Laura Waters

If You're Looking for a Robust Democratic Debate About Education, This Ain't It

“At last,” I exulted, as I peered at a Slack message from a colleague. The Democratic presidential candidates are going to finally discuss America’s public schools! We’ll witness (it’s live-streamed) a robust conversation about their plans to improve school quality, how they’ll ensure that children know how to read by third grade, how they’ll hold schools accountable for student growth, whether they’re committed to giving parents (especially those in long-struggling districts) the right to have a voice in their children’s academic future. So cool!

I clicked on my colleague’s link, an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which told me this:

“The day-long event will be moderated by MSNBC journalists. Questions will come from representatives from an 11-organization coalition that includes the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and One Pennsylvania.”

MSNBC. Fine. I like Rachel Maddow. But what the heck is One Pennsylvania? One small step to Google, one giant lurch in my stomach as I scanned OnePA’s website and found a list of its “wins.” Here’s one: “Successfully campaigned to stop charter schools in PGH [Pittsburgh] who privatize & extract resources from public schools.” 

Hmm. Classic teacher union drivel designed to boost institutional image and malign parent autonomy, especially for families red-lined into terrible neighborhood schools. Who runs OnePA anyway? Ah, here it is: the executive director is Erin Kramer, a former official at Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, which, well (Googling, Googling), opposes parent autonomy when choosing the best schools for their children (except for America’s most common form available to only higher-income families, moving to a better district). 

Oh shit. Could this be a scam? A union-boosting suck-up exercise charading as a public forum? I mean, I'm cynical, but it looks so official! That whole Brady Bunch line-up … although where’s Andrew Yang? Is there anyone willing to speak up for low-income parents? Does it mean something that those faces are all White?

Wait—just heard that Cory Booker is showing up (Mike Bennett, too.) Does that change the dynamic? Nah, I doubt it: Apparently Elizabeth Warren learned nothing from the Powerful Parent Network members who crashed her last rally demanding that she re-examine her plan to cut off all federal funding to charter schools.

Alright. Maybe the OnePA thing is an outlier. The Pittsburgh Federation for Teachers is part of the AFT, I mused. Let’s check that out. Back to Google and a list of the 11-member coalition mentioned in the article:

Alliance for Educational Justice

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Center for Popular Democracy Action

Journey for Justice Alliance


National Education Association

Network for Public Education Action

Schott Foundation for Public Education—Opportunity to Learn Action Fund

Service Employees International Union

Voto Latino

Hoo boy. Not looking good. The Alliance for Educational Justice is funded by the Schott Foundation, which opposes educational options for families. The NAACP’s executive committee called for a national charter school moratorium, a move that some Black school leaders called “the worst kind of betrayal.” The Network for Public Education Action is Diane Ravitch’s hobbyhorse. NEA and AFT and AFSCME? Pshaw. Dayenu. Basta.

Trying to distract myself on Twitter (Slack was ruining my day) I found further confirmation of this “public forum’s” prescribed talking points via a non-attending Democratic presidential candidate:


Well, that narrows it down. AFT and Randi Weingarten, proud defamers of families who struggle to find high-quality schools for their children. Just before I logged off, this appeared on my feed:


Well, yeah, that kind of nails it. I think I have a houseplant I need to water on December 14th.

I suppose in this current carnival atmosphere, with aspiring Democratic nominees betting the house on the dice landing on the “most Progressive” square (a sure-to-lose strategy in the general election, by the way), it is inevitable that they’re sucking up to teacher unions. But from my cyber-perch, this Pittsburgh event looks less like an honest exchange of ideas about public education and more like a charade that has nothing to do with what’s best for children.

Circle-jerk indeed.

Note: This is a developing story that I’ll update as necessary.

Laura Waters
Laura Waters is the founder and managing editor of New Jersey Education Report, formerly a senior writer/editor with brightbeam. Laura writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for ...

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