Archives for category: Democrats

Here is a great article in The New Republic by staff writer Graham Vyse, asking the crucial question, “Can Democrats Save Public Education from Trump and DeVos?” It acknowledges that the Democrats paved the way for the school choice agenda of the far-right by touting privately managed charter schools for the past eight years.


So the question now is whether Democrats will really fight for public education or will they continue the pretense that privately managed charter schools are “public?” Will they continue to endorse charters and oppose vouchers? Can you be half-pregnant?


As the Democrats aped the Republicans on key social issues, like education, they lost their unique identity. Now there are only 14 states with Democratic governors. If they keep pretending to be Republicans, there will be even fewer.


Andrew Cuomo of New York has used the same language as Trump, referring to community public schools as a “government monopoly,” and he endorsed legislation to compel the city of New York to give free space to charters, even those that are able to pay rent, like Eva Moskowitz’s fabulously wealthy charter chain. Dannell Molloy has been a champion for charter schools in Connecticut and gives them preference over public schools. Jerry Brown in California opened two charter schools when he was mayor of Oakland, and he recently vetoed legislation to ban for-profit charter schools.


Will they fight the privatization agenda, now that it is the Trump agenda?

At a policy forum in Miami before the Council of the Great City Schools, surrogates for Trump and Clinton clarified their views, sort of.

Carl Paladino, remembered in New York for his racist and sexist emails during his campaign against Cuomo, promised that Trump would not put an educator in charge of the Education Department. That’s no surprise. In other settings, both Trump and Paladino have promised to turn all federal funding over to charters and vouchers and to abandon public education.

Clinton’s surrogate said that she is a “big backer” of charter schools, but not for-profit schools. That is not at all reassuring, since some of the most rapacious charter schools are technically non-profit but are managed by for-profit EMOs. And some rapacious charter chains are non-profit but pay their executives obscene salaries. And some non-profits are agents of privatization, even when the profit motive is absent.

The article also said:

During her 2016 campaign, Clinton’s position on charters became a bit less clear. During her time as a U.S. senator from New York, for example, Clinton was a supporter of charters. She’s even taken some grief from the teachers’ unions for that stance. But during this White House run, she also criticized charters for not necessarily accepting all the same students that traditional public schools do. And she’s said charters should supplement what public schools do and not replace them.

She was right. Charter schools do not accept the same students that real public schools do. They can admit those they want and kick out those they don’t want. And while it is admirable to say that charters should not replace public schools, the reality is that charters drain both resources and students from public schools, causing public schools to cut their programs and staff and to have even less capacity to serve the overwhelming majority of students.

The United States simply cannot afford to have a dual school system: one that chooses the students it wants, and the other required to accept all who apply. No high-performing nation in the world operates a dual school system.

If Clinton is to have an intelligent policy about public and charter schools, she must be better informed than she is now, and she can’t rely solely on charter advocates for her information about the way charters are systematically eroding public education in America. She need only look at what is happening in Pennsylvania, Ohio, California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and a dozen or more other states.

She might learn that more than 90% of charters are non-union. She might bear in mind that her strongest supporters have been the NEA and the AFT, whose jobs will be lost as charters expand.

Profit is not the only issue, though it is one. The central issue is privatization and the danger to America’s historic commitment to universal public education, doors open to all, not to some.

The good news is that one of the Podesta emails leaked by Wikileaks said that a group of billionaire reformers organized by Laurene Powell Jobs wanted to meet with Hillary but she couldn’t make time for them, and Podesta responded:

Probably worth the time. Not sure we can reassure them. Want to discuss by phone?

Note bene: she didn’t make time to meet with them, and the staff was not sure it could reassure them. That’s a good sign. Take that, reformers!

Marc Tucker, CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, wonders whether the Republicans have completely abandoned public education.

Trump’s education plan, announced earlier this week, shows that the answer is a loud “YES.” He wants to redirect $20 billion in federal education spending to states as a block grant for charters and vouchers.

Tucker remembers when public schools were not a partisan issue. They had strong support by both parties both locally and nationally.

Republican civic leaders proudly served on local and state school boards.

But now the rhetoric of the fringe right has come to typify Republican rhetoric.

Marc thinks this might be a temporary aberration.

I hope he is right. I think the Republican party has become the party of privatization.

What bothers me is that there are Democrats like Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dannell Malloy of Connecticut who echo the pro-privatization views of the Republicans. Worse, no President has done more to advance privatization than President Obama.

The only way this situation will change is if voters let their representatives know that they want better public schools, not privatization. About 6% of children are in charter schools. A minuscule number receive vouchers. About 9-10% attend independent and religious schools. At least 85% of all children are enrolled in public schools. Their parents should raise a ruckus and force the politicians to stop defunding their schools and stop diverting public money to privatization.

Harold Meyerson, the editor of The American Prospect, published a very important article in the Los Angeles Times about the toxic effect of the powerful charter lobby on the Democratic Party and on democracy itself.

He writes:

“At a time when Democrats and their party are, by virtually every index, moving left, a powerful center-right pressure group within the liberal universe has nonetheless sprung up. Funded by billionaires and arrayed against unions, it is increasingly contesting for power in city halls and statehouses where Democrats already govern….

“In California, political action committees funded by charter school backers have become among the largest donors to centrist Democratic state legislators who not only favor expanding charters at the expense of school districts, but also have blocked some of Gov. Jerry Brown’s more liberal initiatives.

In New York’s upcoming primary, such longtime charter supporters as Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to a PAC seeking to unseat several Democratic legislators who’ve defended the role and budget of traditional public schools.

In future decades, historians will have to grapple with how charter schools became the cause celebre of centrist billionaires – from Walton to Bloomberg to Broad – in an age of plutocracy. The historians shouldn’t dismiss the good intentions behind the billionaires’ impulse: the desire to provide students growing up in poverty with the best education possible. But neither should they dismiss their self-exculpation in singling out the deficiencies, both real and exaggerated, of public education as the central reason for the evisceration of the middle class….

“In their mix of good intentions and self-serving blindness, the billionaire education reformers have much in common with some of the upper-class progressives of a century ago, another time of great wealth and pervasive poverty. Some of those progressives, in the tradition of Jane Addams, genuinely sought to diminish the economy’s structural inequities, but others focused more on the presumed moral deficiencies and lack of discipline of the poor. Whatever the merits of charters, the very rich who see them as the great equalizer are no closer to the mark than their Gilded Age predecessors who preached temperance as the answer to squalor.”

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:”

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:

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:

Republicans Night #2: Cultural rage; GOP combats crime wave of 1988:

Republicans Night #4: Trump’s anti-democratic ethos; his debt to Roger Ailes:

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.”