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Defenders of US Public Schools Call on Biden to Ditch Trump's Disastrous Education Policies—and Obama's Too

"50.8 million children who attend real public schools need a secretary of education who will be their advocate, not an advocate for privatization."

Telfair Elementary School first grade teacher Ms. Gutierrez works with her students on February 8, 2019 in Pacoima, California. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Telfair Elementary School first grade teacher Ms. Gutierrez works with her students on February 8, 2019 in Pacoima, California. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Demanding an end to the failed policies that have dominated the United States for more than two decades, a coalition of public education advocates has put forth what they consider to be the top five guiding principles the incoming Biden administration should adopt if the president-elect wants to fulfill his "promised commitment to our nation's public schools."

"We need a public education champion who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via private school vouchers or charter schools."
—Network for Public Education

"50.8 million children who attend real public schools need a secretary of education who will be their advocate, not an advocate for privatization," tweeted Carol Burris, a retired teacher and the executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE), which led the effort to demand pro-public leadership in Biden's Department of Education. 

In order to build a stronger and more just public education system, NPE penned a letter—which readers may sign—urging the Biden administration to pursue the following objectives:

  • Rebuild our nation's public schools, which have been battered by the pandemic, two decades of failed federal policy, and years of financial neglect;
  • Reject efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via vouchers or charter schools;
  • End the era of high-stakes standardized testing—in both the immediate future and beyond;
  • Promote diversity, desegregation (both among and within schools), and commit to eliminating institutional racism in school policy and practices; and
  • Promote educational practices that are child-centered, inquiry-based, intellectually challenging, culturally responsive, and respectful of all students' innate capacities and potential to thrive.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, state governments are contending with declining revenue.

"The federal government," NPE argued, "will have to provide the needed funds to protect the health of students and staff to safely re-open schools."

And because many children "will be traumatized by their experiences during the pandemic," schools will require increased "funding to enable educators to catch students up academically and meet the social and emotional needs of students."

But responding to the coronavirus crisis is only the beginning, given that public school districts have been harmed by years of "failed federal policy... [and] financial neglect." NPE called for the Biden administration to "dramatically increase funding to eliminate the... gaps between white and non-white districts and well-funded and poor districts."

"Neighborhood public schools governed by their communities are essential to the health of our democracy and the well-being of children," NPE noted. "We need a public education champion in the Department of Education who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via private school vouchers or charter schools."

Burris tweeted that "we need a secretary of education who understands that public schools have suffered under Betsy DeVos," while NPE's letter to Biden made it clear that "re-treads like Arne Duncan and John King are not acceptable."

Because there is "so much to be done to rebuild" public education, the Biden administration "must oppose any congressional attempts to institute tax credit programs designed to subsidize private and religious school tuition," which siphons much-needed resources from underfunded and unequal public schools, NPE explained. 

The group added that the Biden administration "must keep its promise to make charter schools subject to the same transparency, accountability, and equity policies as public schools" while denying "federal assistance to charters that operate for profit or are managed by for-profit entities."

"Neighborhood public schools governed by their communities are essential to the health of our democracy and the well-being of children."
—Network for Public Education

Regarding accountability measures, NPE argued that high-stakes standardized testing policies have been "ineffective levers for improving schools."

"The use of test results to evaluate teachers and put sanctions on schools has correlated with a decline in student performance," the letter pointed out, adding that the Biden administration "must focus on opportunity gaps, not test score gaps."

To address educational inequities, NPE said that Biden's Department of Education must ensure that districts are actively working to desegregate and diversify schools, as well as tackling the sources of racial disparities in disciplinary practices and other school policies. 

Finally, in terms of curriculum and instruction, the letter implored Biden's secretary of education to "reject the overemphasis on basic skills coupled with teach-to-the test pedagogy." 

"As important as literacy and numeracy are, there must be space for the arts, civics, history, second languages, and science–all of which have been sorely neglected since No Child Left Behind," NPE noted. "Children, especially our youngest learners, deserve active learning experiences that enhance their social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development."

As the Washington Post's education reporter Valerie Strauss wrote on Tuesday, "Obama's long-serving education secretary Arne Duncan infuriated teachers with school overhauls that used standardized test scores as key metrics for evaluating schools and teachers as well as other measures."

Strauss added that "they are expecting a different education agenda from Biden, whose platform includes big supports for teachers and public schools."

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