Public Education Needs Allies

With the now-thankfully-defeated Murphy Amendment, Senate Democrats gave a giant middle finger to public education and a bathtub full of cold water in the face to those who keep thinking that maybe the Democrats in general and Progressives in particular are going to be our allies in our struggle to preserve the promise of public education.

They aren't.

Up until now I've always been with the Democrats because they had better - though still bad -- education policies than the Republicans. I'm not sure I can say that anymore. In fact, it may be just the opposite.

So what's the fuss? The Murphy Amendment was an attempt to put the test-and-punish back into ESEA, including solidifying that magic "bottom five percent" rule into federal law. It was a way for Democrats to say that they actually loved them the last 15 years of test-and-punish based ed reform and they would like still more of it. And it took the GOP to stop these dopes.

This is not entirely a shock. While the GOP has generally been direct about its love of privatization and dislike of teacher unions, the Democrats have also given plenty of notice that they are not friends of public education, not the least of which would be two entire Democratic administrations under Obama-Duncan. I know die-hard Dems like to imagine that Obama is some sort of outlier or that Duncan is a rogue Education Secretary, but the sad truth is that a Democrat has had the chance to set education policy, and that's what we've been living with for seven years. The Murphy Amendment doesn't represent a new shift or alliance or change in direction. It's right where they've been headed all along.

The only bright spot in any of this was that the NEA was vocal and on the right side of this and not making nice with the Democrats (because, hey, they're our political allies).

I do not know the answer to the political calculus of public education in this country, but I do know that we have got to stop blindly supporting parties and start focusing on policy. And we have got to stop pretending that the Democrats are our friends no matter what. For that matter, we need to start distinguishing between good relationships and good policies. The fact that we may have a "good relationship" with Democrats does not mean they won't screw us, and the fact that we have a "bad relationship" with some Republicans does not mean that they won't support policies that help public education work better.

Public education is a political orphan, with few politicians watching out for us. The Murphy Amendment is just one more reminder that just because you think someone's swell, that doesn't mean they stand for what you wish they stood for.

It is a dark part of Democrat dna to think that only filing reports with the feds makes the world go around, just as it is in the dark part of GOP dna to think that those who can't pay the price of admission to society's lifeboat should just be left to swim home on their own.

Both the GOP and Dems are infected with money. Neither can be trusted as a group. Certainly neither can be trusted all the time to watch out for American public education, because neither party believes in the promise of public education any more. I'm not sure what the answer is. Take personal responsibility for getting the word out (don't just say "Well, I pay union dues so they'll take care of it). Contact your representatives early and often. Convince others to do the same. Raise a fuss and make some noise. Pay attention ALL THE TIME. And remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Public education needs allies. I suggest that rather than farm the job out, we start with ourselves, and make ourselves into the allies that public education needs, because the folks in DC sure as hell aren't going to do it.