Not there yet on education


Photo by Josconklin [CC BY 3.0], via Creative Commons.

Democrats’ platform draft contains a plank on education that leaves Diane Ravitch with doubts. It reads in part:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools and we will help them to disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. At the same time, we oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. Democrats also support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Days ago, Ravitch wrote at her blog:

The section on education contains a lot of reformer lingo. Zip codes. Options. Accountability. The Democratic party favors “high academic standards.” Who favors “low academic standards?” The party opposes too much testing; who favors too much testing?

The rhetoric about “high academic standards” brings echoes of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to see a statement about meeting the needs of all children? Or ensuring that all schools have the staff and resources they need for the children they enroll?

And then there’s the section on charters. The party is against for-profit charters: so far, so good, but how about saying that a Clinton administration will stop federal funding of for-profit schools and colleges, because they are low-quality and predatory, with profit as their top priority?

All of which led up to a few boos Hillary Clinton received during her address to the National Education Association (NEA) yesterday. (The NEA endorsed Clinton last fall.). Valerie Strauss writes at the Washington Post:

Many teachers today, including NEA members, have been angry at the Obama administration for education reform policies that they say have harmed public education, including its support for the expansion of charter schools and the controversial evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It was when Clinton spoke about charter schools to the NEA that boos could be heard, according to this story by my Washington Post colleague Emma Brown:

“When schools get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America,” she said to audible boos from the audience. “Rather than starting from ideology, let’s start from what’s best for our kids.”

Politico notes that Clinton quickly turned that around:

The presidential hopeful won back the crowd by making a distinction between charter schools in general, and those schools run by for-profit companies. Clinton said people on the outside are pushing “for-profit charter schools on our kids.”

“We will never stand for that. That is not acceptable,” Clinton said to cheers.

At some charter schools, however, the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit status is murky. A school may be nonprofit, but it can hire a for-profit management company, which can be run by the same people as the nonprofit.

Lay down with dogs, as they say. I don’t even have kids and these arrangements raise my hackles. Since the New Markets Tax Credit that makes investing in charter schools so lucrative dates from the Bill Clinton administration, there is reason for teachers to be wary. If Hillary Clinton means to distance herself from Obama on education policy, good. She also needs to distance herself from the unintended consequences of her husband’s tax policy. The New Markets Tax Credit helped turn public education from a vocation into an industry, and our children into another profit-center for predatory investors.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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