Friday, July 17, 2015


I am very thankful that there are people out there who are policy wonks who follow every last detail of the workings of Congress.  On education, I go to Mercedes Schneider and education historian Professor Diane Ravitch for insights. Both have been monitoring the federal lawmaking process on education very closely.

This morning I was sent information from Mercedes through Ravitch which kind of left my head spinning. In the re-authorization of what used to be called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which then was called the No Child Left Behind Act, and now the Senate is terming the Every Child Achieves Act, there were a number of amendments offered before Thursday's final Senate vote. One of them, the Murphy Amendment (put forward by Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy) would have, as blogger Gadfly on the Wall put it, continued the "Test and Punish" accountability for schools just like No Child Left Behind. The amendment failed but what is surprising was who supported it.

If it carried, the Washington Post reported that the amendment would have "required states to identify and take action in the lowest 5% of public schools as determined by the state; high schools where fewer than 67% graduate on time and any school where poor, disabled, minority or English -language learner students do not meet state-set achievement goals on standardized tests and other measures for two consecutive years."  Taking action could mean firing all the teachers according to the analysis from Mercedes Schneider. It looks like the same old blame the teachers for the ills of society nonsense. As Republican Senator Lamar Alexander put it, "Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it." The National Education Association opposed the Murphy amendment.  I don't know about the AFT.

This amendment's cosponsors included liberal favorite Elizabeth Warren along with long time anti-public school, former Newark, NJ mayor and now Senator Cory Booker.  They use civil rights language on protecting minority students to continue Test and Punish. All of the Democrats present except Jeanne Shaheen and John Tester voted for the amendment, It was almost all of the Republicans who voted this amendment down. The final senate tally was 43 in favor and 54 against.

How did left wing saint Bernie Sanders vote on keeping Test and Punish?  He voted in favor.

Ravitch in her report said that education politics are "strange" referring to where Republicans and Democrats stand on education issues.

The oh so ridiculously titled Every Child Achieves Act later overwhelmingly passed the Senate and a similar education bill called The Student Success Act has already been narrowly approved by the House of Representatives. Next there will be a conference committee to reconcile the two bills.

I don't think Republicans are our friends when it comes to public schools as their solutions are more charter schools, vouchers for private schools and killing our unions but Democrats are clearly not our allies either.  The Greens can't win so where do supporters of public education turn to politically?  I wish I had an easy answer.

All I can say we are on our own now more so than ever and need to mobilize to push the politicians in our direction.

Ravitch has further analysis up today.


Harris L. said...


Never underestimate the power and moral suasion that the mainline civil rights groups have on the Democratic Party--for good and historic reasons. We all know that there are many local and state civil rights groups that have come out against the testing and accountability regime because they see, on a day-to-day basis, the harm that is being done to children-of-color in our public schools. Never forget that Dennis Walcott was president of the National Urban League before he became Bloomberg's education puppy and then Schools Chancellor.

The national civil rights organizations had a reasonable case to make in the days before NCLB was enacted that children-of-color were overlooked when school accountability was an aggregate statistic, if it was measured at all. Urban schools were never held accountable for their performance and, despite Title 1 funding, were often abandoned by school boards and administrators. I would think that ten years of NCLB might have disabused them of the belief that annual accountability testing ensures that children-of-color get the support and interventions they need in their schools but old fears take a long time to die and I don't believe that people who say that the mainline civil rights organizations have "been bought off by Gates and the reformers' are being fair though I'm not naive and don't doubt that the funding they get is part of it all.

NEA said that it would use the vote to score Senate members. The AFT took no position.

I am not a man who usually bites my tongue but I have nearly bitten it in two the last few weeks as I watch many of my colleagues transform the long-time debate about pushing back the reformistas and opposing the authoritarian structures in our unions into a litmus test about whether someone supports Hillary Clinton or the sainted Bernie Sanders. The arguments are couched in terms of "process" but the real conversations and the most scalding comments now are about a particular political endorsement which I, at least, don't think will make that much difference in the long run. I don't support the early AFT endorsement of Hillary Clinton--I think it was a cynical undertaking which, importantly for me, violated a pact among the members of the AFL-CIO not to endorse any candidate before July 30. So much for labor solidarity and "we shall not be moved."

I have pretty much taken a vow of silence on any of this union political endorsement outrage because I am agnostic about Bernie Sanders and pragmatic about Hillary Clinton. Agnosticism and pragmatism turn out to be verbotten among teacher activists who easily lose track of the fact that they, in aggregate, represent a relatively small number of teachers nationwide and who need to maintain some humility in face of the challenges that all of us fighting the reformistas, at large, and the authoritarians, in our unions, face every day.

I think that there will be some long term damage, in terms of trust and credibility, so long as teacher activists call out "process" when they really are upset that a particular candidate was endorsed. Many teachers do support that candidate. Could the endorsement have been delayed and a more open process used to come to a decision? Of course. But the tenor of the debate is disproportionate to the harm done and seems to me to indicate a certain naivete about how the political process works and how our unions have played this game for many years. Perhaps we've reached a point of "no mas." I hope so but let's be honest about why, now, the "no mas" has taken on such a personal edge to it.

James Eterno said...

Thank you for a very thoughtful response Harris. After the heavy hearts club voted to sell us out in Albany on evaluations as well as receivership and now we can't even find a pro-union club among the Democrats in DC, I am quite concerned. Add in the Supreme Court and we really are looking at a different world.

There is plenty of irony in civil rights groups supporting Test and Punish because many of the teachers who have been punished have been African Americans who sometimes turn to the NAACP for help. Of course the students are being deprived of a decent education as teachers do drill and kill. The neighborhood schools that are killed are mostly serving children of color. I could go on and on.

I have no inside knowledge but I very much doubt Randi moves on Hillary without first getting an ok or at least a we will look the other way from AFL-CIO. None of this happened by accident.

As for activists being upset on process rather than screaming about the candidate, I'll have to think about that a little.

Anonymous said...

How's this for progressive education:
Blame the student.
If you don't pass, you didn't study enough. Work harder next time.
If you are a truant, or chronically late, it's your fault. You fail.
If you are a constant behavior problem, disrespectful to staff and fellow classmates, you get expelled.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

I understand your point but have you ever sat down one-on-one and listened to those kids? Their backgrounds could make you cry. Small wonder they don't see much value in education. Let's keep starting them out with nothing and then blaming them. What would you do? Do tell.