In 2008 I supported Obama's primary bid, but I wrote at the time that Hillary Clinton's statement on education was more progressive and creative than Obama's. Unfortunately, as president, Obama has held true to his timid campaign statements on education and adopted a less-than-progressive educational agenda. With his appointment of Arnie Duncan as Secretary of Education and his embrace of the Democratic hedge funders and other members of the Billionaire Boys Club who created Democrats for Education Reform, he joined the Democratic wing of the "education reform"/privatization movement, even though Linda Darling-Hammond, his educational advisor during the 2008 campaign, was pulling him the other way. We ended up with an administration that continued George Bush's educational legacy by throwing its support behind high stakes testing and the expansion of charter schools.
If this year's Democratic education platform is any indication, the party may be moving in a more progressive educational direction. The tepid first draft of the education platform was revised due mainly to members of the Sanders delegation working together with some Clinton supporters. In an indication of how significant the changes are, DFER is furious.
If you want a detailed description of the changes, go to Valerie Strauss's post
in her "Answer Sheet" column in the Washington Post
. Here are some highlights.
While both drafts of the platform support "great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools" and "oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources," the revised draft says public schools and charters should be "democratically governed." That's a big difference when it comes to charters, since their boards are often made up of a tight group of supporters appointed by the school, and charters are notoriously opaque about their finances and operations. It also adds this.
"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."
When it comes to high stakes testing, the original draft simply talks about being "committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction." The revised version is far more specific about the problems arising from heavy dependence on standardized testing, and t
states that parents should be able to opt their children out of the tests.
"[W]e encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards for reliability and validity. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school."
The revised draft includes strong language against discriminatory discipline policies which can lead to the "school to prison pipeline." It advocates for universal preschool. And it acknowledges the importance of improving the lives of children outside of school to their educational success.
"The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps–particularly those that lead to students from low income communities arriving to school on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers from higher income communities. The means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children. This means being committed to increasing the average income in households in poor communities. It means ensuring these children have health care, stable housing free of contaminants, and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming that increases the likelihood that poor children will arrive to kindergarten with the foundations for meeting the expectations we have for them in the areas of literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence. It means we support what it takes to compel states to fund public education equitably and adequately, as well as expand support provided by the Title I formula for schools that serve a large number or high concentration of children in poverty. It means that we support ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps."
The platform changes don't mean much unless Hillary wins and she, supported by Democratic members of Congress, embraces them. But to the extent that the education component of the platform reflects the growing influence of the most progressive wing of the party, it increases the possibility that Democrats will move away from the more conservative policies enacted by the Obama administration.