I should be proud to be a Democrat, right? Only sort of. Last week the Democratic National Committee (DNC)
revised its education platform and, in a pander to right-wing nutjobs—not unlike the RNC’s placation of racists and homophobes—removed language that goes to the core of what civil rights leaders believe is essential to improving outcomes for disenfranchised students. The gist is that
the first platform version praised “great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools” but was amended to “we believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools.” In addition, DNC delegates bowed to unionist pressure and obliterated original language that said, “We hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities” to the following:
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.
(They also added this: “Standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards.” Embarrassingly, as
Matt Barnum pointed out, “The American Statistical Association (ASA) has never published guidelines pertaining to the reliability and validity of standardized tests.) In other words, down with school choice and accountability, two of the most important mechanisms American public schools offer for children trapped in zip code-circumscribed districts. And back to the time before No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, when we veiled under-achievement through aggregated averages. Take the DNC's criticisms of charter schools (please!). Student enrollment is a zero-sum game. If kids move to an alternative public school like a charter, then they no longer attend the traditional school and state aid travels with them. Does that count as destabilization? To anti-charter lobbyists, it does. And according to the revised DNC platform, that’s justification enough to undermine the will of parents who can’t afford to exercise choice by the most common American form: moving to a better district. Regarding testing, last year the
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights “announced their opposition to anti-testing efforts springing up across the country that are discouraging students from taking standardized tests and subverting the validity of data about educational outcomes.” As
Shavar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform notes:
The [revised] platform stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups, which have made clear that those encouraging testing opt-outs are harming the prospects of low-income and minority children and that having clear academic performance benchmarks tied to school turnaround efforts is necessary to promote a more equitable education system.
Remember the little guys
Peter Cunningham, a lifelong Democrat like me,
wrote last week that the DNC’s revised education platform belies the party’s long history of fighting for "the little guy.” In this case, it's literal: The little guys are children, especially those long oppressed by “adult rules about governance or working conditions.” The platform “adopted behind closed doors in Orlando last weekend,” he continues, “affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.” Last night, I was proud not to be a Republican. But right now, I’m not so proud to be a Democrat either.
Laura Waters 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 all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years ...