Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Dem Platform, Randi, and Charters

The Democratic platform committee has been working away all weekend, reportedly till well past midnight. We've been fortunate to have some public education advocates there as part of the education committee, including Chuck Pascal and Troy LaRiviere.

Twitter had a little bit of a eruption today over what was finally submitted to the main platform committee regarding charter schools. The whole business is pretty brief and can be found on this gigantic slice of C-Span at about the 31:00 mark. But I've watched it, and if you don't want to, you don't have to.

Chuck Pascal (from Pittsburgh, just up the road from me, so woo-hoo) went to committee armed with many amendments, and this was one of them. He's listed as the sponsor.

First-- here's the original draft language, with additions in blue:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically-governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We instead support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

(Let's just set aside for a moment the issue of the omitted Oxford comma in the amendment.)

Next, Randi Weingarten steps up to speak in support of the amendment. She's delighted that the education section started with a unity amendment and will now end with one. And then she yells a bunch, because that's Randi. Democrats should be for high quality schools regardless of zip codes (and fierce finger pointing-- she must have some serious guns) and regardless of economic status. She says that there's a place for public charter schools (which puzzles me, because ALL charter schools claim to be public but virtually NONE of them actually are), but not for things like Detroit where Big Bads like the Devos family and the Kochs are using charter schools to kill off public schools. She winds down with blah blah blah level playing field blah blah good schools for parents to send  children, teachers to work students to learn blah and so here's the amendment.

So how'd she do? There's still a lot of charter love in Randi's speech, and with the exception of her use of  "democratically-elected" there's not much she said about the amendment that she couldn't have said about the original rotten language. But she and this amendment do make a new kind of distinction-- that when charters disrupt and displace traditional public schools, that's a Bad Thing. Which is a remarkably direct challenge to the modern charter model, which says that disruption and displacement of the public school system is the goal. It's the closest I think I've heard a national union leader get to saying, "The goals of charter proponents are bad, destructive, wrong goals." So I'm happy for that.

Now if she wants to take her pointed attack on Detroit a step further and also challenge what's being done in New York and Connecticut and say things like "What happened in New Orleans after Katrina should never have been allowed to happen," then we'd really have something.

But to original platform definition of Bad Charter was just "a for-profit charter" which seriously overlooked the point that non-profit charters are just as bad (and profitable) as the for-profits. This new language defines a Bad Charter as one that does not have democratically-elected governance, does not serve the exact same population as the the local public school, and that destabilizes or damages the health of that local public school."

In other words, the new language offers a much broader understanding of when a charter school is Not Okay than the draft did.

Sure, there are some of us who would like to see Bad Charter defined as Any Charter At All-- but that blanket condemnation just brings us back to supporters saying, "Well, why? What's wrong with charters." I would much rather, you will excuse the expression, hold them to some specific high standards, and this language, while not perfect, does that.

Now, I don't know how well Weingarten grabbed that. I don't know how well she embraces the change in the definition of Bad Charters she just presented-- it's not what she focuses on in her presentation. I don't know if she understands that the language now condemns most charter schools that exist.

But there are two more speakers. One is a very nice lady who wants to point out that she's proud of her party and that charters don't take care of children properly and I think she means well but doesn't necessarily understand the choreography of these sorts of gatherings.

Then Chuck Pascal himself steps up and puts emphasis back on the ways in which this new language makes demands of charter operators.

And then the language is passed and we're moving on.

Is it perfect? No. Is it better? Yes. Does it call out the full frontal assault of charter schools on traditional public education and demand that the assault stop? No, it doesn't-- and neither will Hillary Clinton, ever. Will this document make the slightest bit of difference a year from now? No, no, it won't. It's amendment by addition, which means everybody can still point to the parts they like and ignore the parts they don't.

I look forward to hearing from Pascal and LaRiviere what it took to get even this small shift in the party platform's direction-- Pascal says his other amendments were adopted without change, but this one took some negotiating. I can't imagine it was easy. I would count it as a small win, a baby step forward, a shift in a better direction. We've got language on the table that gives a broad definition of Bad Chartering, a definition that encompasses most of the charters out there, which is a hell of a lot better than the bogus "for profit" distinction. Advocates for public education showed up, made some noise, and got the establishment to budge, even if the establishment may not get how they budged, even if establishment intends to keep trundling along as if they never budged at all.

Come November, public education is still screwed-- but at least for one moment, we got the Democratic Party to sort of pay attention to real, substantive criticism of charter schools. "It could have been worse" is not a phrase I live by, but still, this could have been worse, and in this election cycle, I think that's as good as it's ever going to get. But sucking less and not sucking at all are still two different things.


  1. You said: So how'd she do? There's still a lot of charter love in Randi's speech, and with the exception of her use of "democratically-elected" there's not much she said about the amendment that she couldn't have said about the original rotten language."

    If you look once more at the text of the amendment, you will see there is nothing about "democratically-elected." There is the phrase about democratically-governed great neighborhood public schools," whatever that means, and we are left to wonder if "democratically-governed" applies to "high quality public charter schools," which are, of course, the ones that use a penal system of classroom management to grind out test scores from the dehumanized children who don't wash out of these hell schools in the attrition floods.

    Rather than grasping for straws to save Randi from the condemnation she deserves, I would rather focus on the fact that Weingarten has gone on the record as pushing for more children to be in charters, rather than fewer. And the children she is pushing most into the segregated hell schools are the ELL and special needs children, who rarely, if ever, get the services that federal law mandates and that the charter kingpins regularly ignore, with no consequences. This is truly unconscionable, just as it was when Clinton advocated the same stupidity months ago.

    1. Randi supports what she has always supported, and the official party platform will have zero on the policies that Clinton pursues, and we already know that the policy will be the whole-hearted support of the charter business. Nothing that happened in writing the platform was ever going to change any of that. But the minute shift here means that at least they know that using the bullshit "distinction" between non-profits and for-profits was not going to be bought and they would have to come up with something more. I never expected any meaningful change, but I'm happy to see them have to dance, even a little.

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  3. It's true that this is all still very disheartening. The Dems in general still don't get it.

    I still see our only hope as Bernie. Even without him being the nominee, he's still going to be in the Senate. He's gotten a lot of changes into the Dem platform. I know our issues aren't making a blip on his radar either right now. And you might think that after the convention and election he won't have any more leverage. But now he's got a voice that's listened to by the media, and that's not going to go away.

    Our issues are so tailor-made to be his issues. He's still the only one not corrupted by corporate money. I keep thinking that once he's back full time in the Senate, if the BATs and Troy LaRiviere could get an audience with him and he came to really understand what's happening, something positive could come of it. Not being President could actually be in our favor, because if he were President he wouldn't have time to spend on it.

    Probably grasping at straws...

  4. Randi continues to play a strange double game. For example, she personally negotiated the horrible WTU-Michelle Rhee contract in DC that became a template for use of VAM and pushing out & demoralizing veteran teachers all over the USA. She was able to pull that off in part by making it impossible for DC teachers to examine the exact language changes from the old contract to the new contract. At the same time she also sounds like the biggest advocate for teachers (and students).
    It takes a lot of chutzpah and years of practice to play such a role successfully.

  5. This is a better statement in charters than before but NY has had this requirement in the law since 2010- enrolling and retaining equal now. If high needs students- and it has never been enforced. We can't even get the attrition figures out of NYSED.

    1. Leonie, the NY requirement goes back further: The NY Charter School Law of 1998 begins:

      S 2850 - Short title; purpose
      1. This article shall be known and may be cited as the "New York charter schools act of nineteen hundred

      2. The purpose of this article is to authorize a system of charter schools to provide opportunities for
      teachers, parents, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently
      of existing schools and school districts in order to accomplish the following objectives:

      (a) Improve student learning and achievement;

      (b) Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning
      experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure;

      When asked, StudentsFirst says they believe "at-risk" means minority and impoverished. I submit that 2(b) creates a mandate that charters don't just have equal numbers of high needs students, that they focus on accommodations and ameliorations for students who are missing home supports, overaged, disabled or delayed. They were supposed to develop solutions for public schools to replicate.

      So it's a bittersweet irony when Hillary says we should look at what's working in charter schools. Since they cherrypick the most motivated families in a neighborhood, they have much fewer high needs kids and therefore have nothing to offer the larger system. We already had specialized schools which segregate students by parent involvement.

  6. Let me ask Greene and others who think similarly a question ? The main thing that Greene (and Weingarten) focus on in the platform is "We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools."

    For the moment, let's leave aside the assault on logic that comes from supporting parents right to a choice - but rejecting the consequence of that choice for the school not chosen.

    The platform continues - "Charter schools must reflect their communities ..." There's a lot of argument around whether charters comply with this requirement. But let's take KIPP as an example. "Nationally, more than 87 percent of KIPP students are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price meals program, and 96 percent are African-American or Latino." And actually, the NY Independent Budget Office reports that more special needs students remain at charter schools.

    So here's my question - The DNC has already conceded that parents should have choice as to where to send their kids. And let's assume that the charters do reflect their communities (like KIPP). Why should such choice "not replace or destabilize public schools" ? Shouldn't the priority be to provide all students with an effective education ? To reply otherwise is to suggest that a public school (and its union backed teachers) are somehow entitled to their jobs regardless of how their children fare. In terms of performance, I refer not just to standardized tests (which I know Greene hates) but also graduation rates, literacy rates, etc. Shouldn't children (especially poor children) be prioritized over the jobs of schools and teachers who do not effectively teach the children in their care ??

    1. "Shouldn't children (especially poor children) be prioritized over the jobs of schools and teachers who do not effectively teach the children in their care ??"

      Are you equating"effective teaching" with high standardized test scores?

      If so, the teachers at KIPP are highly ineffective based the scores of their students.

      Your comment strongly suggests that you have not spent any time teaching in a high needs school.

    2. Mr. Backman isn't a teacher. He's a person whose daughter went to a great public magnet school, but who doesn't want to pay taxes for others to be able to do this, because he hates the Evil Teachers Unions who are filled with people called Teachers who Hate Children, especially Poor Children, because the only reason these Poor Children have terrible schools is because the Evil, Poor Children-Hating Teachers selfishly insist on being paid a decent wage so they can support their families. He explained this in another post.

    3. Alan, parents have always had choice. First, they can move to a place where they like the public schools - school quality is perhaps the single greatest determinant of home value. If they still don't like the local school, they can pay for private schools.

      But what we should never do is create two sets of schools so that tax dollars go to private corporations. The ruinous idea of replacing equity with competition creates failure factories by definition. This is exactly what bell-curve-based testing policies have done.

      Look at the privatization debacle in the military, where corporations like Halliburton fleeced taxpayers for hundreds of billions to set up Pizza Huts in combat zones. Before impugning teachers who chose a career working with children, take an honest look at the greedy, vampiric contractors doing business in DC and statehouses first.

      Charter schools only succeed by cherrypicking the most motivated families in the neighborhood. Charter advocates have been directly asked about this and their answers were so lame, they finally came out one day and said that charters are not for disruptive kids (points for honesty, right?).

      This is the "Tonya Harding" method of winning, by kneecapping the other guy. But it's also the "Bain Capital" method of separating assets and liabilities, to dump the troubled kids on someone else. THIS is why struggling schools don't attract great teachers, the high needs kids have been concentrated into unworkable levels. I know, I teach in such a school - we have been in a hiring crisis for years.

      And to let you in on a little secret, the teachers are the same - charter schools recruit from public schools because their unrealistic demands to boost test scores create enormous turnover rates. I was approached twice this Spring/Summer to consider a job in a charter. Kind of blows the argument about lazy, shiftless teachers but provides an instructive lesson about the link between longevity and working conditions.

      This brings us to your claim that color or race make a student "high need" - there is no research behind that, and even poverty ends up being only a 50/50 factor in determining who is at-risk of academic failure. This is where charters fall down hard. They love to say that they are in high needs communities, but they aren't taking the high needs kids in those communities thanks to their application/lottery process.

      That's why we're seeing this platform amendment, even reform-loving Hillary knows there is no hiding anymore - charters cherrypick, period. And your NYT link shows RETENTION rates of disabled kids is about the same as public schools, not ENROLLMENT rates, which charters are behind in. They also try to trick peope by saying they do better on tests with disabled kids, but never point out that they exclude more high needs kids in the first place.

      Where we agree is that poor children should get support, but to you are actually suggesting we build special new schools to cannibalize resources from existing schools that only serve a tiny percentage of students and sap away their best students. Could you perhaps consider a solution that works for 100% of kids?

      And while you're thinking about improving the lives of the disadvantaged, might I suggest that the lack of JOBS in these communities might be what's tearing them apart, not the nearest classroom teacher. Basic economic inequity increases housing/food uncertainty, crime rates, drug use and gang activity, but it's always nice to blame schools and teachers for decades of failed austerity programs.