It must be hard to be a neoliberal Democrat in Donald Trump’s America.
Almost every policy decision you favor is also on the Republican President-elect’s to-do list. But if you work with him, you’ll ruin the illusion that there’s a difference between the two of you.
Take yesterday’s statement by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) warning any Democrat not to accept Trump’s offer to be U.S. Secretary of Education.
DFER is a hedge fund managers’ pro-charter advocacy group. Despite it’s name, one would think the organization would be a natural ally for pro-school-choice Trump.
But, wait a minute.
I thought one of the first things Trump promised to do once he took the Oval Office was close the Department of Education.
Weeeeeelllllllll…. That’s so November 10th.
He’s already walking back that whooper just like he’ll soon have to admit that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) doesn’t allow him to end Common Core – another one of his campaign promises. Ending the Core is up to the states (has been for months, yet most Republican controlled legislatures just can’t bring themselves to do it for some reason).
It’s easy to see why Trump has had a Come To Jesus moment about the Department of Education. If he really wants to add $20 billion in school-choice programs, as he promised on the campaign trail, a big government office that hands out bundles of cash in return for states enacting his personal policy desires sure would come in handy!
This is where it gets really sticky.
Both Democrats and Republicans love school choice! Typically GOP politicians love all flavors of privatization – charter schools AND giving away vouchers to attend private schools with public tax dollars. Democrats usually are more finicky preferring just charter schools – though you don’t have to search long to find a neoliberal willing to embrace all things school choice. Many of them are members of DFER.
In fact, the leading voices of school privatization for the last 15 years have been Democrats. So it’s no wonder that faux progressives like Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz made Trump’s short list to head the Department of Education.
Moskowitz, who has since turned down the offer, is founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a chain of privatized institutions emphasizing endless test preparation and systematically weeding out struggling or special-needs students.
Rhee, who is still a contender, was chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools where she was given leeway to do almost whatever she wanted and boasted of high test scores. However, widespread cheating on the tests and public unrest at her tactics shot down her ascending star. She then started StudentsFirst, an organization using rich folks’ money to help elect Tea Party candidates who were in favor of both charter and voucher schools. As the organization faltered, she stepped out of the limelight.
One could think of few people more suited to Trump’s education agenda than Rhee.
But NO! Rhee – or another faux progressive – can’t do that, warns DFER President Shavier Jeffries. That goes against everything Democrats stand for – somehow.
“It is, generally speaking, an honor for any person of any political persuasion to be asked by the President of the United States to consider a Cabinet-level appointment, but in the case of President-elect Trump, DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education in this new administration. In so doing, that individual would become an agent for an agenda that both contradicts progressive values and threatens grave harm to our nation’s most vulnerable kids.
“Foundational education reform principles – from raising standards and strengthening accountability, to expanding public-school choice, to furthering innovations in teacher preparation and support, and advancing resource equity – all find their roots in a progressive commitment to ensuring that all children, particularly our most vulnerable, have access to schools that enable them to fulfill their potential.”
Jeffries is worried about “raising standards?” Am I the only person here who read the ESSA? Common Core and academic standards aren’t the federal government’s business.
He’s worried about “strengthening accountability?” The ESSA already requires annual standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school – same as it has since the George W. Bush administration.
“Expanding school choice?” You guys love school choice.
“Further innovations in teacher preparation and support?” That sounds like code for Teach for America and Value Added Measures – policies that Republicans love as much as you so-called Democrats.
“Advancing resource equity?” Now who are you kidding? DFER hasn’t done a thing to help poor schools get equitable resources. In fact, you’ve supported pulling the rug out from under poor schools based on those same standardized test scores you love so much.
So when it comes to policy, Jeffries and DFER are almost completely in synch with Trump. What’s the problem?
He goes on:
“This progressive commitment to equitable education policy also goes hand-in-hand with intersectional issues that affect our kids. While effective school policies are vitally important, so too are the environmental conditions affecting children and families.”
This is a shock to me. Jeffries and DFER support “no excuses” charter schools like Moskowitz’s. These are privately run schools that don’t accept a student’s poverty or abuse or health or anything to be used as an excuse not to get high scores on standardized tests. In fact, if any impoverished, underprivileged child can’t somehow pull himself up by his bootstraps, he’s often kicked out of these “no excuses” charter schools and sent back to a traditional public school.
But NOW Jeffries is complaining about “vitally important” “environmental conditions”!? You’ve got to be kidding me! That sounds like something under any other circumstances you’d call an excuse.
On any other day, DFER does nothing to help kids overcome their environmental factors. Jeffries claims we should ignore environmental factors, that focusing on them is the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” But NOW he’s suddenly seen the light!?
Sorry. I’m not buying it.
He goes on:
“A child who is homeless; a child without access to food or healthcare; a child whose parent cannot find steady work; a child whose dad is locked up for years on low-level drug offenses—each of these situations dramatically compromise the life chances of our children.”
Well, Hallelujah! Jeffries has seen the mountain top! Paying attention to the out of school factors is exactly what teachers, parents and students have been crying out for he and his neoliberal buddies to do for 15 years! Of course, doing so would invalidate the same policies he and Trump propose, but you can’t ask a neoliberal to be consistent. Baby steps.
He goes on:
“The policies and rhetoric of President-elect Trump run contrary to the most fundamental values of what it means to be a progressive committed to educating our kids and strengthening our families and communities. He proposes to eliminate accountability standards, cut Title I funding, and to gut support for vital social services that maximize our students’ ability to reach their potential. And, most pernicious, Trump gives both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of our children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self, but also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.
“For these reasons, no Democrat should accept appointment as Secretary of Education, unless and until President-elect Trump disavows his prior statements and commits to educating the whole child and supporting the communities and families they depend on.”
So what Jeffries really takes exception to here is Trump’s rhetoric.
Trump and DFER don’t have many policy differences. It’s just how they’re packaged.
Both Trump and Jeffries wants to give poor black and brown kids a substandard education. They both want to destroy the public school system and replace it with a privatized one. Both want to give endless standardized tests. But the real difference is that Jeffries wants to do this for the expressed purpose of protecting kids’ civil rights. Trump, apparently, wants to do it to violate them, or at least he’s indifferent to the civil rights implications.
Does that really constitute a significant difference between DFER and Trump?
No. It’s just branding.
Jeffries doesn’t want someone like Moskawitz or Rhee to be the face of Trump’s corporate education reform policies because he’s betting Trump will fail. And when that happens, he wants to be there when the next Democratic administration takes over – so he can enact the same damn policies all over again!