A Teacher's Response to the Draft Democratic Party Platform on Education

A draft of the 2016 Democratic Party platform was leaked to Diane Ravitch, who urged her readers to read it and respond with our best ideas. Ravitch notes that the section on education "contains a lot of reformer lingo. Zip codes. Options. Accountability.," and it "brings echoes of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top." Moreover, "the party favors 'high quality charters,'" which probably means corporate charter chains like KIPP, Achievement First, and Success Academy. It doesn't oppose "corporate replacements for neighborhood public schools." Neither does it explicitly insist "that charters accept English language learners and students with disabilities at the same rate as the neighborhood public school," or oppose the charter management organization's "draconian disciplinary policies and suspensions."

I hope non-education reporters understand why Ravitch asks:

How about a clear statement that the Clinton administration will no longer permit school closings as academic punishment? How about a clear signal that the Clinton administration intends to protect and strengthen our nation's essential traditional public schools, which serve all children? How about signaling a new direction for federal education policy, one that promises to support schools and educators, not to punish them?

I also hope that political reporters understand why educators are so angry about the punitive, technocratic reforms imposed on our profession, the union-bashing that Democrats wouldn't impose on any other working people and, above all, on the damage inflicted on poor children of color by the test, sort, reward, and punish approach to education policy. I hope they remember that school reform began as a "Sister Soldja" tactic allowing Democrats to use the word "accountability," over and over again, and to sound macho by beating up a loyal constituency - which had long been a team player in the battle for equality and justice.

As test-driven, accountability-driven, top-down micromanaging of schools morphed into corporate reform, market-driven reformers ratcheted up the teacher- and union-bashing. According to the Billionaires Boys Club's top-dollar public relations campaign, competition-driven reform was supposedly necessary to get rid of "bad teachers," who were defended by bad teachers unions, i.e "the status quo." Mandates requiring test scores and invalid statistical models to evaluate teachers were touted as a means to improve teacher quality. But, actually they were a club to hit the unions upside the head, so that they would allow the Obama administration to impose the entire Bill Gates/Eli Broad/Walton Foundation agenda.

The Obama administration even issued regulations, crafted by "astroturf" corporate-funded, foundations, which deterred urban teachers from defending the rights of poor children of color to engaging instruction. Teachers and administrators who opposed bubble-in malpractice could be labeled as "culture-killers" and "exited" from federally-funded "turnarounds" and "transformations."

Programs like the Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants encouraged mass closures of neighborhood schools. They often would be replaced by nonunion (and anti-union) charter management associations (CMOs). The result was the mass dismissal and/or transfer of veteran teachers (with their higher salaries and benefits) and of those who argued for both holistic instruction and a focus on the health and mental health issues that too many of the poorest children bring to class. As the former Gates Foundation and Obama administration official James Shelton put it, our calls for full-service community schools were ridiculed as "so much kumbaya."

In other words, the Obama administration made a pact with the financial elites. In order to enact a slimmed-down, neo-liberal Democratic agenda, educators were sacrificed. Teachers and our unions were treated as the one constituency that was not deserving of any of the progressive policies that the party supported for others. Little did they know that by treating the education profession and teachers unions as disposable, Democrats undermined one of the primary institutions that advocates for children's welfare. So, maybe we should read the platform draft as a whole, not just the education section, and ask what changes should be made in order to re-empower teachers, so that we can once again fight effectively for our kids. My suggested changes to the document are in bold.

Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality pre-K programs. ... To close the opportunity gap, we also must find ways to encourage mentoring programs that support students in reaching their full potential and make schooling a collaborative, team effort.

We must renew and expand our commitment to Community Health Centers, as well as ... full-service community schools.

Democrats are committed to reforming our criminal justice system and ending mass incarceration. ... We need to provide greater investment in jobs and education, and end to the school-to-prison pipeline, by funding Restorative Justice programs and opposing the mass suspension of students from No Excuses charter schools.

Democrats believe that we should not be contracting, outsourcing, or privatizing work that is inherently governmental in nature, including postal services, school services, and traditional public schools.

A major reason for the 40-year decline in the middle class is that the rights of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits have been under attack at all levels. ...Democrats believe so-called "right to work" laws are wrong for workers and wrong for America. We will continue to vigorously oppose Vergara v California and the other lawsuits led by Campbell Brown's The 74, which would strike down laws protecting the due process rights of teachers.

We believe that personnel is policy. We will nominate and appoint regulators and officials who are not beholden to venture philanthropists who would silence the teaching profession and curtail its ability to contribute our professional judgments in debates over education policy.

Large corporations have concentrated their control over markets to a greater degree than Americans have seen in decades--further evidence that the deck is stacked for those at the top. Democrats will take steps to stop corporate concentration in any industry and in public education where it's unfairly limiting competition by forcing traditional public schools to compete with CMOs, that don't serve their share of poor and special education students, and English Language Learners, using the unreliable test results as the metric for keeping score.

Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child. Democrats believe that all students should be taught to high academic standards. Under no circumstances will we agree to the segregating of poor children of color into second class CMOs that impose soul-killing behaviorism and worksheet-driven instruction in order to jack up test scores and/or to defeat and privatize traditional public schools.