assuming that Hillary Clinton is elected, teachers will regain our seat at the table. We don’t expect the Billionaires Boys Club to offer us theirs. They aren’t likely to bend on their bottom line – the punishment of individuals and of the losers in their market-driven world. But, after a few months of swallowing their words rather than insulting and slandering teachers, perhaps they could rethink the politics of personal demonization. Okay, that’s not likely to happen. Educators still need to continue to make our case, as we make it clear that our profession won’t endure another eight years of being scapegoated by Democrats.

To my amazement and disgust, Democrats in the Senate and the House is that they have become forceful defenders of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind-style legacy of punitive accountability. They love testing and accountability, which was always the GOP agenda.

During the debate about the reauthorization of NCLB, which produced the Every Student Succeeds Act, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut proposed an amendment that would have preserved the punitive AYP accountability of NCLB. Almost every Democratic senator supported the Murphy amendment, even Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. See here and here. The only Democrats to vote against the Murphy amendment were Senator Tester of Montana and Senator Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Yesterday, POLITICO reported that Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State and Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia commended Secretary of Education John King for his efforts to insert sharp teeth into ESSA, doing an end run around the Republicans’ decision to eliminate the worst features of NCLB.

“- Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott teamed up for their public comments. In a letter to Education Secretary John B. King Jr., they applaud a number of provisions, like the requirement that states come up with concrete evaluations or scores for schools. They also support the requirement that states test 95 percent of students annually, and include that participation rate in their accountability systems. But the lawmakers want to see changes and tweaks to a number of items, including the timeline for states to get their new accountability systems up and running, transportation for students in foster care, calculating graduation rates, “n-sizes,” resource equity and more. The department should change the definition of “consistently underperforming” when it comes to student subgroups, they write. Student subgroups should be identified for consistent underperformance based on all indicators in a state’s accountability system – not just a select few – and whether or not student subgroups are hitting interim and long-term goals set by the state, the letter states. Read the letter: http://politico.pro/2aHrmIZ.”

Recall that the idea of giving schools a “concrete” score of A-F came from Jeb Bush and won the approval of many Red State governors. Murray and Scott also support King’s effort to suppress and punish schools and districts with opt out rates that exceed 5%. This is astonishing. In the last round of testing in New York, the overwhelming majority of districts had opt out rates that exceeded 5%.

Murray is the senior senator in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Scott is the senior Democrat in the House Education Committee.

Question: Why are they defending George W. Bush’s legacy?

Mercedes Schneider writes here about the way that New York parents threaten to bring down John King’s desire to crush the opt out movement. 22% of the state’s eligible children didn’t take the tests. Should the school be punished for the actions and decisions of parents. As long as New York’s well-organized opt out movement keeps going, ESSA is unenforceable.

Harold Meyerson is the editor of The American Prospect. He has written the most thoughtful article I have read about the election. He takes a long view, putting the election into a social and economic framework.

He calls the 2016 election “the post-middle-class election,” and ties its themes to the collapse of the middle class and the engorgement of the 1%. This situation created both an opening for Bernie Sanders but also for the rage of the white working-class, which responded to Trump’s white nationalist appeal.

He attended both conventions.

Here are his commentaries.

Democrats Night #1: The splits in the Sanders revolution; what happens to revolutions when they win some power and compromise; situating Bernie in the American socialist continuum: http://prospect.org/article/sighted-and-blinkered

Democrats Night #3: Mommy party vs. daddy party; what’s distinctive about an Obama speech – and presidency; Democrats find a way to attack Trump the autocrat: http://prospect.org/article/obama-confronts-trumps-shaky-grasp-democracy

Republicans Night #2: Cultural rage; GOP combats crime wave of 1988: http://prospect.org/article/trump-show-trapped-time

Republicans Night #4: Trump’s anti-democratic ethos; his debt to Roger Ailes: http://prospect.org/article/trumps-dystopia

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, has written an excellent summary of the reasons that charter schools are not public schools. As she puts it, they are private schools that receive public funding. They are like private contractors who are working with a government contract; when they are sued in court, they claim they are not state actors, they are private contractors. That is, they plead that they can’t be held to the same laws as public schools because they are not public schools.

What makes public education advocates angry, she writes, is when charter schools claim “success” but play by different rules.

She uses the example of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters to show that her charters do not enroll the same proportions of children who are poor and children with disabilities as the neighborhood school. In addition, they don’t accept new students after a certain grade because they don’t want to ruin their “culture” by bringing in new students (this is called “backfilling”).

Public schools have public governance, with open meetings and financial transparency. Charter schools almost never do.

The differences between public schools and charter schools go well beyond issues of governance. One of the strengths of a true public school is its ethical and legal obligation to educate all. Public school systems enroll any student who comes into the district’s attendance zone from ages 5 to 21 — no matter their handicapping condition, lack of prior education, first language, or even disciplinary or criminal record. Not only will empty seats be filled at any grade, if there is a sudden influx of students, classes must be opened.

In contrast, charter schools control enrollment — in both direct and subtle ways. In 2013, journalist Stephanie Simon wrote a comprehensive report exposing the lengthy applications, tests, essays and other hurdles used by many charters schools to make sure they get the kind of student that they want.

Even when some charter chains, such as Aspire, Success Academy and KIPP, have simple applications and lottery entrance, student bodies are not necessarily representative of neighborhood schools.

Burris asks:

The Democratic National Convention is about to begin. Will the party show commitment to rein in the “Wild West” of charter schools, as new platform language suggests? Friends of public education will be watching.

Debbie Wassermann Schultz announced her resignation as chair of the Democratic National Committee.

During the campaign, Senator Sanders called for her resignation and said the DNC was not playing fair. The leak of emails proved him right.

Her departure should signal more than just a change at the top.

It should open a much-needed discussion of the neoliberal policies that many national Democrats shared with the GOP. The bipartisan consensus on critical issues should be reconsidered.

The party must take a clear stand against fracking, against privatization of the public schools and other public services, against trade deals that hurt working Americans, and for stronger protections for college students, the environment, and the 99%. Regulations of banks must be strengthened to prevent a repeat of the 2008 economic meltdown.

Democrats must begin here and now to renew their commitment to social justice, economic fairness, and promotion of the common good. The blurring of the lines between the two parties is nowhere more obvious than in the Democrats’ support for school privatization and high-stakes testing. Historically, these are Republican issues. Democrats must listen to the experts in every field, the people who do the actual work, not the think tanks in D.C., not the hedge fund managers, not the financiers, and rebuild the trust of their base.

Senator Bernie Sanders was interviewed this morning by Jake Tapper on CNN this morning, and the subject was the Wikileaks that revealed the efforts by staff members of the Democratic National Committee to undermine his candidacy. Senator Sanders said he was not shocked; he has known for months that the DNC was not playing fair, and he once again called for the resignation of its chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Washerman Schultz must be held accountable, and it is only a matter of time–minutes, hours, or days–until she steps aside. If she should appear at the podium during the convention, she will get a hostile reception from the delegates. The DNC staff must support all Democratic candidates in primaries. It compromised its integrity during the primaries in this election.

Whoever takes her place should be committed to broadening the base of the party and reaching out to the supporters of Senator Sanders. Not as a gesture, but as a genuine program of remaking the Democratic party and restoring its progressive values. As Senator Sanders said in the interview, the focus for now must be on uniting to prevent the election of Donald Trump. Jake Tapper asked him about Tim Kaine, his colleague in the Senate. Sanders replied that Kaine is not as progressive as he (Sanders) is. But on Kaine’s “worst day,” he said, he is 100 times better than Donald Trump. Trump is already reaching out to disaffected Sanders voters, hoping to woo them and win them at the height of their rage and disappointment.

Bernie Sanders created a political earthquake, and it won’t go away. He raised the issues that had been brushed aside for years by a faux bipartisan consensus: about economic inequality, about further enrichment of the 1%, about the need to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure and produce good jobs by doing so, about disastrous trade deals that outsourced jobs and hurt working people, about making public college tuition-free for all students with the aspirations to go to college, and a host of other issues that go to the character of our country and our future. The movement he started will not disappear. He will use his energies, first, to defeat Donald Trump, and second, to build an organization to sustain the movement for a fair and just society that serves all people, not the 1%.

Bernie has won a place of honor in American history as a seer, a champion for causes that will survive and continue until they have won general acceptance and are no longer controversial.

If you believe in his ideals and goals, help him build his organization. Keep the momentum going.

Norman Thomas, the Socialist who ran for president six times, once wrote something that could be a description of Bernie’s contribution to political discourse:

“I am not the champion of lost causes, but the champion of causes not yet won.”

About a month ago, there were news reports that Russian government hackers broke into the Democratic National Committee’s email server and stole thousands of emails.

The Washington Post reported this security breach on June 14.

Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.

The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts.

CNN said that the target of the Russian hacking was the opposition research on Donald Trump.

The emails were released this week by Wikileaks.

Gawker reports here that the leaks came from Russia.

The emails showed that the DNC staff favored Clinton–a party stalwart–over Sanders–a newcomer to the party. This is not surprising. Bernie said so many times and he was right.

Why would the Russian government want to leak these emails on the weekend before the Democratic convention?

Now here is a curious coincidence. The Trump campaign weighed in hard on the Republican platform to eliminate any language threatening to arm the Ukrainians against the Russian rebels, contrary to longstanding Republican policy.

The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.

Throughout the campaign, Trump has been dismissive of calls for supporting the Ukraine government as it fights an ongoing Russian-led intervention. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych for more than a decade.

Still, Republican delegates at last week’s national security committee platform meeting in Cleveland were surprised when the Trump campaign orchestrated a set of events to make sure that the GOP would not pledge to give Ukraine the weapons it has been asking for from the United States.

Inside the meeting, Diana Denman, a platform committee member from Texas who was a Ted Cruz supporter, proposed a platform amendment that would call for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military.

“Today, the post-Cold War ideal of a ‘Europe whole and free’ is being severely tested by Russia’s ongoing military aggression in Ukraine,” the amendment read. “The Ukrainian people deserve our admiration and support in their struggle.”

Trump staffers in the room, who are not delegates but are there to oversee the process, intervened. By working with pro-Trump delegates, they were able to get the issue tabled while they devised a method to roll back the language.

On the sideline, Denman tried to persuade the Trump staffers not to change the language, but failed. “I was troubled when they put aside my amendment and then watered it down,” Denman told me. “I said, ‘What is your problem with a country that wants to remain free?’ It seems like a simple thing.”

Finally, Trump staffers wrote an amendment to Denman’s amendment that stripped out the platform’s call for “providing lethal defensive weapons” and replaced it with softer language calling for “appropriate assistance.”

That amendment was voted on and passed. When the Republican Party releases its platform Monday, the official Republican party position on arms for Ukraine will be at odds with almost all the party’s national security leaders….

Trump’s view of Russia has always been friendlier than most Republicans. He’s said he would “get along very well” with Vladimir Putin and called it a “great honor” when Putin praised him. Trump has done a lot of business in Russia and has been traveling there since 1987. Last August, he said of Ukraine joining NATO, “I wouldn’t care.” He traveled there in September, and he told Ukrainians their war is “really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us.”

For Trump, the biggest threat to Europe is not Russia, according to people familiar with his thinking. He believes the United States should focus on helping Europe fight Islamist terrorism and open borders, not confronting Putin. He has called for a reduction of the U.S. commitment to NATO. He simply doesn’t see Russia as a dangerous threat.

Now who would want to sow discord among Democrats as the convention begins?

Two dedicated pro-public education advocates, Chuck Pascal and Troy LaRaviere, wrote important amendments that were adopted and incorporated into the Democratic platform.

Because of them, with important support by Randi Weingarten, the platform now takes a stand against the high-stakes testing regime, opposes school closing shift based on test scores, opposes evaluating teachers by test scores, and emphasizes the importance of democratically-controlled public schools. The platform continues to support “high quality charter schools,” without defining what that means: high test scores? Or something else?

Ironically, the transcripts cited here were made by Education Reform Now, an affiliate of Democrats for Education Now, the organization created by hedge fund managers to promote charter schools.

The updated text can be found here.

An unofficial transcript of the session can be found here.

Politico reports that Democrats for Education Reform, the hedge funders’ charter advocacy group, is not happy with the amendments to the platform proposed by supporters of public schools Troy LaRaviere of Chicago and Chuck Pascal of Pennsylvania:

NO CANDIDATE LEFT BEHIND: While Democrats have yet to publish their most recent platform language, education-focused groups are already sniping about it. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the new language “represents a refreshing sea change in its approach to public education” and “makes it clear that Democrats are committed to ending the failed era of test-and-sanction.” AFT is pointing to amendments to the draft language it says were adopted in Orlando during the weekend platform meeting – amendments that voice support for parents who want to opt their children out of standardized tests, demand more accountability for charter schools, and oppose using student test scores in teacher evaluations. All of those stances are favored by teachers unions.

– But Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, called the amendments an “unfortunate departure from President Obama’s historic education legacy” and said that these changes came about because the platform drafting committee “inexplicably” allowed the process to be “hijacked.” Your dutiful Morning Education scribes will post the final platform draft as soon as it’s available.

As you surely know, Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed former Secretary Hillary Clinton at a joint appearance in New Hampshire today.

I listened on the radio to their respective speeches. Bernie was inspirational as he recapped his campaign themes and said that he believed Hillary Clinton would be faithful to his agenda. Hillary Clinton echoed much of what Bernie Sanders said. Both sought unity, facing what is likely to be a tough campaign against Donald Trump. Trump has turned his campaign into an almost stereotypical Republican tough-guy appeal to the Silent Majority. He continually tells people that America is weak but he is strong. He supports “America First,” a phrase that I thought was long associated with the discredited isolationist wing of the GOP. He says that the world laughs at us because we are losers; he will turn us into winners again. I listened to him speak in Indiana this evening, and he said–referring to the Dallas shootings–that he is the candidate who is “tough on crime.” He said again and again that he would build the wall shutting off our southern border, with a gate that opens only for those who have met legal requirements. He said to the crowd, “Who will pay for the wall?” And they thundered back, “Mexico!” I want to know why Trump thinks that the Mexican government is ready to pay billions of dollars to build a wall. I don’t get it.

He is hitting all the right notes in appealing to an angry, fearful public, one that is rightfully worried about their jobs and their economic well-being. Underlying their fear, however, is old-fashioned nativism, a sense that outsiders, aliens, immigrants are taking over the country and that white males are losing their commanding power.

I juxtapose these events with my day. I decided a few days ago that since I had endorsed Hillary and plan to vote for her, I would make a contribution to her campaign. I bought tickets to a special matinee of “Hamilton,” whose cast and crew put on a Tuesday matinee for a private performance dedicated to her campaign. I sat with my partner, Mary, my son and his spouse, and our 9-year-old grandson. For reasons I don’t understand, the show has an enormous following among teens and pre-teens. My grandson was mouthing the words as he watched.

The show was everything it is cracked up to be. I am not a huge fan of rap, yet this show won me over. It seemed to be a rap operetta. The energy of the dancing and staging is remarkable. It is dazzling, fast-moving, and conceptually brilliant. It is the story of the founding of America, with the founding fathers played by actors of color. The show was introduced by historian Ron Chernow, who wrote the Hamilton biography that served as source material for the play.

When it ended, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the man who wrote the book, music, and lyrics, spoke to the audience about the show. He literally reinvented the founding of our nation to include everyone. He said the show was about our founding ideals, and our struggle to reach them, which always fell short. Because humans are fallible, he said, we never reach them, yet we keep trying. And he posed the question: Who is likely to keep trying to meet those ideals–Clinton or Trump? The choice was easy.

Miranda then introduced Hillary Clinton, who had just flown in from New Hampshire and was glowing. The audience belonged to her, so there was a lot of love in the room.

Bernie Sanders promised to travel the nation to rally his followers to vote for Clinton. The threat of a Trump presidency is unthinkable. From his performance today, we can expect that he will use his travels to build the movement that he launched. And that will be good for all of us.

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