While Bernie Sanders supporters mourn his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, they should take real comfort that his delegation helped public education activists make an impact on the Democratic Party platform.
After years of being cheerleaders for policy based on flawed ideas promoted by hedge funds and Silicon Valley, it looks like Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party platform committee have been forced to take a good hard look at education reality. Even Sen. Chris Murphy has finally woken up to the fact that schools in Connecticut are segregated: this week he and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge introduced the Stronger Together School Diversity Act 2016.
What’s extremely puzzling, however, is that he seems to have ignored data that the charter schools Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — and indeed, the candidate he endorsed, Hillary Clinton — so aggressively pushed for are the biggest offenders in this “unconscionable” segregation. Not just in terms of racial segregation, but also in terms of serving a significantly lower proportion of ELL and Special Needs students.
If you don’t think Bernie Sanders’ candidacy made a difference to the platform, think again.
Here’s the original language on curriculum:
We will invest in high-quality STEM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand linked learning models and career pathways. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.
And here’s the revised language:
We will invest in high quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school to prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities, and by supporting the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds. We will encourage restorative justice and reform overly punitive disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact African Americans and Latinos, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT.
Hallelujah! We got the Arts and Humanities back into the platform. If this election has taught us anything it’s the importance of subjects we’ve been forced to listen to politicians and Silicon Valley types tell us are useless — history, civics, literature — and even worse, watch being defunded and cut at the K-12 level in favor of more standardized testing. It’s also important to have the language about discipline policies — especially when you consider the state Board of Education continues to renew charters of schools that are consistently at the top of the state suspension tables.
Speaking of which, here’s the original draft charter language:
Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools and we will help them to disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. At the same time, we oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. Democrats also support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.
Below, the revised language:
Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.
Chuck Pascal Jr., a Bernie Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania, said, “This amendment talks about democratically governed public schools, and what that means is we support schools being accountable to their communities through having an elected school [board] as opposed to an appointed board that’s accountable to no one in the community. We also want to make it clear that, while we understand that charters’ original purpose was to be innovative and experimental — and small — what we have now is not that. What we have is a dual system that is purporting to be equal, but in reality, it is perpetuating a segregation, a segregation by race, a segregation by income, and a segregation by opportunity. That has to stop.”
However, Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, was very displeased by this turn of events.
“This unfortunate departure from President Obama’s historic education legacy threatens to roll back progress we’ve made in advancing better outcomes for all kids, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Jeffries said. “The platform stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups, which have made clear that those encouraging testing opt-outs are harming the prospects of low-income and minority children and that having clear academic performance benchmarks tied to school turnaround efforts is necessary to promote a more equitable education system.”
Jeffries, you may remember, was the Wall Street funded candidate who lost to Ras Baraka in the Newark mayoral race in 2014. His loss was seen as repudiation of Mayor Cory Booker’s policies, whereas Dale Russakoff reported in her excellent book: The Prize: Who’s in charge of America’s Schools, “‘Charters’ had become a code word . . . for rich, white outsiders who hid self-interest behind a veil of altruism.”
What’s particularly fascinating is how the Wall Street and Silicon Valley funded education reform groups speak about civil rights, yet persistently ignore the research on it from places like the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
Here’s what The Civil Rights Project had to say in their 2015 report on school integration in Connecticut:
“Charters should come under the state’s diversity policies and requirements and should have goals, recruitment strategies, public information and transportation policies to foster diversity including diversity of language background. The open enrollment program should be strongly focused on fostering diversity, should not pay for transfers from one segregated school to another, and should include resegregated suburbs as sending areas. The focus should be on opening opportunities for more students segregated by race and poverty to go to stronger schools with more white and Asian students — schools with higher achievement levels, and better ratings from the state department. Since the choice programs tend to seriously underserve EL and Special Education students, the state should clarify the requirement of federal civil rights law that all public schools serve both groups of students and ask for plans from receiving schools to accomplish this goal . . . state and local officials should work to promote diversity in charter school enrollments, in part by encouraging extensive outreach to diverse communities, inter-district enrollment, and the provision of free transportation. Officials should also consider pursuing litigation against charter schools that are receiving public funds but are intentionally segregated, serving only one racial or ethnic group, or refusing service to English language learners. They should investigate charter schools that are virtually all white in diverse areas or schools that provide no free lunch program, making it impossible to serve students who need these subsidies in order to eat and therefore excluding a large share of nonwhite students. To make charter operators increasingly cognizant of their civil rights responsibilities under state and federal law, the state officials need to examine statistics, investigate patterns of apparent segregation or exclusion, and take enforcement actions when there is not a serious remedy.”
It’ll be interesting to see if the Democrats pay lip service to the new platform items or it ends up being business as usual. Rest assured, we’ll be watching.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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