A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Could the Wave Be Flattening?

Those of us who have had more than enough of Donald trump and the complete control of our government by a Republican Party that no longer believes in the efficacy of government are anxiously awaiting the Democratic wave predicted for the congressional elections in November. Conventional wisdom appears to be that the Dems easily take the House, with the Senate likely to remain in Republican control.

A recent poll published in The Hill on the popularity of the recently enacted tax reduction legislation has me wondering. Up 9 percent since December and now at 46 percent, support for the tax law is growing and will probably continue to as more and more paychecks are calculated off the recently published IRS withholding tables. I fear the average American sees the decrease in withholding from his paycheck, pension or Social security as a raise, a raise delivered to him by the Republican controlled Congress and President Trump. Add to this “American pay increase” the wild growth in the stock market, a market in which about a third of Americans have tax sheltered retirement accounts of one kind or another, and the plight of the Republicans running for re-election may not be as dismal as conventional wisdom has it.

While I hope I’m wrong about this, I fear too many American will look to their pockets rather than their consciences and conclude that maybe Trump isn’t as bad as they had thought.

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One Racist Remark

The President’s most recent racist outburst expressing his view that we don’t need any more people from what he sees as shithole countries has me thinking about all of the Americans stationed overseas and how their days will now be filled with the need to explain to host country nationals that, unlike their president, they do not believe they are living in a shithole country. His abysmally ignorant comment has taken me back to my Peace Corps days in Ghana when my hosts often called upon me to explain the actions of America.

At twenty-six years old, I found myself called upon to explain the killing of Martin Luther King. The question put to me was, “Why did you kill Martin King?” In the minds of the villagers with whom I lived, I was clearly the spokesperson for the United States. It became my job to explain the inexplicable to people whose very positive image of America had been compromised by the death of an American who had become associated with their struggle for freedom from colonial rule. When, not to long thereafter, I was asked to explain the killing of Robert Kennedy, a symbol to Ghanaians of the best of America, it was harder than betraying family secrets to address the hatred and violence that has stained our history.

Across the world, Americans are working for the benefit of our country and, more often than not, for the people in their host country. In thousands of ways, they create a positive image of America and its people. One stupid, racist remark by the President of the United States has, I’m sure, called that image into question for many. You can be completely sure that unscrupulous people will exploit our leader’s ignorance.

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No, Mr. President

Every person who has ever run for anything should be telling our president that no one but an ethically bankrupt person would have met with the Russians in the hope of getting dirt on Hillary. Anyone saying otherwise is ethically disqualified from holding any office. Politicians who have had such offers and rejected them should be telling their stories to highlight the moral impoverishment of the leader of the free world. Here’s my little tale.

Back in the early 80’s when I ran for the presidency of my local union, I was an insurgent candidate seeking to knock off a nationally known union leader. I was the head of a slate of candidates with both limited experience and even more limited resources, all of us being young teachers living from paycheck to paycheck. What we lacked in experience and resources we more than made up for in passion and commitment.

About halfway through our campaign a friend came to me with a message from an official of a rival union in our school district, offering me assistance with printing and mailings and anything else they could provide. While the assistance offered would have been invaluable to our campaign, it didn’t take me but a minute to realize that that this offer wasn’t coming from a belief in democratic unionism or full-throated support for my slate’s platform. Even to a novice like me, it was clear that it was an effort to constrain our power should we win by holding over us their clandestine support for our campaign.

So when the President tells me that most politicians would have taken the meeting with the Russians and whatever information they were offering, it’s to be taken more as a revelation of his ethical impairment than a knowledgeable statement about the political people I have known most of whom have been more ethically intact.

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Enough is Enough

I’ll get to the lessons to be learned from the NEA Representative Assembly another day. This morning, I’m saddened, no nauseated, by yet another revelation of the dishonesty, disloyalty and indecency of the President of the United States, his family who have joined him in dishonoring America and all those in our country’s leadership who continue to defend all of the vile cretins in this administration who would stoop so low to seek aid from agents of the Russian government to subvert our elections. Lies drip from their mouths like a Chinese water torture, each day it being increasingly embarrassing to be an American. The news this morning that contrary to what Trump Jr. said yesterday, which was contrary to what he said Saturday, a “former” Soviet counter intelligence agent also participated in a meeting with a Kremlin connected lawyer who dangled the possibility of incriminating material on Hillary Clinton before a drooling Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort is just one lie too many. The irony that these scumbag practitioners of fake news, without nearly as much evidence as exists to document their own treachery, successfully branded Hillary Clinton “crooked Hillary” and convinced enough Americans that she was a threat to the security of our nation should be lost on no American. How long will it be before we rise up and demand that our elected representatives cleanse our country of the political filth that has sullied us all? Had we a parliamentary system, we would have at hand the vote of no confidence that would rid us of these illegitimate imposters.

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A Trump Syndrome?

A few months ago, around the time of the election, my family doctor changed my blood pressure medication. Almost from the moment I took it, I didn’t feel right. There followed a series of different meds, all causing me to not feel not quite right. At my last visit to my doctor, he suggested a visit to a cardiologist to get a specialist’s take on the medicine I should be taking. While taking my history, the cardiologist asked me how long I haven’t been feeling well. I located the time for her as around the election of President Trump, and then took a shot at lightening the atmosphere with a little humor by saying, “Maybe Trump is the cause of my elevated blood pressure.” To my amazement, she smiles and says, “It’s not really so funny. I had a patient here a few weeks ago who while waiting for a test watched coverage of Trump on TV. By the time I saw him, his blood pressure was 200/100. He was not the first patient I’ve had whose condition seems to have worsened in response to the election. I’m thinking of writing a paper on the Trump Syndrome.”

So while the doctor and I may be guilty of faulty cause and effect thinking, then again what if there is a Trump Syndrome, a life threatening response to the politics of chaos. I’m already doing better after my visit to her. Was it the medicine she gave me or our discussion of the Trump Syndrome?

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A Couple of Things

The Trumpernicks seem to have at least one coherent theory of governance – states’ rights. In their view states have the right to discriminate, foul the environment and provide widely disparate rights to their citizens. The latest example of this is the withdrawal of the guidance on the treatment of transgender children. The Obama administration acting on it reading of Title IX said that transgendered people must be free to use the public facilities of the sex with which they identify rather than the sex indicated on their birth certificates. Any reasonable reading of Title IX leads to that conclusion. Not to the Trunberkicks, however. Screw what Title IX says. Leave it to the states to decide.

The issue is before the Supreme Court. Unless the justices decide to ignore the words of Tltle IX, an increasing possibility with this court, the Trumbernicks will get a well deserve defeat. Their complete insensitivity to the rights of LGBT children and adults is well documented. Insensitivity is actually not a strong enough word to capture how these individuals are viewed by the social conservative wing of today’s Republican Party. Contempt is what they feel for the LGBT. To many they are seen as people who choose to live an evil life style that they can and must be converted from. No less a figure than the Vive-President is on record as supporting conversion therapy to win LGBT people from their evil ways. I guess this is just one of the many ways in which they strive to make America great again.

On a completely different note, while not an admirer of Bill Gates or much of the work of his family foundation, he has taken to espousing an idea that has significant potential. Gates appears to believe, as I do, that work as we know it will increasingly disappear as more and more blue and white collar work succumbs to automation. What we do with workers displaced by automation is an issue of growing importance. Gates appears to have adopted an idea that’s been around for some time that suggests that when workers are made redundant by robots or other automated devices, the employer should pay a tax to replace the taxes that the laid-off was paying to the various levels of government. This tax money would be dedicated to dealing with the myriad issues of the unemployed – for me partial funding of a guaranteed minimum income.

Gates has sold the world a whole lot of bunk. It would be interesting to see him put his marketing skills to the solutions of the problems of people for whom there is or will be no work as we have known i

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Saturday’s Marches

Saturday’s marches were so good for souls depressed since the election. Millions marched in cities and towns across the nation. Though principally branded a woman’s march to protect hard won rights, the New York march I participated in had men, women and children there to protest a broad range of proposed Trump policies on subjects from universal healthcare to climate change. At a time when progressive spirits desperately needed a lift, Saturday’s marches exceeded all expectations and will hopefully be the harbinger of a growing resistance movement to protect the gains America has made since the New Deal from the Big New Swindle that came to Washington on Friday.

I was dismayed and interested at some of the responses I observed in my Facebook and Twitter feeds on Sunday. Numbers of women, some young union members, took offence with the marchers, thinking it unfair to criticize the new president before he did anything. Another memorable posting said that those women didn’t speak for her, that she was perfectly free and capable of making her own choices in life. Absent from these comments was any understanding of the long, difficult struggle of women to achieve the rights they enjoy or the threats to them. No sympathy for the fact that Saturday’s marchers are a point on the arc of history that goes back to those who fought for the right of women to own property, to vote, to obtain and practice birth control, to earn what men do for comparable work and in so many ways not to be subservient to the whims of the male in their lives. Some of comments I saw suggest that there is still more to do to improve the education of women, to teach them the history of their struggle for equal rights. Women’s History Week is simply not enough.

For me the most interesting reaction to the march came from several males who while they praised the marching women for standing up for their rights couldn’t resist a dig, wishing that they showed as much interest in the rights of Arab women as they did in the rights of Americans. The subtext of those comments appears to be that there are so many women in the world who have it worse than Americans that their protest signified their lack of appropriate gratefulness for the rights that they enjoy. I wouldn’t cont on these men to aid the marchers’ cause.

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Social Justice Unionism and the Battles Ahead

The talk in progressive circles these days is how to get up off the floor and confront the Trump administration as it attempts to roll-back much of the social progress since the New Deal – all in the name of making America great again. A Day of Action is being planned for January 21st, with protesters gathering in Washington DC and major cities to convey that there is a not so silent majority that doesn’t believe that Trump and the Republicans have any mandate to burn America’s all too limited social safety net. This morning’s op-ed page of the New York Times has a piece by three former Democratic congressional staffers calling for Dems to adopt the Tea Party tactics and pressure federal representatives continually in their local office to reject the Trump agenda. That’s all good stuff, but what should we as unionists be doing? What are we perhaps uniquely equipped to contribute to the cause not only to build a firewall against the incendiary economic and social policies of the incoming administration and Congress but to also lay a predicate for advancing a progressive economic and social agenda in the future?

For some years now, our two national education unions have realized that they had to broaden their perspective, go beyond bread and butter issues and the negotiation of work rules to engage in what has come to be known as social justice unionism. On one level the call to engage in activism aimed at making our country and world more just is a higher calling than narrowly focusing on improving the lot of our members. It’s important to recognize, however, that there is enlightened self-interest in the endeavor as well. Public education unions disinterested in the economic and social conditions of the communities they serve will inevitably find those communities indifferent to their members’ needs.

So unionism that seeks to benefit workers everywhere, members or not, makes sense. Yet, too often our unions have lacked a real commitment to it. Sure, we support a boycott of a struck company here, encourage our members to purchase fair trade coffee and other agricultural products, issue press releases and lobby for progressive legislation , but we don’t routinely engage our members or the communities in which we work on issues that could unite working people.

Across this country, teacher unions are fighting and often losing battles to preserve their defined benefit pensions. How do we successfully continue to have pensions that allow us to retire in dignity if most of the citizens who fund these pensions don’t have them, and, even more importantly, don’t believe it is remotely possible for them to have a pension? We need to champion the right of all working people to a defined benefit pension. We even need to do this with our own members who often fail to understand that when other workers are treated unjustly, their conditions are threatened.

Why aren’t we advocating for the right of all citizens to affordable housing. Our brothers and sisters in San Francisco have been doing some amazing work in this regard that could serve as a model for others. Through all communication vehicles available to them, they are highlighting how the housing market in their community has made it almost impossible for San Francisco’s teachers to live in San Francisco.

The Republicans are mounting an assault on Social Security, their ultimate aim to privatize it thereby exposing the retirement security of millions of seniors to the vagaries of the marketplace. Our members need to be engaged with the seniors in their communities in fighting to defend both Social security and Medicare. I’ve met too many young members who don’t believe Social Security will be there for them when they wish to retire. They are amazed to hear that all it would take to guarantee it will be there for them is to lift the earnings cap.

We need not search far for issues of injustice that plague our communities and which we need to be leaders in addressing. What can we say to the men and women who have been displaced from the economy by technology? How do we deal with an economy that will require fewer and fewer people to make more and more stuff? As one wag put it, pretty soon all a factory will need is one man and a dog, with the dog necessary to keep the man from touching the machine. How do we make a place for redundant workers? How do we stop the social chaos that comes to economically marginalized families? We need to be in the vanguard of the search and fight for economic and social justice.

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DeVos Was Second Choice

Valerie Strauss reports that what many of us think of as the worst possible pick to be Secretary of Education, billionaire Besty DeVos was really Donald Trump’s second choice. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell Sr., was apparently Trump’s first choice. This news deepens the conviction that the President-Elect plans a vigorous assault on the protections against tax dollars flowing to private and religious schools.

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Betsy Billionaire

Just what we needed, Mr. President- Elect, a billionaire champion of vouchers and charter schools. So, when I said the other day that advocates for public education were in for a rough ride, it begins with the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a thoroughly unqualified person, be the next Secretary of Education. In his comments about his pick to lead the Ed Department, Mr. Trump repeated the shot he consistently took at our teacher unions during his campaign. “I cannot think of a more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms,” Trump said. To Trump, and all those who seek to privatize our public schools, teacher union contracts that limit things like class size, the number of students a teacher may be responsible for and the number of hours a teacher may be worked are all impediments. In their great America, there are no teacher unions sticking up for their students and themselves. Tax dollars flow to private schools, even religious ones. Non-union teachers in these schools do what they’re told and work for a fraction of what union teachers make. The fact that there is not one country in the world with high performing schools that has such a privatized system means nothing to Trump and the privatizers of his class. Put their propaganda aside and what we have is yet another attempt driven by greed of corporate America to exploit us all. I suspect it won’t be long before some begin to long for the good old days of Arne Duncan and John King.

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Trump and Agency Fee

Teacher unions first response to the election of Donald Trump had better be insulating themselves from the effects of a Trump Supreme Court reconsidering the Friedrichs case challenging the right of public sector unions to collect so-called agency fees from those in a union workplace who choose not to belong to the union. Justice Scalia’s death last year enabled us to escape from what was pretty sure to be a striking down of agency fee laws. It’s a sure bet that any Trump appointment will be hostile to public sector unions, especially teacher unions. Trump said very little during the campaign about education, but what little he did say was all about vouchers, charter schools and a deep hostility to our two great teacher unions, blaming them for what he sees as the failure of America’s schools.

When it seemed that we going to lose the Friedrichs case, I convinced my local union to have members sign union authorization cards for the following year. We successfully did so, and in so doing educated our members to the threat of Friedrichs. It also allowed us to identify those few in our midst who might be potential freeloaders and to plan for how to deal with them. By the time of Scalia’s death, we collected 99 percent of the cards and were effectively insulated from the most extreme Supreme Court decision.

It is not too early for local unions to plan for the loss of agency fee. To me, the above approach is relatively easy, especially in locals that currently have a high percentage of membership. It has the potential for other long term benefits too, as building level leaders must actively engage members to explain the threatening issues posed by the new administration and the harmful effects they could have on members if their solidarity is weakened by court decisions that encourage people to not pay union dues. Done enthusiastically and skillfully, we could free ourselves of the need for agency fee, a concept we fought for but which has made too many of us lazy and disconnected from the concerns of our members. The time to act is now!

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Teachers for Trump?

Off and on this weekend, I found myself in a Facebook discussion with some Trump supporters, two of whom are members of the union I used to lead, one retired and one active. It didn’t take long for one of their friends to chime in to accuse me of being a communist. When I responded that although I have been long accustomed to being red-baited the fact is I’m not a communist but a democratic socialist, this chap’s angry response was that they are both the same thing and that his grandfather fought against both of them during World War II. It mattered not to him when I pointed out that his grandfather fought Nazis or national socialists.

The experience got me thinking about how many Trump supporters there might be in the ranks of teacher unions. How many are either unaware of the threat that Trumpism poses to public education and unionized workers in general or have soaked up the white nationalist poison he spews that they are willing to chance the consequences of electing a man who unequivocally supports charter schools, government vouchers for students to attend private and religious schools, home schooling and the dismantling of the U. S. Department of Education? There’s no way to know for sure. While the ones I engaged on Facebook are bold enough to be public about their support, most aren’t, knowing deep down I suspect that there is something fundamentally wrong about supporting a man whose campaign has attracted the Alt-right, the Klan and assorted other bigots. But, we know that about 25 percent of our membership is Republican and that about 80 percent of Republicans support Trump. Why would we believe that our members are different?

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Teaching About Elections

Despite there not being a shred of evidence to support Trumps allegation that attempts are being made to steal the election, he continues twist the intestines of his supporters with statements s about dead people voting, inner-city people (He means blacks and Latinos) poised to commit massive voter fraud and an alliance between the Clinton campaign and the news media.

We know that if a lie gets repeated often enough and is uncontested, it has the distinct potential to become the truth. Were this lie to become the truth of the American people, it could destroy our unique democratic experiment and effectively make our country ungovernable democratically. Every responsible politician of every party need to forthrightly assure their constituents that Donald Trump’s allegations are completely without evidence. As importantly, the teachers in the classrooms of our public schools must engage the nation’s children in discussions of the election, guiding them to factual information about allegations of voter fraud. Public schools are vital to our democracy. They must prepare children to become responsible participants of our democracy. To do that they must help children understand both the falsity of these allegations and the threat they pose to our society.

Were I still in the classroom, I would additionally talk about the real election fraud in the United States – the adoption in far too many states of laws that make voting more difficult and which impact disproportionately minorities. I would be talking about how the Republican Party has made a very determined effort to exclude constituencies which tend to support Democrats from the electoral process. I would be talking about the calamity of the Supreme Court’s striking down central planks of the Voting Rights Act. I would be explaining how these efforts are the modern face of Jim Crow.

Some will say, “You can’t do such things anymore, Morty.” If you can’t, then we’re not teachers anymore. Our students may get ever higher and higher test scores, but we will have failed both them and ourselves.

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Time For Progressives to Get Practical

I hope you missed me that last week or so. We had some server issues that prevented me from posting. I’m assured, however, that we are now back to normal.

Some of my readers live in states that Hillary Clinton will easily win. They therefore figure they have the luxury of casting a more purely motivated ballot for either Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. When pressed, most will acknowledge that they hope and believe Hillary will win, but they dislike her nevertheless and feel a compulsion to let her know it. In normal times, while I would still disagree with this approach to the president election, I might be able to accept it. But, Donald Trump poses such a palpable threat whether he wins or not. The fact is that he has the darkest strains of political thought in America to coalesce into a movement that threatens the very foundations of our democracy, with only a third of Republican voters believing that the election will be counted fairly.

This is no time for protest votes. Our only hope for a competent president, our only hope for any semblance of a progressive agenda is electing Hillary Clinton with a large enough mandate to allow her to govern. A Hillary presidency gives us a real shot making college more affordable, providing paid family leave, trying to complete the war on poverty, addressing the infrastructure need of the nation, ending the radical right hold on the Supreme Court, taking additional steps in the battle against climate change and taking the next step forward in the struggle to provide health care to all our people. The extent to which she can accomplish any of this is directly related to the margin of her victory. An overwhelming victory increases her leverage with the Congress, whether the Democrats control either house. Progressives have a real opportunity for the kind of change they have been seeking. Progressives have a shot at achieving much of Bernie’s agenda.

As a life-long democratic socialist, I naturally supported Bernie Sanders. But Bernie lost. I believe fairly. You may not. You may even think Hillary is corrupt. No matter. It’s time to get practical and recognize that the only chance to move a progressive agenda forward is by electing Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly. We simply have to demonstrate that there remains an overwhelming small d democratic majority that will not entertain the messianic call of the strong man who alone possesses the powers to cure all the nation’s ills, making it great again. Our nation has heard that call before. It has always rejected it. It must do so again.

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Platforms Matter

My mind has been on the implosion of Donald Trump’s presidential aspirations, not on public education. It’s fascinating to read Republic stalwarts like David Brooks, Peggy Noonan and Charles Krauthammer all questioning the mental health of their party’s nominee. How wonderfully encouraging! But many of us knew that Nixon was crazy too. While more secretive about his psychic wounds, he managed to fool the nation, all the while appealing to many of the same dark emotions as Trump. Have we forgotten the Southern strategy, his code for the appeal to racism? Let’s not be too confident that this race is over.
There hasn’t been much talk in this campaign about public education. People committed to the centrality of public education to our democracy ought to take a look at the platform of the two parties in this regard. Let me not editorialize. Here are the two platforms. Bernie or Bust friends, think about which party is more clearly supportive of public education as you conceive of it?

Here is the Democratic education plank.

Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education and universal preschool a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact life-long success. Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality preschool programs. We support efforts to raise wages for childcare workers, and to ensure that early childhood educators are experienced and high-quality.

We will ensure there are great schools for every child no matter where they live. Democrats know the federal government must play a critical role in making sure every child has access to a world-class education. We believe that a strong public education system is an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy, and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams. Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child.

We also support increased investments in afterschool and summer learning programs, which help working families, keep kids safe, and inspire learning at a time when many students are left unsupervised. We must find ways to encourage mentoring programs that support students in reaching their full potential. Mentoring is a strategy to ensure that children living in poverty have the encouragement and support to aim high and enter the middle class. We will focus on group mentoring, which is a low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success.

Democrats believe all students should be taught to high academic standards. Schools should have adequate resources to provide programs and support to help meet the needs of every child. We will 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.

We must fulfill our national commitment to provide a meaningful education to students with disabilities, and work towards full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act so that students with disabilities can receive the extra resources and services they need. With an 33 appropriate educational foundation, children with disabilities can thrive and become adults with greater opportunities and more meaningful life experiences.

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must be reliable and valid. 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 support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.

Democrats recognize and honor all the professionals who work in public schools to support students’ education—teachers, education support professionals, and specialized staff. We know that good teachers are essential to improving student learning and helping all students to meet high academic standards. Democrats will launch a national campaign to recruit and retain high quality teachers. We will ensure that teachers receive the tools and ongoing professional development they need to succeed in the classroom and provide our children with a world-class education. We also must lift up and trust our educators, continually build their capacity, and ensure that our schools are safe, welcoming, collaborative, and well-resourced places for our students, educators, and communities.

We will invest in high-quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos, Native Americans and Alaska Natives, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT. We will support the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.

The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps—particularly those that lead to students from low-income communities arriving on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers. This means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children. This means raising household incomes in poor communities. It means ensuring children have health care, stable housing free of contaminants, and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming to prepare children in areas such as literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence. It means supporting equitable and adequate state funding for public education, and expanding Title I funding for schools that serve a large number or high concentration of children in poverty. It means ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps.

We support policies that motivate rather than demoralize our educators. We are committed to ensuring that schools that educate children in poverty are not treated unfairly, which is why we 34 will end the test-and-punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the many opportunity gaps facing students from low-income communities.

Democrats are committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.


Contrast this conception of public education to that of the Republicans.

Education: A Chance for Every Child Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a cultural identity. That is why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces from outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have done immense damage. The federal government should not be a partner in that effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education. At the heart of the American Experiment lies the greatest political expression of human dignity: The self-evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That truth rejects the dark view of the individual as human capital — a possession for the creation of another’s wealth.

Parents are a child’s first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a onesize-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level. We likewise repeat our longstanding opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. It rejects excessive testing and “teaching to the test” and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. Administrators need flexibility to innovate and to hold accountable all those responsible for student performance. A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools. We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in the business community, STEM fields, and the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Academic Excellence for All Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential. Republicans are leading the effort to create it. Since 1965, the federal government, through more than 100 programs in 34 the Department of Education, has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates. The United States spends an average of more than $12,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $620 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2011-2012. Of that amount, federal spending amounted to more than $57 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.

More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement: Choice in education; building on the basics; STEM subjects and phonics; career and technical education; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity. We strongly encourage instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.

Choice in Education: We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status. We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. In Congress and in the states, Republicans are bridging the gap between those two realities. Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools. Their Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act — modernizing workforce programs, repealing mandates, and advancing employment for persons with disabilities — is now law. Their legislation to require transparency in unfunded mandates imposed upon our schools is advancing. Their D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions.

To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. That approach — the only one always effective against premarital pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease — empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception and believe that federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs. The federal government has pushed states to collect and share vast amounts of personal student and family data, including the collection of social and emotional data. Much of this data is collected without parental consent or notice. This is wholly incompatible with the American Experiment and our inalienable rights.

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Trump Junior

While it may be for naught, I will continue to try to reason with those teacher union members considering voting for Donald Trump or the Libertarian or Green Party candidates. Thos e familiar with my political positions know that I’m not a great fan of Hillary’s, but if we are interested in public education, we have to put our energy into stopping Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States. That means voting for Hillary.

If you watched Donald Junior’s speech last night you hear enough to frighten you into the reality of what we must do. If you missed it, be sure you watch it here. After you do, think about the anti-intellectual theme running throughout – the suggestion that educated, credentialed people somehow know nothing about the world. Listen to the appeal to the uneducated. More importantly, at 16 minutes and 48 seconds into the speech, listen to the indictment of public education, its teachers and administrators and the due process protections of tenure. Although plagiarized in part, the speech echoes those who have wages a well-financed, coordinated campaign to discredit the public schools of our nation in order to privatize them.

Why would any public school employee vote for a candidate who obviously places no value on the work that we do and who poses an existential threat to the institution we cherish – public schools?

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It’s Outreach Time for NEA and AFT

It’s certainly clearer this morning that while Bernie Sanders can and will stay in the race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, there won’t be enough voters feeling the Bern to put him over the top. It’s not too soon for the leaders of our two national education unions, full-throated supporters of Hillary Clinton from the very beginning, to begin the fence mending process with the many rank and file members who are passionate supporters of Sanders, support that for many got all twisted up with their alienation from and resentment of what they see as the policy failures of their unions and the coziness of their leaders with a Washington establishment that has supported education policies that have been detrimental to the work of teachers and the students they teach.

In her victory speech last evening, Clinton took care to embrace some of Sanders’ themes, a significant step to begin a uniting process and recognition of the extent to which Bernie has pushed Clinton leftward from her comfort zone to the right of center. Many of my colleagues in the education labor movement don’t feel that the NEA and AFT treated Sanders fairly, both in the process of their endorsements of Clinton and in some of the ridiculously thoughtless criticism of Sanders. If our leaders, like their preferred candidate, will take a few steps to the left, if will reach out to the Sanders supporters, maybe even finding subtle ways to admit that their early Clinton endorsement was heavy-handed, it should be possible to bring our membership together for the challenge posed by Donald Trump. Hillary is going to need the passion and energy of the Sanders members. The effort to bring them into the fold must start today.

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