By Mark Naison (June 27, 2017)
Ever since the Clinton Presidency, the Democratic Party has been an advocate of top-down school reforms whose goal has been to make the nation more economically competitive and reduce inequality. Not only have these policies failed to achieve their stated objectives, they have destabilized communities where Democrats have traditionally found support, created widespread distress among teachers and parents, and given credence to the conservative critique of the DP as the province of technocratic elites who impose policies on people without really listening to them
Every Democratic politician who has promoted the following education policies, I would argue, has been complicit in the Party’s decline
1. Promotion of national testing and test based accountability standards for public schools.
2. Closing of schools which are deemed “failing” and removal of their teachers and administrators.
3. Preference for charter schools over public schools, especially in high poverty areas.
4. Support for programs like Teach for America which de-professionalize the teaching profession.
These four principles have been pillars of the Democratic Party’s education policies on a national level, pushed by President Obama and supported by virtually every major Democratic politician in the nation including figures on the left of the Democratic Party such as Elizabeth Warren, Patti Murray and Al Franken.
What have been the results of these policies?:
1. The have inspired a national parents revolt against excessive testing
2. They have produced a sharp decline in teacher morale and inspired the creation of teacher activist groups like Save Our Schools, BATS, and the Network for Public Education
3. They have promoted an mass exodus of the most talented veteran teachers and led to a sharp decline in the percentage of Black teachers in cities like Chicago, New Orleans, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where teacher temps from programs like Teach for America have become the predominant labor force in the newly created charter schools.
4. They have accelerated the gentrification of the nation’s major cities and diluted the political power of working class people, immigrants and people of color.
5, The have accelerated the shrinking of the Black and Latino middle class, and the weakening of the nation’s unions.
If you are looking for an explanation of why the power of the Democratic Party has declined sharply in a state and local level during the past eight years, the promotion of these disastrous education policies has to be part of the explanation.
No better example can be found of the Party’s adherence to the voice of billionaire contributors and technocrats over its traditional constituency into working class and middle class Americans than its disastrous foray into School Reform.
And unfortunately, the current leadership of the Democratic Party shows no willingness or ability to change course on these issues.