Public Ed Advocates Wary of Democratic Establishment—And Here's Why

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Public Ed Advocates Wary of Democratic Establishment—And Here's Why

'How about signaling a new direction for federal education policy, one that promises to support schools and educators, not to punish them?'

A march calling for full, equitable funding for all public schools and an end to high-stakes testing will take place Friday in Washington, D.C. (Photo: xMizLitx/flickr/cc)

Amid fights over trade deals, climate policy, and the minimum wage, the battle to save U.S. public education from the forces of corporatization and privatization has gotten minimal attention during the Democratic presidential primary.

Diane Ravitch wants to change that.

The education historian, professor, and blogger has requested a face-to-face meeting with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, to discuss—among other things—"the depth of antagonism towards charter schools among teachers."

Ravitch has the backing of more than 2,000 supporters, who have signed a petition requesting that Clinton respond to Ravitch's request "and meet with her so you may gain a better understanding of the educational issues in America."

As Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Public Schools First NC, told education activist Anthony Cody this week:

We must push for the right person to lead the Department of Education, someone who can forge a path to reconcile our split public schools system. We do need a way to bring the traditional and charter schools back into perspective and under local school boards to operate as they should with oversight by elected officials, accountable, transparency and they must be open to all children. We do need to dismantle high stake testing and vouchers to private schools. We need a way to ensure our teachers have the professional development they need and that they have a career path that pays them appropriately and rewards them fairly. Hillary – we need you to listen to Diane Ravitch and other national scholars who have the research to prove these points and to parents, students and teachers who have the knowledge to verify it on the ground.

Clinton's longstanding support for charter schools—for which she caught flak at Tuesday's National Education Association (NEA) annual meeting—is but one cause for concern among progressive educators.

The draft Democratic Party platform, for example, "contains a lot of reformer lingo," Ravitch wrote over the weekend.

She continued:

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?

[...] How about a clear statement that the Clinton administration will no longer permit school closings as academic punishment? How about a clear signal that the Clinton administration intends to protect and strengthen our nation’s essential traditional public schools, which serve all children. How about signaling a new direction for federal education policy, one that promises to support schools and educators, not to punish them.

Meanwhile, Ravitch and fellow public education advocates are gearing up for a "Save our Schools" march on Friday in the nation's capital, followed by two days of workshops. The coalition's demands include:

  • Full, equitable funding for all public schools
  • Safe, racially just schools and communities
  • Community leadership in public school policies
  • Professional, diverse educators for all students
  • Child-centered, culturally appropriate curriculum for all
  • No high-stakes standardized testing

"If you are fed up with the privatization of public schools and the high-stakes testing that has harmed real education, please join us," Ravitch wrote in a call-to-action.

Clinton is scheduled to address the American Federation of Teachers (which, like the NEA, has endorsed her) later this month in Minneapolis.

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