California Dems censure school reformers

Delegates at the California Democratic Party convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution blasting Democrats who support school reform as fronts for Republicans and corporate interests, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“People can call themselves Democrats for Education Reform — it’s a free country — but if your agenda is to shut teachers and school employees out of the political process and not lift a finger to prevent cuts in education, in my book you’re not a reformer, you’re not helping education, and you’re sure not much of a Democrat,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a registered Democrat whose office is nonpartisan.

California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel said reformers are working to eliminate workers’ rights and “hellbent on turning students into test-taking machines.”

“I’ll tell you right now, they want to do that, they have to come through us,” Vogel said.

“Let’s be perfectly clear,” he added. “These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights.”

Gloria Romero, a former Democratic majority leader in the state Senate who leads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, called the Sunday resolution “stupid.”

“They drank some Kool-Aid that has been fresh squeezed for them by the most powerful political interest in California, the California Teachers Assn.,” she said, adding that improving schools for minorities and the poor should be a priority for the party.

“They beat their chest,” she continued, “they get some money into their campaign coffers, but they walk away having abandoned the call for quality education for children of color.”

Reformers have the momentum, argues Walter Russell Mead. “The Democratic politicians and donors pushing for such reforms seem to have weighed the costs to unionized teachers and decided that they are worth the benefits to students.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fielded a reform slate in the recent school board elections with mixed results.

Education upstarts

“Education policy has long featured two players—the government and teachers unions,” writes Rachel Brown in The Atlantic.  Now Education Upstarts have “stepped up to lobby legislators and drive the conversation.” Among them: 

Graphics by Kiss Me I’m Polish

Stand for Children

Who: Co-founder and CEO Jonah Edelman is the son of the civil-rights leader Marian Wright Edelman.

What: The most grassroots of these groups. Leads efforts to lobby state governments for reforms such as value-added teacher evaluations and more-equitable school funding.


Democrats for Education Reform

Who: Bankers, CEOs, and other wealthy Democrats. Adviser Cory Booker lends liberal star power.

What: Offers political cover to Democratic politicians who alienate teachers unions by supporting education reforms such as mayoral control of schools and national curriculum standards. Has helped loosen the unions’ grip on the party.

Michelle Rhee’s Students First “has yet to establish itself as a major player on the policy front,” despite Rhee’s high profile, writes Brown.b

Poor schools or poor kids?

In Poor Schools or Poor Kids? on Education Next,  Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform speaks for the Education Equality Project (accountability, pay reform, choice) while Pedro Noguera gives the Broader, Bolder perspective (preschool, health care, nutrition, parent training) on improving K–12 schooling.

Noguera:  There are schools across the country—some are charter, some are private, and many are traditional public—that have shown us that it is possible for poor children to achieve at high levels when we respond to their needs and create conditions that are conducive to learning. . . . Many, though not all, schools that succeed with poor children devise strategies to mitigate the effects of poverty with site-based social services and extended learning opportunities. . . .

Williams: While we are very sympathetic to the obstacles that impoverished children face to their physical, emotional, and educational development, and support policies to address these deficiencies, we believe that when conditions outside of the classroom are less than stellar, it is even more important that we get the schooling piece right.

I side with Williams on this argument. Schools facing huge challenges need to keep their eyes (and resources) on the ball, which is academic achievement.

Noguera calls for creating education inspectors to evaluate schools based on qualitative measures as well as test scores; inspectors would provide detailed recommendations for improvement.

Curriculum is mentioned only once in the discussion, notes Core Knowledge Blog, which headlines its post, Blather, Rinse, Repeat.

Resistance (to reform) is futile

Resistance to education reform is futile, says Democrats for Education Reform.

Those who resist the school reform movement are going to find they are on the wrong side of history. They may affect the pace of reform, but not its inexorable direction. They must decide whether they will participate, or continue to be further marginalized.

Via This Week in Education.

School choice is gaining ground, argues Greg Forster on Pajamas Media.

The bottom line is that the D.C. and Milwaukee programs are in trouble because they’re legacy programs; they’re the old model of school choice, designed as charity programs that only serve the most disadvantaged. As a result, it’s hard to mobilize political support for them. The constituencies that benefit most are the least powerful.

Georgia, with its more broad-based programs, is pointing the way forward. School choice that serves all students, not just some, is where the movement is headed — precisely because it’s the only model where the political math adds up.

The unions are getting desperate, Forster writes.