Sunday, July 3, 2016

Dem Platform: Public Ed Can Get Stuffed

Somebody leaked a copy of the Democratic platform draft to Diane Ravitch, and so now we can all see that trajectory of public ed in the Democratic party plan.

It looks pretty much like this.


Now, there are two things to note before we start. One is that there are no surprises here to anyone who has been paying attention to the Democratic Party, which has been clear on what it would like to do with its historic concern about public schools and the teachers who work there.

 No, I didn't make a mistake and post the same picture twice

The second-- and this is the important one if we want to keep our blood pressure down-- is that party platforms are quite possibly the most meaningless political documents ever. "Although I am not personally very committed to this policy, I am going to aggressively pursue it because my party put it in the plaform at the last convention," said no President in the history of the United States.

That said, it does tell us a little bit about where the hearts and minds of the party are, and since it appears we're going to have a race between the two worst candidates for President in the entire history of anything ever, we might as well pay attention to what the party is up to. So what does this draft version of the platform tell us about the heart and mind of the Democratic Party?

Well, education does get a subheading, so I guess that's something. The heading says "Provide Quality and Affordable Education" and since this is a rough draft, I'm not going to subtract points for coming up with a subtitle that doesn't exactly sing.

First up-- higher education. The Democratic Party wants you to know that they noticed that a whole bunch of folks were excited about Bernie Sanders, and they think that might have had to do with the college thing. So they're going to come out for free community college, and "strengthen" historically "minority-serving" colleges. Strengthen how? Who knows. Have them all do a lot of push ups, maybe. Everybody should get a college education without going broke.

College debt. Those who have some, the Dems think you should get to refinance "at the lowest possible rate," which-- lowest possible according to whom? Because according to some people that's where we are right now. And I say "we" because I am still paying off a couple of college educations, and I can tell you in the last twelve years nobody has ever called me up to say, "Yeah, it's possible for you to get a lower rate, but we're just not going to do that." Also, the Dems want borrowers to get a Student Borrower Bill of Rights, because one more piece of jargon-encrusted paperwork is just what the college loan process needs ("Sign right here to certify that I showed you this damn thing.") The Dems want to hold lenders to "high standards," too. And they'd like to bring back the bankruptcy emergency exit from college loanery. So, mostly platitudes and baloney. That's what you guys took away from Bernie Sanders? Damn.

Minority-serving institutions. And may I just say that you guys may want to take a look at that whole "minority" thing, since particulary in schools "minority" also means "white" at this point. Maybe it's just me, but "minority" seems like a way to keep the non-white folks down in their place linguistically speaking. Anyway, the Dems would like to throw a lot of money at these schools, because diversity in the workplace is good.

For-profit schools. The Dems want you to know that Donald Trump had one of these, and it was Very Naughty. "Democrats will not tolerate this type of fraud," they say, and I would be so much happier if it didn't raise the question of what sorts of fraud they will continue to tolerate, because it's not like it's strictly GOP politicians who are aiding and abetting profit-based school fraud in places like New York and Connecticut. The Dems also promise to "continue" to crack down on for-profit colleges, except I don't know what they're talking about since so far "crack down" has meant "carefully safeguard the investors who are backing these places."

"We will go after for-profits that engage in deceptive marketing, fraud, and other illegal practices," say the Dems, which I take to mean that they otherwise think for-profit schools are perfectly okay. That is the incorrect answer; the correct answer is that profiteering has no place in the education world, even if the profiteers aren't Donald Trump. Particularly when those profits come at the expense of the US taxpayer.

Early childhood, pre-K, and K-12. "Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact life-long success." What new research is that, exactly? I mean, pre-K and early childhood are great things-- done right-- but I have a feeling the Democratic Party is speaking out of its butt here. Somebody ask them what research they're looking at, please.

But hey-- if you want some other great buzzwords, we've got them. There will be a great school in every zip code (the zip code thing is a popular piece of charter rhetoric), and every child will have access to a great education (and I'll ask once more-- why "access"?  Everyone on the Titanic had access to a lifeboat, but only a few actually got to ride in one. Why not just have every student in a great public school?)

I will give the Dems credit for some language here that talks about public education as both an economic "propeller" and a means for the whole child to achieve his/her dreams-- which is better than suggesting that the only purpose of education is to get students ready to be useful to future employers.

But then we're back to the baloney. We're going to have high standards, and we're going to hold schools, districts, communities and states accountable for raising achievement for poor, ELL, etc etc students (but not, I guess, legislators for making sure schools have necessary resources). And Dems want to "strike a better balance on testing" so that it "informs" instruction but does not "drive" it. Which is a perfect piece of political rhetoric, because it really sounds like a cool distinction but has absolutely no meaning in how testing works in the real world. The perfect balance on Big Standardized Tests is to do away with them and trust the trained and experienced professional educators in our classrooms. But a second choice would be to remove all stakes from the testing and replace the current battery of BS Tests with tests that actually provide useful information in a timely manner, because if the tests were actually useful, teachers would use them without threats and punishment. So there's an actual policy proposal for you, Democrats.

You could say, "Well, a platform doesn't get so specific" except that the very next paragraph is a highly specific proposal about getting mentors for poor kids! Which is a great idea because it is a "low-cost high-yield investment." Which genius on the committee has a bunch of money sunk in some mentor-consultant business?

Oh, and now teachers. Democrats know teachers are important, so they will launch a national campaign to "recruit and retain high quality teachers" as well as making sure teachers get really swell professional development. "We also must lift up and trust our educators, continually build their capacity, and ensure that our schools are safe, welcoming, collaborative, and well-resourced places for our students, educators, and communities." Man-- someone knows you need three things for a list, but they could only think of two nice promises to make about teachers, so we threw in a third promise about the buildings instead. It would be nice to be trusted, but I don't see anything anywhere else on the platform to suggest that's actually happening, and I don't know how you plan to build my capacity, but you can just take a step back. Build my capacity? What the hell is the supposed to mean? Fix it so I can teach more students? Work a longer day? Special stomach surgery so I can eat more corn on the cob at Fourth of July picnics?

STEM is swell, we think. No more school-to-prison pipeline. And let's end bullying. These get cramped together in one short paragraph, like leftovers in the last Tupperware container, while damn mentoring gets its own twice as long paragraph.

And finally, let the Democrats re-affirm their love for school choice and charter schools. "We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators." This overlooks the fact that under current policy, charter schools (which are not public schools, but we don't understand that, either) can only exist at the expense of neighborhood schools. It's like saying we support both healthy internal organs and cancer-- you can't really support both, and the game is rigged in favor of the cancer. Democrats want you to know that they totally don't support for-profit charters, but non-profit charters are mostly for-profit charters with good money laundering systems. Democrats oppose for-profits making profit off public resources, but if Eva Moskowitz wants to pay herself a half-million dollar salary with taxpayer money, that's totally cool. But the Democrats are just going to support charter transparency and call it a day. Basically, the Democrats have a plank here that would fit comfortably in the GOP platform; I would love to hear Democratic Party leadership explain how they are the slightest bit different from the Republicans when it comes to charters and choice.

So if you were hoping for a sign that the Democratic Party even knows what the issues in public education are or has any interest in addressing them, the early draft is not encouraging. They could more honestly address toxic testing, or they could make an actual commitment to the institution of public education instead of the business of charter schools. They could speak out against the privatization of a historic and foundational public resource. They could express some sort of meaningful support for the teaching profession. And they could make a commitment to getting each school the funding that it needs and deserves. Who knows? Maybe they'll do all that in the next draft.

But mostly I'm afraid that if you had hopes that the Democratic Party would emerge as a champion of public schools and the teachers who work there, well, I think I know where those hopes can go.


  1. Those in the upper echelon of the Democratic party have no more concern for public school and teachers than they do about Dollar Store chains and their workers.

  2. Every time I've received a poll about issues, from "Bernie's Team" or the DFA or whatever Democratic party group is using the poll format for fundraising, I've always answered (in the "Other" box, because K-12 public education is never on the list of pre-determined priorities), that I want the party to be in favor of providing sufficient resources to every genuinely public school in the country, and to stop supporting the privatization and re-segregation of K-12 education through charter schools. Are there any Democratic "leaders" who get this? (I'm not even sure our national union leaders do, though, so there's that . . . )

  3. The draft platform is an unreadable mess. I was also surprised by the paragraph lumping STEM programming with ending the school-to-prison pipeline and anti-bullying programs. I'm not sure how they relate to one another, unless by STEM they mean Success Academy style education. And the Trump University reference was just bizarre, not professional at all.

  4. Peter wrote: "But mostly I'm afraid that if you had hopes that the Democratic Party would emerge as a champion of public schools and the teachers who work there, well, I think I know where those hopes can go." Hillary is the embodiment of the Democratic Sellout Party, ably assisted by Randi and Lily, who SHOULD be representing millions of teachers and tens of millions of children, but who have much higher dreams for themselves. Randi has openly expressed her desire to be Secy of Education. I guess that's more important that the future of public education.

  5. Mentoring makes such a grand appearance because it's Bill Gates' new pet project that he's pushing with his STRIVE partnerships (read: Chambers of Commerce and United Way). I'm on one of the teams. They make it seem like a grassroots problem-solving effort, but have all the data and experts ready to be flown in to talk to you about mentoring, even if that's not the conclusion your team reached about how to best help k-12 schools in your area. Where in the world are they going to get enough quality mentors? How are they going to train them? I guess my team will soon find out. Personally, I believe we should make like Bolivia and refuse the damn chickens, but I will have a hard time convincing administration of that. They've bought it hook, line, and sinker, and are oblivious to the manipulation by Gates' money. Or maybe they know and just don't care.

  6. Oh, Amy, how to help you? Would they read and discuss the research? Is there any way to help them understand the depth of Bill Gates' attempts and successes to make a profit off of public education?
    Does anyone know anyone on the Dem platform comm? To reach out to? To be a voice for Public Ed. We need a petition to the comm.
    1. To take a stand - to stop federal funding of all charter schools.
    2. To take a stand on the next Sec. of Ed - to replace John King - to be a pro public school advocator; Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling Hammond
    Could this matter or is no one listening that matters?

  7. We tried our public school. Elementary was fine, but when a student consistantly tests in the 99th percentile and gets 100% on tests that turn into an 80% because she didn't hear the teacher say it had to be signed (bathroom) and it wasn't listed on the homework pages, something wrong with the school system. Diversity, Multicultural seems to go only one way. Don't be the only one in your district who is different. In fact, after telling a school board member we were leaving, her response was "Public school isn't for everyone." REALLY!!! I thought that was the point.

  8. WASTING TIME: We have been over these issues (privatization, charters, standardization) over and over for years, but aren't addressing the only possible solution - electoral revolt and the replacement of bought-off legislators on the state and federal level.

    Although the Bernie campaign mounted a valiant effort to make 2016 the year we discuss the legal bribery that allows the rich to takeover our government, a recent report by Harvard's media studies unit confirmed Bernie's candidacy was crucially ignored to guarantee the outcome.

    Democrats clearly are not listening to parents, teachers or academics. The only thing they respond to is money and electoral outcomes. We have been wasting countless hours debating things like the efficacy of testing, the success of charter schools and the accuracy of VAM logarithms countering corporate astroturf with research and factual outcomes when it just doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is campaign finance, the effect of rich lobbyists and who is elected on election day.

    After months and years of poring over stats and data, we should at some point see the big picture and marshall our collective resources to address the cause rather than the many symptoms.

    I still hold out hope that this election can be a referendum on money-in-politics, if the grassroots can organize around the corporate media and party structures. Over 70% of Americans of all persuasions agree the rich have too much influence in US politics, yet the front running candidate is still our worst offender.

    Bernie announced Saturday in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the DNC platform now "moves to automatic voter registration and the public financing of elections, eliminates super PACs, and urges passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, among many other initiatives." Which is the most hopeful thing I've heard in months, but as we see, the language is still weaselly and the overall platform is severly lacking.

    As educators, we have the proof, we have the research, but we need to move the electoral needle. We need to leverage our positions and numbers to get parents and ultimately, massive numbers of voters to turn sharply away from the establishment candidates.

    This year, there are only a handful of candidates that fit the bill, such as Zephyr Teachout, so the best we might hope for in the end is that the next four years inform an "I told you so" movement where money-in-politics is carefully tracked to show voters exactly how and where they went wrong by electing corporatist Democrats and Republicans, misinformed at every turn by the mainstream media.