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.