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schoolboy protester

A young demonstrator holds a sign protesting Betsy Devos as Education Secretary. (Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr/cc)

 

This Wall Street PAC Bankrolling Democrats Thinks Being Progressive Means Mirroring Betsy DeVos

If Democratic candidates want to keep the support of grassroots voters, they need to reject money from Democrats for Education Reform

Steven Singer

Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) put out a new video about what they think it means to be an education progressive.

And by the political action committee’s definition, Betsy DeVos may be the most “progressive” education secretary ever.

She champions “public charter schools.” Just like them!

She is in favor of evaluating teachers on student test scores. Just like them!

She is a booster for “holding schools accountable” through the use of standardized tests. Just like them!

And she loves putting public tax dollars into private hands to run schools “more efficiently” by disbanding school boards, closing public debate, and choosing exactly which students get to attend privatized schools. Just like... you get the idea.

But perhaps the most striking similarity between DeVos and DFER is their methodologies.

DFER announced it again was going to flood Democratic races with tons of campaign cash to bolster candidates who agreed with them. That’s exactly how DeVos gets things done, too!

She gives politicians bribes to do her bidding! The only difference is she pays her money mostly to Republicans while DFER pays off Democrats. But if both DeVos and DFER are paying to get would-be lawmakers to enact the same policies, what is the difference!?

Seriously, what is the difference between Betsy DeVos and Democrats for Education Reform?

Progressives in Colorado and California say it is only the word “Democrat.”

Democratic party conferences in both states passed resolutions asking DFER to stop using the name “Democrat” because the privatization lobbying firm does not represent party ideals or goals.

It is degrading what the party stands for and hurting the brand.

Why do some progressives vote third party? Because of groups like DFER.

Voters think something like—if this charter school advocacy group represents what Democrats are all about, I can’t vote Democrat. I need a new party. Hence the surge of Green and other third party votes that is blamed for hurting Democratic candidates.

The Democrats have always been a big tent party, but the canvas can’t shelter the most regressive far-right bigotry without destroying the organization’s identity as an opposition party.

It is entirely incoherent to oppose Republicans by pushing for almost the same agenda.

The reason for the confusion is that DFER is not a grassroots organization. It is funded by Wall Street hedge fund managers.

It is not an authentic expression of the public’s wants and desires. It is another avenue for the mega-rich to use their power and influence to tell the rest of us what they want us to believe.

Yet DFER tries to hide this fact with various forms of propaganda. In effect, they’re trying to convince us that their ideas are what we actually believe.

For instance, the group is now offering a nationwide poll from Benson Strategy Group as proof that Democratic voters agree with DFER’s goals.

However, the questions asked to about 2,000 people on the phone are laughably biased:

“Do you believe we have a responsibility to do everything we can to give every child a great education, and does that mean we need faster change in our schools to prepare students for the future?”

Of course people are going to agree with that! It doesn’t mean people want to privatize public schools. We SHOULD do everything—including closing failing charter schools and boosting funding at struggling public schools!

“Do you agree that we can’t go back to the way things used to be in schools? Do you think we need to keep bringing in new ideas and finding new ways to improve schools?”

Of course we need new ideas, but charter schools and standardized tests aren’t new ideas! We’ve been doing that nonsense for decades and they haven’t helped a bit. In fact, they’ve made things worse!

“Do you think funding alone is enough to give our children the education they deserve? Do you also want to see new ideas and real changes to the way public schools operate?”

Of course schools need more than just additional funding. But let’s not minimize funding equity. Students of color will never get an equitable education until we pay for the resources they need to succeed. The poor will never catch up to the rich without money to provide the services they need to learn.

Moreover, blanket statements disparaging public schools before asking about school privatization invites bias against public schools and bias in favor of privatization.

When you couch privatization as “more options” and “choice,” who doesn’t want that? But it’s not what you’re offering.

Giving administrators the ability to accept or deny my child into their school is not “more options” for me. It is greater choice for them.

Slashing funding at the public school because its finances got gobbled up by the neighborhood charter is not “choice” for me. It is providing alternative revenue for the corporations that run the charter school while my only option is to accept fewer resources for my child.

None of this is progressive. None of this is truly supported by grassroots people or organizations.

Civil rights groups like Journey for Justice and even the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) oppose school privatization and high stakes testing.

This is the meat and potatoes of DFER.

The only difference between these alleged Democrats and DeVos is that the Trump administration also champions school vouchers.

But both charters and vouchers involve sending public tax dollars to schools that are privately run. Both involve stripping taxpayers of control over how that money is spent until all we have are parents moving their children from school-to-school in a desperate attempt to find one that does a good job and will also accept their child.

That is not the progressive ideal.

Progressives want to make every public school excellent. They want all children to have the resources they need to succeed. They want to assess students, teachers, and the system fairly to clearly understand what children are learning, what educators are doing to help them learn, and how administrators and school directors are enabling that success. They want innovation—not the same old corporate-minded top-down policy failures of the past decades. They want technology as a tool to bridge understanding and not as an end in itself to drive the curriculum. They want an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. They want truly integrated schools, not the current segregated system where Cadillac funding goes to rich white districts and the scraps are thrown to the poor brown ones.

Yet DFER, these so-called Democrats, support none of this.

And they’re spending millions of dollars to convince our lawmakers not to support it either.

Politicians can’t keep accepting their dirty money and expecting grassroots voters to continue to support them.

To paraphrase Matthew, no one can serve two masters. If lawmakers are taking sacks of cash from billionaire hedge fund managers, they aren’t going to listen to you or me.

They can serve their constituents or mammon. Not both.

So if Democrats want strong support in the coming elections, they need to do the progressive thing.

Stop accepting bribes from dark money influence peddlers like DFER.


Steven Singer

Steven Singer

Steven Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate. Singer is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher in western Pennsylvania. He is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and has an MAT from the University of Pittsburgh. He is Director of the Research and Blogging Committee for the Badass Teachers Association. He is co-founder of the Pennsylvania-based education budget advocacy group T.E.A.C.H. (Tell Everyone All Cuts Hurt). He often writes at his own blog, gadflyonthewallblog.com.

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