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For about thirty years now, public education as well as its teachers and students have been the focus of an accountability era driven by recurring calls for and the implementation of so-called higher standards and incessant testing. At two points during this era, educators could blame Ronald Reagan's administration for feeding the media frenzy around the misleading A Nation at Risk and George W. Bush's administration for federalizing the accountability era with No Child Left Behind (NCLB)—both Republican administrations.

For those who argued that Republicans and Democrats were different sides of the same political coin beholden to corporate interests, education advocates could point to Republicans with an accusatory finger and claim the GOP was anti-public education while also endorsing Democrats as unwavering supporters of public education. To claim Republicans and Democrats were essentially the same was left to extremists and radicals, it seemed.

As we approach the fall of 2012 and the next presidential election, however, educators and advocates for public education have found that the position of the extremists—Republicans and Democrats are the same—has come true under the Barack Obama administration.

Educators have no political party to support because no political party supports educators, public education, or teachers unions.

Discourse, Policy, and How Democrats Are Failing Education

Behind the historical mask that Democrats support strongly public education and even teachers specifically and workers broadly, the Obama administration has presented a powerful and misleading education campaign that is driven by Obama as the good cop and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as the bad cop. Obama Good Cop handles the discourse that appeals to educators by denouncing the rising test culture in 2011:

What is true, though, is, is that we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at. Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic.
Yet, simultaneously, Secretary Duncan Bad Cop was endorsing and the USDOE was implementing Race to the Top, creating provisions for states to opt out of NCLB, and endorsing Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—each of which increases both the amount of standardized testing and the high-stakes associated with those tests by expanding the accountability from schools and students to teachers.

Under Obama, Democratic education policy and agendas, embodied by Duncan, have created a consistently inconsistent message. More recently, Obama has shifted into campaign mode and once again offered conflicting claims about education—endorsing a focus on reducing class size (despite huge cuts for years in state budgets that have eliminated teachers and increased class size, which Bill Gates endorses) and making a pitch to suport teachers unions and even increasing spending on education, leading Diane Ravitch to ponder:

Well, it is good to hear the rhetoric. That’s a change. We can always hope that he means it. But that, of course, would mean ditching Race to the Top and all that absurd rightwing rhetoric about how schools can fix poverty, all by themselves.
Throughout Obama's term, Obama's discourse has been almost directly contradicted by Duncan's discourse and the USDOE's policies. Obama tended to state that teachers were the most important in-school influence on student learning while Duncan tends to continue omitting the "in-school" qualifier, but these nuances of language are of little value since the USDOE under Obama has an agenda nearly indistinguishable from Republican agendas:

• Promoting that all states should adopt CCSS and the necessary increase of testing and textbook support to follow.

• Endorsing market dynamics and school choice by embracing the charter school movement, specifically corporate-style charters such as Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).

• Embracing and promoting "no excuses" ideologies for school reform and school cultures.

• Criticizing directly and indirectly public school teachers and perpetuating the "bad" teacher myth by calling for changes in teacher evaluations and compensation, disproportionately based on student test scores.

• Funding and endorsing the spread of test-based accountability to departments and colleges of education involved in teacher certification.

• Funding and endorsing the de-professionalization of teaching through support for Teach for America.

• Appealing to the populist message about choice by failing to confront the rise of "parent trigger" laws driven by corporate interests posing as concerned parents.

If my claim that Republicans and Democrats are different sides of the same misguided education reform coin still appears to be the claim of an extremist, the last point above should be examined carefully.

Note, for example, the connection between the issues endorsed by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and the anti-union sentiment joined with endorsing the next misleading Waiting for "Superman"Won't Back Down.

The Democratic National Convention will be home to DFER, Parent Revolution, and Students First to promote Won't Back Down as if this garbled film is a documentary—including a platform for Michelle Rhee.

There is nothing progressive about the education reform agenda under the Obama administration, nothing progressive about the realities behind Obama's or Duncan's discourse, nothing progressive about Rhee, Gates, or the growing legions of celebrity education reformers.

If the Democratic Party were committed to a progressive education platform, we would hear and see policy seeking ways to fund fully public schools, rejecting market solutions to social problems, supporting the professionalization of teachers, embracing the power and necessity of collective bargaining and tenure, protecting students from the negative impact of testing and textbook corporations, distancing themselves from Rhee-like conservatives in progressive clothing, and championing above everything else democratic ideals.

Instead, the merging of the education agenda between Democrats and Republicans is Orwellian, but it real, as Ravitch warned early in Obama's administration:

This rhetoric represented a remarkable turn of events. It showed how the politics of education had been transformed. . . .Slogans long advocated by policy wonks on the right had migrated to and been embraced by policy wonks on the left. When Democrat think tanks say their party should support accountability and school choice, while rebuffing the teachers’ unions, you can bet that something has fundamentally changed in the political scene. (p. 22)
In August of 2012, educators have no political party to support because no political party supports educators—and this is but one symptom of a larger disease killing the hope and promise of democracy in the U.S.

This tragic fact is the inevitable result of the historical call for teachers not to be political. Now that educators have no major party to support, the failure of that call is more palpable than ever.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 08:48 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We are entering the Che Guevara stage of education (5+ / 0-)

    In which the educators jump out of the bushes, teach, and then run back into hiding before the Stupidity Patrol catches up with them.

    The public schools are toast.  Obama won't save them, and Romney certainly won't save them.  Next on the list to be privatized: the post office!

    "Once the Lords of Capital are no longer the lords of anything, humanity gets another shot at rational development of the species and the planet." - Glen Ford

    by Cassiodorus on Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 09:04:27 AM PDT

  •  They have me (4+ / 0-)

    And if all of us without a party - people for peace, civil liberties, the environment, and my own cause - universal healthcare - would join together no one could say we don't have a party.

  •  Unfortunately educators lack solidarity (0+ / 0-)

    Going back at least to 1980, educators have themselves to blame.  As a local union president who tried desperately to get out the vote, I have to say that teachers do not vote in any percentage better than the population as a whole.

    True, the teachers unions were handicapped by the same rules that labor unions faced in contributing to candidates.  We also have difficulty in many states stating exactly who is good and who is bad, because we will lose members--where membership is voluntary.

    But the word did go out.  And like blue collar workers everywhere, teachers believed that the bad predictions of the future would not happen to them.  The word fell on deaf ears.  

    We had charity from Democrats for a long time.  That is, the Democrats gave us benefits, and we could not return thanks with votes.  Now, a new generation of teachers will have to experience what life was like before 1930 in schools.  Maybe with time they can return to the life we lived before 1975.  But they will have to refight all the old battles.

    •  It's not about turnout, or party loyalty. (0+ / 0-)

      It's about cash.

      Please remember which country you live in.

      All Cretans are sockpuppets. -- Epimenides the Cretan

      by JesseCW on Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 10:24:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A lot of teachers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are very, very conservative politically and will vote against their own self-interest.

      Same as many in the population as a whole.

    •  they lack involvement, screw 'solidarity', we (0+ / 0-)

      aren't feared - we're loved, we're not feared.

      thanks for your comment! I'm 52, I'm starting year #8 at a high school math teacher, this is career 3.

      in the 80's, when I was a growed up on welfare cook in Boston, I was AMAZED that people put up with LBOs and Raygun wrecking their jobs ... and we were all going to be knowledge workers, before the phrase knowledge workers existed!!!

      We've got decades of outsourcing family wage jobs so the unemployed could migrate to Arizona-Texas-Florida and junk mart jobs ... and more people watch the super bowl than vote. WTF.

      We had an election for union president in Seattle in March, with 2 very different candidates, and 75% did NOT even vote !!!

      In somewhat lame defense of my co-workers, ALL of us have been burned by the HOPE schtick of 1992 and 2008.  I can NOT doorbell or phonebank to peddle any candidate because they've proven themselves to be lying sell outs, OR, so g'dam politically incompetent it is embarrassing.  Other than parroting the bullshit "Lessor Of Two Evil" strategery  ... well, I can't bring myself to doorbell, leaflet or phonebank for these sell outs and incompetents.

      It dawned on my this summer that I need to figure out how to most effectively persuade the under 40's -

      the over 40's are either on board & know what we're up against, or, so f'king close to clueless that I haven't the time to wake 'em up. the over 40 clueless crowd are trapped in the nice little Democratic box of mouthing "LOTE LOTE LOTE" and ...

      NOTHING NADA ZIP is happening to facilitate and nurture involvement by neighborhood and zip code and local community.

      80,000 members times 83 bucks a month & our politics consists of the same ol same ol Dukakis - Kerry - Gore - Mondale ad buys, and phonebanking for that putz Jay Inslee. yawn.

      For 30+ years, at the Big Stage level, the political opponents of the lying thieving fascists couldn't have more useless to ALL us working stiffs.  

      again, thanks for the historical background!


      Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous

      by seabos84 on Sun Aug 26, 2012 at 07:08:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Obama (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plthomasEdD, grimjc

    He is not an acceptable choice.  Neither is Romney.  It looks like I will either be voting third party or writing my own name in this year.

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