Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's Up To Each Of Us

When I first learned that my own senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, had teamed up with Lamar Alexander, a Republican, to draft the bill that would reauthorize the odious No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that opened the door to our current regime of high stakes standardized testing, unaccountable charter schools, rapacious Wall Street backed profiteers, and a narrowing of curriculum that causes public schools to dramatically curtail arts, physical, and humanities education, I was heartened. They said all the right things, but the bill that has barely passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate, does precious little to address any of these matters. It's not a done deal yet, many of us have been attempting to educate our senators, but the vote is likely today and it likely will pass.

That said, other legislation is currently moving through Congress that will greatly curtail the power of the US Secretary of Education, an office now held by Arnie Duncan, one of the leading taskmasters driving the now doomed Common Core national curriculum (and it is a curriculum in that classroom time in many schools has come to be largely comprised of teaching to the test, test practice, and test taking; it has become a stand-in for "the subjects that comprise the course of study," which is the definition of a curriculum). As one insider was recently quoted in the Washington Post, "The question is not whether we're going to put handcuffs on Arne Duncan. The question is how many handcuffs." So, at least there's that.

I know that many of us in early childhood would rather not think about these things, or perhaps even feel that there is little we can do, but the fact that the NCLB reauthorization is only just squeaking by tells us that our message is being heard, just not yet by enough people in Congress. I guess we'll have to shout louder to be heard above all the money being "yelled" at our elected representatives by billionaires and hedge fund managers seeking to profit off the labor of our children. The fact that Arnie Duncan is being handcuffed, however, is an outright win. To give you another unqualified example of the difference we are making, 23 states have now opted out of Common Core's high stakes standardized tests, leaving just 22 states now forcing students to take the SBAC or PARCC tests (for those doing the math, 5 states never signed on to the testing). 

No one ever said that democracy would be fast or easy, but our alliance of students, parents, and teachers is moving things in the right direction.

Recently, the AFL-CIO affiliated teacher's union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), representing some 1.6 million teachers nationwide, released the answers that major Democratic Presidential candidates gave to their questionnaire used, in part, to help them as they decide who to support in the upcoming primary. The AFT has come out in support of Hillary Clinton. As with most political things, it's a controversial move, with many members loudly insisting that they were not consulted. I'm not going to debate the wisdom of their endorsement, but I will point out that Clinton and AFT President Randi Weingarten are longtime friends and allies. It can't hurt to have the ear of the President: at least, if elected, we know she is hearing what teachers have to say. (The National Education Association -- NEA -- the nation's largest professional employee organization with 3 million members, the union that has, at least locally, been at the forefront of our pushback against the corporatization of our public schools, has not yet endorsed candidates. I suspect they will back Bernie Sanders.)

More interesting to me for my own decision-making purposes are the answers these Democratic candidates gave on their questionnaires. I've included links to the three leading candidate's answers below. 

The good news is that they all seem to at least understand that something needs to be done about the scourge of high stakes testing. I'll leave it to you to decide which one is most credible. Both Clinton and O'Malley have done what all politicians of every party always do, which is to talk about public schools as institutions of vocational training, and while Sanders doesn't specifically mention it in this questionnaire, I've heard him do the same thing in his stump speeches. Clinton and O'Malley, both with caveats, support the NCLB reauthorization. Sanders, as he reminds us, voted against it in 2001 and continues to be opposed. There are some real differences between these Democratic candidates when it comes to education. It seems to me that Sanders has more fully thought-out his positions and is offering more concrete ideas, but it's still early. I would like to hear more from all of them.

Yesterday, I wrote about the great progressive educator John Dewey, a man who believed deeply in the promise of democracy and who saw our public schools as its proper source. Some readers here have complained over the years about these political posts, preferring that I focus on teaching and the classroom. Personally, I can see no difference between those posts and this one. Democracy is about self-governance and, at bottom that's what we work on all day, every day at our school. All of my posts are about self-governance.

I urge you to take a moment to read through the answers these Democratic primary candidates have provided. They are asking to be your representative. It's up to each of us to decide which one we most trust to do that.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: