Democrats for Education Reform Think Being Progressive Means Mirroring Betsy DeVos

 

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Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) put out a new video about what they think it means to be an education progressive.

 

And by the political action committee’s definition, Betsy DeVos may be the most “progressive” education secretary ever.

 

She champions “public charter schools.” Just like them!

 

She is in favor of evaluating teachers on student test scores. Just like them!

 

She is a booster for “holding schools accountable” through the use of standardized tests. Just like them!

 

And she loves putting public tax dollars into private hands to run schools “more efficiently” by disbanding school boards, closing public debate and choosing exactly which students get to attend privatized schools. Just like… you get the idea.

 

But perhaps the most striking similarity between DeVos and DFER is their methodologies.

 

DFER announced it again was going to flood Democratic races with tons of campaign cash to bolster candidates who agreed with them. That’s exactly how DeVos gets things done, too!

 

She gives politicians bribes to do her bidding! The only difference is she pays her money mostly to Republicans while DFER pays off Democrats. But if both DeVos and DFER are paying to get would-be lawmakers to enact the same policies, what is the difference!?

 

Seriously, what is the difference between Betsy DeVos and Democrats for Education Reform?

 

Progressives in Colorado and California say it is only the word “Democrat.”

 

Democratic party conferences in both states passed resolutions asking DFER to stop using the name “Democrat” because the privatization lobbying firm does not represent party ideals or goals.

 

It is degrading what the party stands for and hurting the brand.

 

Why do some progressives vote third party? Because of groups like DFER.

 

Voters think something like – if this charter school advocacy group represents what Democrats are all about, I can’t vote Democrat. I need a new party. Hence the surge of Green and other third party votes that is blamed for hurting Democratic candidates.

 

The Democrats have always been a big tent party, but the canvas can’t shelter the most regressive far right bigotry without destroying the organization’s identity as an opposition party.

 

It is entirely incoherent to oppose Republicans by pushing for almost the same agenda.

 

The reason for the confusion is that DFER is not a grassroots organization. It is funded by Wall Street hedge fund managers.

 

It is not an authentic expression of the public’s wants and desires. It is another avenue for the mega-rich to use their power and influence to tell the rest of us what they want us to believe.

 

Yet DFER tries to hide this fact with various forms of propaganda. In effect, they’re trying to convince us that their ideas are what we actually believe.

 

For instance, the group is now offering a nationwide poll from Benson Strategy Group as proof that Democratic voters agree with DFER’s goals.

 

However, the questions asked to about 2,000 people on the phone are laughably biased:

 

 

“Do you believe we have a responsibility to do everything we can to give every child a great education, and does that mean we need faster change in our schools to prepare students for the future?”

 

Of course people are going to agree with that! It doesn’t mean people want to privatize public schools. We SHOULD do everything – including closing failing charter schools and boosting funding at struggling public schools!

 

“Do you agree that we can’t go back to the way things used to be in schools? Do you think we need to keep bringing in new ideas and finding new ways to improve schools?”

 

Of course we need new ideas, but charter schools and standardized tests aren’t new ideas! We’ve been doing that nonsense for decades and they haven’t helped a bit. In fact, they’ve made things worse!

 

“Do you think funding alone is enough to give our children the education they deserve? Do you also want to see new ideas and real changes to the way public schools operate?”

 

Of course schools need more than just additional funding. But let’s not minimize funding equity. Students of color will never get an equitable education until we pay for the resources they need to succeed. The poor will never catch up to the rich without money to provide the services they need to learn.

 

Moreover, blanket statements disparaging public schools before asking about school privatization invites bias against public schools and bias in favor of privatization.

 

When you couch privatization as “more options” and “choice,” who doesn’t want that? But it’s not what you’re offering.

 

Giving administrators the ability to accept or deny my child into their school is not “more options” for me. It is greater choice for them.

 

Slashing funding at the public school because its finances got gobbled up by the neighborhood charter is not “choice” for me. It is providing alternative revenue for the corporations that run the charter school while my only option is to accept fewer resources for my child.

 

None of this is progressive. None of this is truly supported by grassroots people or organizations.

 

Civil rights groups like Journey for Justice and even the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) oppose school privatization and high stakes testing.

 

This is the meat and potatoes of DFER.

 

The only difference between these alleged Democrats and DeVos is that the Trump administration also champions school vouchers.

 

But both charters and vouchers involve sending public tax dollars to schools that are privately run. Both involve stripping taxpayers of control over how that money is spent until all we have are parents moving their children from school-to-school in a desperate attempt to find one that does a good job and will also accept their child.

 

That is not the progressive ideal.

 

Progressives want to make every public school excellent. They want all children to have the resources they need to succeed. They want to assess students, teachers and the system fairly to clearly understand what children are learning, what educators are doing to help them learn and how administrators and school directors are enabling that success. They want innovation – not the same old corporate-minded top-down policy failures of the past decades. They want technology as a tool to bridge understanding and not as an end in itself to drive the curriculum. They want an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. They want truly integrated schools, not the current segregated system where Cadillac funding goes to rich white districts and the scraps are thrown to the poor brown ones.

 

Yet DFER, these so-called Democrats, support none of this.

 

And they’re spending millions of dollars to convince our lawmakers not to support it either.

 

Politicians can’t keep accepting their dirty money and expecting grassroots voters to continue to support them.

 

To paraphrase Matthew, no one can serve two masters. If lawmakers are taking sacks of cash from billionaire hedge fund mangers, they aren’t going to listen to you or me.

 

They can serve their constituents or mammon. Not both.

 

So if Democrats want strong support in the coming elections, they need to do the progressive thing.

 

Stop accepting bribes from dark money influence peddlers like DFER.


 

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It’s NOT Education Reform – It’s School Sabotage

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“Language is a weapon of politicians, but language is a weapon in much of human affairs.”

-Noam Chomsky

  

“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”


Maya Angelou

 

Names matter.

 

What you call something becomes an intellectual shorthand.

 

Positive or negative connotations become baked in.

 

Hence the Colorado Democratic Party’s criticism of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

 

After impassioned debate, delegates demanded DFER remove “Democrat” from their name.

 

It just makes sense. DFER is a group of hedge fund managers pushing for school privatization – a policy the Colorado Democrats vocally oppose.

 

 

In fact, one of the organization’s key founders, hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, was quoted in the film “A Right Denied,” thusly:

“The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…”

 

So by a 2/3 vote, the Colorado Democrats passed a motion saying in part:

 

“We oppose making Colorado’s public schools private, or run by private corporations, or segregated again through lobbying and campaign efforts of the organization called Democrats for Education Reform and demand that they immediately stop using the Party’s name, I.e., “Democrat” in their name.”

 

To which I say “Hurrah!”

 

DFER definitely is a misnomer.

 

However, which is more inaccurate – the term “Democrat” or the word “Reform”?

 

Members of the nefarious school privatization propaganda squad are, in fact, Democrats.

 

They have registered as voting members of that political party.

 

However, they certainly aren’t progressives.

 

They don’t adhere to the traditional views normally associated with the party.

 

So the Colorado Dems motion is a positive move toward taking back what it means to be a Democrat. And in that spirit, it should be celebrated and emulated by every state and national party association.

 

The Democrats have always been a big tent party with lots of different ideas being accepted under that umbrella. But putting corporate profits over student needs does not belong there.

 

My point is that the larger verbal slight of hand isn’t with the organization’s party affiliation. It’s with the term “Reform,” itself.

 

 

DFER is not alone in calling what they advocate “Education Reform.”

 

My question is this – is what they’re proposing really reform at all?

 

And if so, what kind of reform is it? Who does it benefit? And what does it conceal?

 

The word “Reform” has positive associations. It’s always seen as a good.

 

We always want to be reforming something – turning it from bad to good. Or at very least improving it.

 

And when it comes to education, this is even more urgent.

 

No one really wants to be against education REFORM. The only reason to oppose it would be if you thought the way we teach was perfect. Then we would need no reform at all. But this is nearly impossible. Human society does not allow perfection because it is created by human beings, who are, in themselves, far from perfect.

 

However, the term “Education Reform” does not mean just any kind of change to improve teaching.

 

It has come to mean a very specific list of changes and policies.

 

It has come to mean standardization, privatization and profitization.

 

It means increasing the number, frequency and power of standardized assessments to drive curriculum and teaching – More high stakes tests, more teaching to the test, more evaluating teachers based on student test scores, more school closures based on low test scores.

 

It means reducing democratic local control of schools, reducing transparency of how public tax dollars are spent while increasing control by appointed boards, and increasing the autonomy of such boards at the expense of accountability to the community actually paying for their work.

 

It means transforming money that was put aside to educate children into potential profit for those in control. It means the freedom to reduce student services to save money that can then be pocketed by private individuals running the school.

 

If the goal of education is to teach students, “Education Reform” is not about reforming practices for their benefit. It is not, then, reform.

 

If the goal is to increase profits for private businesses and corporations, then it truly is reform. It will increase their market share and throw off any extraneous concerns about kids and the efficacy of teaching.

 

However, this is not the goal of education.

 

Education is not for the benefit of business. It is not corporate welfare.

 

Education is essentially about providing positive opportunities for students. It is about providing them with the best learning environment, about hiring the best teachers and empowering them with the skills, pay, protections and autonomy to do their jobs. It’s about providing adequate resources – books, computers, libraries, nurses, tutors, etc. – to learn. It’s about keeping kids safe and secure, well-nourished, and healthy.

 

In short, it’s about everything bogus “Education Reform” either perverts or ignores.

 

Calling the things advocated by groups like DFER “Education Reform” is pure propaganda.

 

We must stop doing that.

 

Even if we use the term to criticize the practice, we’re helping them do their work.

 

It’s just like the term “School Choice.”

 

Despite the name, the reality has nothing to do with providing alternatives to parents and students. It really means school privatization.

 

It’s about tricking parents and students into allowing businesses to swipe the money put aside to educate children while reducing services.

 

In short, it’s about increasing choices for charter and voucher school operators – not parents or students.

 

In that way, it is a more limited version of faux “Education Reform.”

 

So I propose we stop using these signifiers.

 

Henceforth, “Education Reform” shall be Education Sabotage – because that’s really what it is.

 

It is about deliberately obstructing goods and services that otherwise would help kids learn and repurposing them for corporate benefit.

 

Likewise, I propose we stop using the term “School choice.” Instead, call it what it is – School Privatization.

 

Anyone who uses the older terms is either misguided or an enemy of authentic education.

 

Perhaps this seems petty.

 

They’re only words, after all. What does it matter?

 

It matters a lot.

 

As Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote:

 

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”

 

We cannot effectively fight the forces of segregation, standardization and privatization if we have to constantly define our terms.

 

We have to take back the meaning of our language, first. We have to stifle the unconscious propaganda that happens every time someone innocently uses these terms in ways that smuggle in positive connotations to corporatist ends.

 

To take back our schools, we must first take back our language.

 

To stop the sabotage, we must first stop repeating their lies.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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No New Charter Schools – NAACP Draws Line in the Sand

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In the education market, charter schools are often sold as a way to help black and brown children.

 

But The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) isn’t buying it.

 

In fact, the organization is calling for a halt on any new charter schools across the nation.

 

Delegates from across the country passed a resolution at the NAACP’s national convention in Cincinnati last week calling for a moratorium on new charters schools. Approval of the new resolution will not be official until the national board meeting later this year.

 

This resolution isn’t a change in policy. But it strengthens the organization’s stance from 2010 and 2014 against charters.

 

Specifically, the resolution states:

 

“…the NAACP opposes the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools…”

 

“…the NAACP calls for full funding and support of high quality free public education for all children…”

 

 

The resolution goes on to oppose tax breaks to support charter schools and calls for new legislation to increase charter school transparency. Moreover, charters should not be allowed to kick students out for disciplinary reasons.

 

This goes against the well-funded narrative of charter schools as vehicles to ensure civil rights.

 

The pro-charter story has been told by deep pocketed investors such as the Koch Brothers and the Walton Family Foundation. But the idea that a separate parallel school system would somehow benefit black and brown children goes against history and common sense.

 

The Supreme Court, after all, ruled separate but equal to be Unconstitutional in Brown vs. Board of Education. Yet somehow these wealthy “philanthropists” know better.

 

People of color know that when your children are separated from the white and rich kids, they often don’t get the same resources, funding and proper education. You want your children to be integrated not segregated. You want them to be where the rich white kids are. That way it’s harder for them to be excluded from the excellent education being provided to their lighter skinned and more economically advantaged peers.

 

Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California and Hawaiian NAACP chapter which proposed the new resolution, says its ironic charter schools are marketed as school choice.

 

The endgame, says Heilig, is to replace the current public schools with privatized charter schools. This is exactly what’s been proposed in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

 

It’s not about giving parents more choices. It’s about eliminating one option and replacing it with another. It’s about reducing the cost to educate poor and minority children while also reducing the quality of services provided. Meanwhile, public tax dollars earmarked to help students learn become profit for wealthy corporations running charter schools.

 

As the Presidential election heats up, it will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump address the issue. Already school choice policies have been wholeheartedly embraced by the Republican nominee. Not only does he favor charter schools, he also supports school vouchers and other schemes to privatize public tax money. This shouldn’t be a surprise since he ran his own private education scam – Trump University.

 

Clinton, on the other hand, has been more measured in her support, even criticizing some aspects of charter schools. However, her campaign has issued statements saying she supports only “high quality charter schools” – whatever those are.

 

Moreover, just this week at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton staffers met with hedge fund mangers from Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

 

According to Molly Knefel who covered the meeting for Truthout, the mood was not positive toward ending corporate education reform strategies.

 

She reported that moderator Jonathan Alter worried about the argument becoming based on social justice.

 

“If it becomes a social justice movement, doesn’t that in some ways let, for lack of a better word or expression, Diane Ravitch’s argument win?” asked Alter. “Which is, ‘don’t blame any of us, don’t focus on schools; if we don’t solve poverty, nothing is going to get better.’ Isn’t there a danger of falling away from the focus on at least some responsibility on schools?”

 

Apparently Alter is falling back on the old chestnut that under-funded schools should be blamed and shut down if they can’t help the neediest children to the same degree as well-resourced schools. And any attempt to focus on underlying inequalities would somehow give teachers a free pass? I suppose Alter believes a fire company that can’t afford a fire truck should be just as effective as one with three new ones.

 

Meanwhile, longtime corporate education reformer Peter Cunningham was asked specifically if school integration was important. He responded tellingly:

 

“Maybe the fight’s not worth it. It’s a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it’s been a long fight, we’ve had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. It’s a good question.”

 

The number of segregated schools where students “are doing great” is certainly in question. Perhaps he’s referring to well-resourced all-white private schools for the children of the rich and powerful. Or maybe he means the all-black charter schools where administrators handpick the best and brightest students and refuse to educate those most in need.

 

One hopes Clinton will continue to fight alongside the NAACP and other civil rights organizations like Journey for Justice and the Rev. William Barber’s Moral Mondays to defend public schools against the failed education policies of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

 

Two weeks ago DFER President Shavar Jeffries criticized the finalized Democratic education platform for turning against corporate education reform. This transformation away from school privatization and standardized testing was the result of education activists Chuck Pascal of Pittsburgh, Troy LaRaviere of Chicago and Christine Kramar of Nevada who worked hard to ensure the platform – though non-binding – would at least set forth a positive vision of what our public schools should look like.

 

 

Make no mistake, the tide is turning. It is becoming increasingly difficult for charter supporters to claim their products boost minority children’s civil rights.

 

Too many people have seen how they actually violate them.

Charter School Champion Hates Bernie Sanders, Prefers Hillary Clinton

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Bernie Sanders doesn’t like charter schools enough.

To me that’s an endorsement.

But to Shavar Jeffries, it’s a condemnation.

Jeffries took to the pages of the New York Daily News to decry Sanders position and champion Hillary Clinton’s.

Jeffries is the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a hedge fund front promoting the privatization of public education.

Despite its name, the group doesn’t represent the views of most Democrats. It represents the neoliberal branch of the party that has heavily influenced the education policy of Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Cory Booker, Bill Gates and other prominent so-called liberals.

One can see why Jeffries isn’t Feeling The Bern. Sanders famously said THIS in January about the industry DFER promotes:

I’m not in favor of privately run charter schools. If we are going to have a strong democracy and be competitive globally, we need the best educated people in the world. I believe in public education; I went to public schools my whole life, so I think rather than give tax breaks to billionaires, I think we invest in teachers and we invest in public education. I really do.

More to Jeffries’ taste is Hillary Clinton who he says backed off on her own charter school criticism.

Back in November, Clinton correctly condemned most charter schools for not enrolling the most challenging students.

She said:

Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them. And so the public schools are often in a no-win situation, because they do, thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.

Anne O-Leary, a Clinton aide, eventually clarified these comments saying Clinton supports those charters that are both equitable and accountable.

Neither candidate for the Democratic nomination for President has given an in-depth policy speech on K-12 education.

These statements on charter schools are some of the most substantial made by either candidate on the issue.

Clinton has been lambasted in the media for her comments. Many publications – leaning both left and right – complained that she was caving in to powerful teachers unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) both of which endorsed her in the primaries. On the other hand, Clinton also has been criticized for not going far enough against the school privatization industry. Some observers highlight her continuing ties to Wall Street and many of the same neoliberal figures responsible for our disastrous corporate education reform policies.

By contrast, Bernie’s comments have been met with mostly praise from his base and shrugs from his opponents.

Both candidates views on the subject have evolved over the years. Sanders has gone from being pro- to anti-charter. Clinton has gone from being pro-charter to pro-charter with some provisos.

Back in 1998, Congressman Sanders voted in favor of the Charter School Expansion Act. Now he’s against the industry. Meanwhile, Clinton has long been a champion of charter schools. Her criticism of some of these schools is a new wrinkle.

It’s nice to see the issue getting some attention.

Charter schools have increased exponentially across the country in the last two decades, but they have little transparency or accountability. As a result, monetary scandals have exploded like wildfire from state-to-state. Millions of public dollars have disappeared into private corporations’ bank accounts leaving little to show for it.

Nationally, research shows that charter schools do no better at educating children than public schools. In fact, in many cases they do a much worse job. And when it comes to cyber charter schools, the situation is even more unevenly stacked in traditional public school’s favor.

Scandals also are surfacing about how charters treat their students. Stories of harsh discipline policies and violating students rights are emerging everyday. Moreover, there are countless accusations that – as Clinton points out – many charters select only the easiest students to educate and sometimes expel struggling students before state-mandated standardized tests.

Finally, charters increase the cost of educating children in a particular district by adding another parallel school system. However, these extra costs are taken out of the traditional public school’s budget thereby further destabilizing it and forcing less services and higher class sizes for students who don’t enroll in new charters.

I’m glad both Democratic candidates are critical of this status quo.

However, Jeffries denunciation of Sanders and defense of Clinton may backfire.

If an odious organization like DFER is in favor of Clinton, shouldn’t the rest of us back Sanders?


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.