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The year a divided Democratic party sidelined all talk about American schools
Congratulations, Democrats, we made it through the nominating process without hearing much about what our nominee, Hillary Clinton, will do on education. Aside from a passing mention of tuition — and debt-free college for the middle class — Clinton’s historic acceptance speech last night continued the two-week convention trend of little to no discussion of education’s role in fueling our country’s future.
Conventions are mostly about rallying the base; the time for rolling out new policy positions has mostly passed.
Smart people who I admire and respect keep telling me this is fine. With the way this crazy election is going, it’s easy to understand why people aren’t anxious to have education thrown into the political scrum.
Others tell me voters don’t care about education anyway. There was a $60 million campaign to inject education into the 2008 campaign, and it mostly failed.
But I believe this thinking assumes too much linearity, from voters to candidates to governance. If we care about education, we should want our politicians to speak up. Candidates don’t just reflect voter priorities; candidates also shape how voters see the world. We know this about political parties — partisans tend to view new events through the lens of people they already trust — and we’ve seen specific examples where leadership from a politician directly influences voters.
My personal favorite anecdote about this comes from the 2000 election. That year, George W. Bush made education one of his primary campaign themes. Half of his ads mentioned education in some way (more than Democrat Al Gore’s ads did), and the most frequently-run ad throughout the 2000 cycle was a Bush ad calling for higher standards for our schools.
Agree with Bush’s ideas or not, it had an effect. In 2000, voters selected education as one of the top issues facing the country, and Bush used the education issue to signal his “compassionate conservatism” — earning female and minority voters in numbers that Republicans typically aren’t able to. Besides helping get him elected, he now had a mandate for policy, and Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act was a direct consequence of the way he ran his campaign.
Again, you don’t have to like Bush’s particular policy prescriptions to appreciate the chain of events here. The point is that education can matter if politicians decide it does. And if politicians campaign on an issue, they can then govern behind a mandate.
It's not clear that Donald Trump has spent much time thinking about our nation’s public schools, so it’s no surprise he hasn’t spent much time talking about it.
But Hillary Clinton is another story. She’s devoted large portions of her life to fighting for kids who depend on our public schools. We heard Bill recount this history on Wednesday night. The reason Clinton hasn’t spoken up about education this year isn’t because she doesn’t care or doesn’t have ideas; it’s because the politics within the Democratic Party don’t encourage it. As Kate Pennington and I pointed out last month, Clinton relied on a coalition of union workers and black and Hispanic families to win the nomination. Those groups are opposed to change on a range of education issues, including charter schools and the role of testing and school reform efforts.
Why should Clinton risk Democratic Party unity to speak out on education?
For starters, it would be the right thing to do. No one can reasonably assert our public schools are as good as they could or should be, especially for students with disabilities and low-income, black, and Hispanic students who depend on them the most.
But more importantly, Clinton should have laid out her education policies so she’ll have legitimacy to act on education once she becomes president. In particular, Clinton declined to speak out during last year’s debate over the Every Student Succeeds Act. Now that the law’s signed, there are significant implementation issues left to be addressed. The law leans on vague phrases like “significant progress,” “meaningful differentiation,” and “consistently underperforming,” and the federal government is currently soliciting feedback on what exactly these phrases should mean.
What do these phrases mean to Clinton, and how aggressive would she be in defining them? Does she support equalizing funding in low-income schools, even if it means some districts would have to change their funding structures? What kind of leader would she put in place to oversee regulations and implementation of the new law?
We don’t know the answer to these questions, but they matter. Without signaling what she prefers, Clinton won’t have as much leeway once she’s elected. Silence, too, has consequences.
We may not have heard much substantive conversation about education from the podiums in Cleveland and Philadelphia, but that shouldn't discourage us from pushing the dialogue forward. If you care about education or the direction of education policy in this country, you should want your politicians to speak up about it, too.
I spent a good portion of Thursday evening, while watching Hillary Clinton’s history-making acceptance speech from inside the Wells Fargo Arena, thinking about one of my elementary school classmates back in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, one of a string of middle-class suburbs that cropped up outside the state capital of Harrisburg after World War II.
Amy, who had Down Syndrome, was in my class starting in third grade. Although I'm sure she was pulled out for the core academic classes, she was definitely around for recess and art and music and the field trips (including our fourth-grade trip to Philadelphia in conjunction with that year’s social studies lesson on Pennsylvania history.) She was in my Brownie troop, too, raising her pinky and putting on a fake British accent with the rest of the girls as we practiced our best manners at a Mother’s Day tea.
I’d heard the story of Clinton’s work with the Children’s Defense Fund probably a dozen times before Thursday. A slight running joke in my newsroom during the DNC was, “Did you know that Hillary worked for the Children’s Defense Fund?”
Of course you did if you care about education and have paid even half-attention to the election. You know the story too: puzzled by the discrepancy between the number of school-age kids on the census and the number enrolled in local schools, Children’s Defense Fund researchers, including Clinton, set out to find those kids and figure out why they weren't in school.
The missing, for the most part, were children kept out of school because they had some sort of disability. Clinton remembered one particularly in her speech Thursday night, a girl in a wheelchair in the working class town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, who sat on her parents back porch, longing to go to school.
That research, Clinton said Thursday, became the impetus for the law now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a major civil rights education law that came into being in 1975.
“It’s a big idea, isn’t it? Every kid with a disability has a right to go to school,” Clinton said Thursday. “But how do you make an idea like that real? You do it step by step, year by year, sometimes even door by door.”
I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until I was sitting in that crowded convention hall, watching a barrier be lifted, that I truly realized just how big of a deal it was that — thanks to that year-by-year progress — Amy’s presence in those classes and at that tea wasn’t novel at all. Nor was it out of the ordinary for Abigail, another intellectually disabled classmate, to beat me at bowling in high school gym class. Or to see Dan, maybe the smartest kid in our class at Cedar Cliff High School, passing through the hallway, also in a wheelchair, during his too-brief period of remission as he battled a brain tumor.
It’s been easy, as a reporter trying to cover education in this election, to get bogged down in bemoaning the lack of substantive debate on education or giving too much weight to a throwaway applause line in a speech. Something to tweet about finally.
We can talk till we’re winded about why Obama didn’t discuss his education legacy and what that means about the civil rights/labor union split in the Democratic Party on education, or about what the GOP’s backing away from the Common Core — despite its support from the usually Republican-aligned business community — means about the future of that party.
The Democrats’ convention was also notable for the prominent speaking roles given to several disabled Americans. Children and adults with disabilities were for too long marginalized and segregated in a way that didn’t give them a voice in their own lives. Clinton remembered them in her speech Thursday night and so did I.
Gov. Cuomo demands equal school funding at DNC — but his home state tilts in the wrong direction
Sen. Bernie Sanders focused much of his 2016 primary bid on income inequality and the million-ahs and billion-ahs who, in his eyes, immorally and illegally profit at the hands of working men and women.
Early Thursday evening at the DNC, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo shifted that focus towards inequal support of America’s youngest citizens.
There are two education systems in the United States – not public and private, but rich and poor – Cuomo told the already-over-capacity arena in Philadelphia.
If you go to a school on the “rich side of town,” leaders will show you how all the first graders have laptops, Cuomo said. On the poor side of town, though, “the most sophisticated piece of equipment is the metal detector.”
Cuomo's emphasis on school funding marks a sharp departure from comments he made about education dollars in 2014: “We spend more than any other state in the country. It ain’t about the money. It’s about how you spend it — and the results.” The advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education — a New York-based nonprofit that backs increasing school funding — has also criticized Cuomo’s record on this issue. A 2015 report from the group says that under his watch, funding disparities between rich and poor districts has increased and now amounts to several thousand dollars less per pupil. A recent report from the Education Law Center rated New York as “flat” for its funding fairness (the middle of three categories).
Democratic voters are sure to hear more about the issue in the coming months; school funding within districts has become one of the political flashpoints in implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal K-12 education law.
That ongoing funding inequity, Cuomo concluded, “is not educating every child equally."
From mass incarceration to education: Hillary Clinton's second chance
In 1996, Hillary Clinton, in support of her husband’s sweeping crime bill, gave an interview in which she invoked the “superpredator,” a criminal so corrupted that they were irredeemable. That narrative stoked the fear that has driven two decades of prison and jail expansion, militarized local police, and zero tolerance school discipline policies. But times have changed.
In just the last few years, we’ve watched the tide turn in our national discourse on incarceration, and it’s clear that the speakers at the convention have joined the call by Education Secretary John King and others to shift resources away from the criminal justice system and into our schools. It’s not just our federal leaders — in a crisis of conscience, states, school districts, and public charter schools are rethinking their approaches to student behavior. They’re spurred by a realization that they have been complicit in a broken system.
Dr. Maya Angelou once reflected, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” During the primary campaign, there were loud voices insisting that Hillary’s 1996 comments were fair game for criticism. And they were. But if we as a society take the principles of growth and redemption seriously, then we need to take a close look at what’s different about this campaign and how Clinton has changed in the last 20 years. If you believe in second chances, then that stuff matters.
Hillary has spoken explicitly about racial justice, mass incarceration, and the need to invest in supportive services in communities. Kate Burdick, a long-time education advocate, Eric Holder, and the students of Eagle Academy, joined the lineup of speakers to talk about Hillary’s focus on education and justice reform. On Monday night, Bernie Sanders credited Hillary Clinton with understanding that we need to make sure that young people "are in good schools and in good jobs, not rotting in jail cells."
And while Hillary shouldn’t be accountable for her husband’s policies, she is responsible for her own words — words that she now publicly regrets.
If she now follows up that regret with real action on education like her platform suggests, it could be a demonstration of the self-aware leader who does better once they know better — and an example for us all.
In an interview yesterday with Education Week, National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia floated a new epitaph for education reformers: "their balloon is pffft!" And with the notable exception of Michael Bloomberg, those sentiments have been on display at the DNC podium in Philadelphia this week.
If Secretary Clinton succeeds President Obama, it appears education reformers may lose influence in K-12 while teacher unions take the driver’s seat on policy.
But I’d argue the long-term trends are actually in education reform’s favor:
- School choice is here to stay because families want a say in where their children go to school. We are now arguing about the best ways to offer families choice, not whether empowering families is a good idea.
- This may be counterintuitive, but I think a Clinton presidency will increase the types of innovations we see from the education reform community. I expect new forays into areas like career and technical education, social-emotional learning, and community engagement — areas that have not garnered as much attention from reformers in the past. We’ll also see a third wave of innovations from high-performing charter schools [Note: I fund high-performing, charter public schools in my day job]. The result: a bigger political tent and a more innovative platform.
- I believe Latinos and African-Americans will exert more pressure on traditional education systems to improve. Communities of color are growing in size and importance. There is pressure to diversify public education leadership. And the leadership baton is being handed from one generation to the next. My father had Jesse Jackson and Henry Cisneros. My generation has Brittany Packnett and HUD Secretary Julian Castro. The Democratic Party already has a wary relationship with civil rights groups when it comes to education. Some day we’ll see a Mothers of the Movement-like speech at the Democratic convention about our schools. I suspect people of color will realign politically around public education in powerful, albeit unpredictable, ways.
- The long-term financial outlook for many traditional school districts is rough. Unfunded pension and benefit liabilities means dollars are being taken out of classrooms and teacher paychecks are shrinking because school districts have no other way to pay their retirees. In Pennsylvania for example, schools must pay 30 cents to the retirement system for every dollar of payroll. This also means any new school funding covers pension shortfalls and never finds its way to teachers and classrooms. Voters will wonder if there is a better way and unions will spend massive political capital on taxpayer bailouts.
A transition from Obama to Clinton is a pendulum swing, not a permanent realignment. Reformers may find some of their White House invitations get lost in the mail and that the political temperature goes up for a few years, but the opportunities to create better schools for children may be greater than ever.
Last month, Hillary Clinton laid out an initiative on technology and innovation at Galvanize, a nationally-recognized technology incubator in Denver. The proposals are wide-ranging, from talent to cyber security — and, surprisingly, may include what’s perhaps her most detailed K-12 plan around STEM education.
The slate of proposals is impressive and it includes ideas that will keep many sectors competitive domestically and globally. But for some reason, many of the strategies that Clinton proposes for transforming manufacturing, transportation, energy, and healthcare don’t explicitly apply to the education sector.
Instead, Clinton’s platform positions the education sector as a means to an end, preparing a knowledgeable workforce that will advance other sectors — but the sector is not recognized as one that would benefit from serious innovation efforts that others enjoy.
This perception is indicative of how most people, even reformers, perceive the education sector. Perhaps it’s because the U.S. education system is so localized, because people and lessons from the private sector are suspect, or because there isn’t a lot of exposure to successful and responsible innovation efforts. Whatever the reason, this perception is keeping the education sector from evolving and improving.
Our country’s worst performing schools and chronically underperforming districts do their best to make incremental improvements, because the K-12 education sector in America lacks the kind of robust public and private infrastructure to take on serious innovation.
For all of the rhetoric about staying competitive with Singapore and Finland, scant attention is given to the role that innovation can play in making that happen. Research, development, and innovation-friendly policies are critical in keeping other sectors competitive. Why shouldn’t that be true for education?
While the context may differ, the concepts that drive innovation in other sectors can and should apply to the education sector. Clinton’s campaign could fill its vacuous K-12 education platform with ideas it already has in its innovation and technology platform.
Here are a few strategies that Clinton should apply to education:
Increase Access to Capital for Growth-Oriented Small Businesses and Start-Ups, with a Focus on Minority, Women, and Young Entrepreneurs: There’s a lot in Clinton’s technology proposal — incubator creation, student loan deferral for entrepreneurs, and global recruiting for STEM professionals and entrepreneurs — all of which have applications in education. Tom Vander Ark of Getting Smart and David Fu of 4.0 Schools make the case that intermediaries like incubators, accelerators, and funders are key to making an education ecosystem thriving and dynamic. My own project underway at Bellwether to measure the level of innovation in education ecosystems supports this notion. Clinton’s announcement at Galvnize signals their importance. When combined with strategies to recruit entrepreneurs, startup assistance for organizations that launch new school models, programs, and products can get a city or state’s innovation flywheel spinning.
Invest in Science and Technology R&D and Make Tech Transfer Easier: According to the Clinton campaign’s brief, “Hillary believes the benefits of government investment in research and development (R&D) are profound and irrefutable.” Yet her commitment to R&D doesn’t extend to the education sector. Right now, the U.S. invests only around three percent of its federal education budget on R&D, and the trends don’t look like that’ll change any time soon. The R&D obligations for the federal Department of Education have been decreasing steadily since 2006. The DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement’s 2017 budget is down 17 percent from 2016 compared to a department-wide reduction of just 0.32 percent. Closing the opportunity gap has proven more difficult than putting a man on the moon, so perhaps our investments in innovation should match the enormity of the challenges educators face.
Ensure Benefits are Flexible, Portable, and Comprehensive as Work Changes: In a recent blog post, my colleague Max Marchitello points out that most teacher pension plans restrict the mobility and savings potential of teachers, and Clinton’s proposal to create flexible, portable, and comprehensive benefits to workers should apply to the second largest workforce in America: "The teacher workforce — like nearly every labor force in America — has evolved considerably. No longer are teachers educators for life, nor do they live in a single state decade after decade. Teachers are mobile. They enter and exit the workforce at different points in their lives. Nevertheless, teacher pension systems have persisted for more than a century with more or less the same structure. By increasing flexibility and portability for teacher retirement benefits, we can ensure that teachers don’t have to choose between working with kids and earning a healthy start on retirement saving.”
Reduce Barriers to Entry and Promote Healthy Competition: One of the more interesting, powerful, and likely controversial ideas for increasing innovation in the education sector is to make sure entrepreneurs don’t have to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to implement new ideas. The brief states that "Hillary will challenge state and local governments to identify, review, and reform legal and regulatory obligations that protect legacy incumbents against new innovators. Examples include state regulations governing automotive dealers that stifle innovation and restrict market access, or local rules governing utility-pole access that restrain additional fiber and small cell broadband deployment.”
A classic example of this happening in the education sector is when school districts (legacy incumbents) make access to facilities for charter schools difficult or impossible to prevent their openings or expansions. So many policies and special interests exist specifically to protect legacy incumbents that pursuing this with seriousness would shake up the K-12 education space considerably.
Open up More Government Data for Public Uses: Data is essential for good decision-making, but accessing and analyzing government data in the education sector is often a dreadful experience, a topic about which I’ve recently written. Opening up more government data for public use is important, but the federal government can also use its heft to collect and analyze complicated quantitative data. A recent report on K-12 labor productivity by the Bureau of Labor Statistics signals that this may occur more in the future. Clinton could take a more aggressive stance and require states to conform to specific data reporting standards and timelines.
When ESSA is shifting power to states, quarterbacking innovation efforts would be a way for the federal government to extend their influence beyond policing states accountability systems. And, the U.S. Department of Education already has an office to do it.
The DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) is a natural home for these activities, but a mindset shift would be required there to make them happen. It would have to focus more on creating and executing on policies that create the conditions for others to implement new ideas instead of funding programs with very specific aims. Their Investing in Innovation (I3) grant competition, Race to the Top District, and credit enhancement service for charter school facilities are example of steps in the right direction.
Realizing the vision to make the U.S. education system equitable and excellent will require new ideas and new ideas happen through innovation activities. Other industries have made innovation a central strategy to stay competitive and there are many lessons that can inform the education sector. If Clinton should become president and wants to modernize the federal role in K-12 education, she’d benefit from looking at her own proposals for other sectors for a path forward.
“Hey guys … Where are you from?”
It was Joe Biden, walking over to shake hands and talk with almost 40 students who’d traveled from the all-boys Eagle Academy for Young Men in New York City to represent their school on the national stage.
Chatting with the vice president was one of the heart-stopping highlights of a whirlwind day in Philadelphia, said Mayfield, a rising sophomore from the Morris Heights section of the Bronx.
“If you put in the effort and you live by (the Eagle Academy motto) CLEAR — confidence, leadership, effort, academic excellence and resilience — the opportunities are endless,” the teen said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“Look at me,” he added, “when I was on stage at the Democratic convention with my Eagle Brothers, I just can’t believe … how many boys who look like me can say they achieved that?”
The students chanted “Invictus” for Biden — one of his favorite poems, the vice president told them, which he’d taught to his son Beau, who died last year — a preview of the performance they’d give before the full convention hall later that evening.
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”
The title of the poem by the English writer William Ernest Henley comes from the Latin “undefeated” or “unconquerable.” Nelson Mandela drew strength from it while in prison, Eagle Academy President and CEO David Banks said, and Eagle Academy students recite it daily as a rousing reaffirmation of their own courage and dignity as they confront challenges.
When the first Eagle Academy opened in the Bronx in 2004, with Banks as its principal, it was the first-of-its-kind all-boys public school in New York, Banks said.
That school year, 2004-05, only 30 percent of New York City high school students graduated with a Regents diploma. Even more staggeringly, 75 percent of New York state’s entire prison population at the time came from just seven New York City neighborhoods, according to Banks.
“If you were one of the young men growing up in these areas, the odds were stacked against you,” he told the convention.
He explained to the convention audience how Hillary Clinton’s support was crucial in the years leading up to the school’s establishment. In 2001, then-Sen. Clinton co-sponsored a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act that provided federal funds to single-sex public schools, spurring local school districts across the country to experiment with gender segregation.
“She was our earliest champion,” Banks said. “One leader who understood that addressing the crisis facing young men of color in our country required innovative measures.”
The school was established through a collaboration with the nonprofit One Hundred Black Men, and Clinton helped encourage then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to support the public-private partnership, according to her website.
Like all public schools, Eagle Academy receives taxpayer funding; it also has an active fundraising operation, the Eagle Academy Foundation, which helps support an extended school day and Saturday programming, Banks said.
Today it serves about 3,000 young men, mostly of color, at six locations — one in each New York City borough and one in Newark, New Jersey. Since its first graduation in 2008, which Clinton attended, the academies have graduated about 1,000 students. Roughly 83 percent of students graduate and 98 percent are accepted to college, Banks said.
His students’ televised appearance at the convention, Banks said, served as an important reminder to a populace that is far too often awash in negative images of young African American and Latino men.
“Today we have young men who are confident, future leaders who are resilient. Just look at them, America,” Banks boomed, drawing applause. “They are brilliant and full of promise.”
The message of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s ad is simple.
Young big-eyed children watch a television set with fixed gazes as her Republican rival, Donald Trump, says offensive things about Mexican immigrants, women and a disabled reporter.
Then these words flash across the screen: “Our children are watching. What example will we set for them?”
It’s not the first time that this idea — that voters should pick a president who is a good role model for children — has surfaced in this election. In a much-heralded speech before the Democratic National Convention on Monday night, First Lady Michelle Obama echoed similar sentiments when she said that she and President Barack Obama take seriously their job as role models for kids.
“We know that our words and actions matter not just to our girls, but to children across this country —kids who tell us, 'I saw you on TV, I wrote a report on you for school,’” she said.
Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, seemed to rebut the suggestion that her father would be a poor role model for America’s youth by instructing voters during the Republican National Convention to “judge his values by those he’s instilled in his children.”
But are politicians really role models for kids? At a time when it’s easy to peruse the latest vacation photos of your favorite pop artist on Instagram or become a celebrity in your own right through sheer volume of YouTube views, are kids really looking to the occupant of the Oval Office for validation, motivation and moral grounding?
A few research studies suggest the answer is yes—mostly for kids who see themselves reflected back in the president’s image. Since at least 1995, social scientists have argued that members of negatively stereotyped groups (think women in a math or engineering class and African Americans on a host of cognitive tasks) are at risk of conforming to that stereotype simply because they are aware of it.
Seeing someone of your social group achieve an ultimate marker of success, such as being elected to office, can interrupt that negative default. In fact, a 2006 study in the Journal of Politics found that when women politicians get more national news coverage, young girls are more likely to say they intend to be politically active themselves.
Likewise in 2009, a team of researchers from three universities released a study that argued that there was an “Obama Effect” on the academic performance of black Americans because of his accomplishments. The researchers gave a 20-question test to blacks and whites four times during 2008, two times when his candidacy was particularly soaring (the day after the Democratic National Convention and the day after the election) and two more ordinary days.
When Obama’s “stereotype-defying accomplishments” were getting national exposure, black’s performance on the exam was improved.
“In some testing situations, they experience a ‘stereotype threat’ and perform poorly,” Sei Jin Ko, one of the study’s authors told The Daily Northwestern. “It’s not that they don’t have the ability to do well, but they feel that if they don’t do well, they will perpetuate the negative stereotype and in turn, this worry makes them do worse.”
The extent that a president’s election can offset the effects of the stereotype threat may have something to do with the way adolescents interpret their success. A 2011 study found that when women were reminded of the stereotype that their gender struggled with math, they were less successful on a cognitive test.
But when they read a story about Hillary Clinton’s life and indicated beforehand that they thought her accomplishments were deserved, they scored better. For women who attributed Hillary Clinton’s rise to luck or connections, reading about her life offered no protection against the stereotype threat.
On Tuesday after officially securing the Democratic nomination, Clinton wasted no time portraying her candidacy as a milestone achievement, saying in a video, "We just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet."
Flashback: The first time Hillary Clinton was tested as a public school supporter
The year was 1993.
President Bill Clinton had just beat Republican incumbent George H. Bush and the first family was facing an early political test: Where would they send Chelsea Clinton, their 12-year-old daughter and only child, to school?
On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton had portrayed himself as an ardent supporter of public education. He even sent his daughter to Horace Mann Magnet Middle School, a public school in Little Rock, Arkansas where 59 percent of the students were black and 41 percent white. (Today, out of some 760 students, 58 percent are black, 26.5 percent are white, 11.7 are Hispanic and 1.7 percent are Asian.)
Local Washington, D.C. officials invited the first family to choose a city school as a show of good faith. But days before Clinton’s inauguration, the family announced that Chelsea would be attending one of the region’s most exclusive private institutions: Sidwell Friends School.
"It's an academically challenging school," Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos said at the time. "And it's a school that Chelsea and her parents feel that she'll be challenged and productive and happy in."
Chelsea Clinton would join an elite group of students that included the children of Washington Post publisher Donald E. Graham, former New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.
Criticism of the Clintons’ school choice was swift and broad.
Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of city public school systems, called the Clintons’ decision an "unfortunate vote of no confidence in urban education.”
Enrolling Chelsea in a public school "would have been an excellent opportunity to spur greater parental involvement in urban public schools and to work hand in glove with the public schools from both a political and personal standpoint" he said.
Former D.C. school board member Sandra Butler-Truesdale told The Washington Post that if Clinton had picked a public school, “it would have boosted the morale of educators in this city. It would have made such a big difference in the way education is delivered.”
Rebuke also came from national political figures. Then-Secretary of Education and now U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told CBS Morning News that the first family made a wise choice for their daughter — Alexander’s son had just graduated from Sidwell Friends — but were being hypocritical because Clinton opposed Republican calls for school vouchers that would have helped needy parents make a similar choice.
Bill Clinton had argued that vouchers would drain money from public schools; Hillary Clinton also opposes the policy.
With tuition at Sidwell Friends back then more than $10,000 a year, some 27 percent of its 1,030 students were minorities when Chelsea Clinton was admitted. Sidwell Friends remains popular among Washington’s powerful families, most famously President Barack Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha. The school’s tuition has risen to $39,360, with only 23 percent of students receiving any kind of financial aid, according to the its website. The school was founded in 1883 by Thomas W. Sidwell to uphold the Quaker principles of peace and justice.
Even former president Jimmy Carter, who was the first president in 71 years to send a child to a D.C. public school while in office, said he was “disappointed.” His daughter, Amy, attended public schools throughout her four years in Washington, including Stevens Elementary School and Hardy Middle School, a predominantly black school. Amy Carter went onto Brown University but was asked to leave her sophomore year. She finished at Memphis College of Art and then got her master’s at Tulane University.
Chelsea went onto Stanford University (and Columbia and Oxford); Malia will enter Harvard in fall 2017 after taking a gap year. The Bush daughters, Jenna and Barbara, had both graduated from Austin High School in 2000, the spring before their father took office. Jenna went onto the University of Texas and Barbara became the fourth-generation Bush to attend Yale.
Amid the Sidwell storm, the Clinton family defended the choice saying, “we believe this decision is best for our daughter at this time in her life based on our changing circumstances." Hillary Clinton added later that a private school would allow the family to better maintain Chelsea’s privacy—a sentiment she reiterated in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.”
"Our decision about where to send Chelsea to school had inspired passionate debate inside and outside the Beltway, largely because of its symbolic significance. I understood the disappointment felt by advocates of public education when we chose Sidwell Friends, a private Quaker school, particularly when Chelsea attended public schools in Arkansas. But the decision for Bill and me rested on one simple fact: private schools were private property, hence off limits to news media. Public schools were not. The last thing we wanted was television cameras and news reporters following our daughter throughout the school day as they had when President Carter’s daughter, Amy, attended public school.”
The press during Bill Clinton’s administration would, in fact, develop a general no-coverage rule when it came to the First Family’s children.
On Chelsea’s graduation day from Sidwell, though the Clintons did not seem to mind the public attention. During a two-hour outdoor ceremony, President Clinton gave a short, bittersweet talk in which he instructed the high school graduates to “indulge your folks” if they seem sad as they remember all the milestones their children have reached. Obama actually declined an invitation to speak at Malia’s graduation, saying he would be wearing dark glasses and crying.
Hillary Clinton also waxed nostalgic in her syndicated newspaper column that week: “Like parents across the country," she wrote. “We find ourselves fighting back tears as we contemplate what our days will be like when our daughter leaves the nest to embark on a new stage of life."
Tonight, it will be Hillary embarking on a new stage of life — and history — when Chelsea introduces her mother, who will make her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Forget Joe Biden or Tim Kaine or Lenny Kravitz – one of the breakout stars last night at the Democratic convention was a spirited septuagenarian school board member from Ohio.
The crowd inside the Wells Fargo Center was confused at first, when the announcer said the speaker introducing President Obama would be someone named Sharon Belkofer. She knew it, too, saying she had a sense the audience was asking itself why this “little old lady,” a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, was on stage.
Belkofer, it turns out, has quite the story. One of her sons was killed in Afghanistan, and she ended up meeting the president twice. Inspired by their second meeting, she says she vowed to make a difference herself.
"I knew my community's schools needed more resources, so at age 73, I took a leap of faith and ran for my local school board,” she told the immediately-delighted crowd, which erupted into one of the louder cheers of the evening.
When her back acted up as she was campaigning, walking the street and knocking on doors, Belkofer says she kept on, inspired by her son and by President Obama. And, she quipped, “they say walking is good for your back.”
She won the election – big, she said – and earned a seat on the Rossford Exempted Village Schools in northwestern Ohio. The President wrote to congratulate her.
And that's how Sharon Belkofer landed a prime-time slot at the Democratic National Convention.
Courage, conviction, and chutzpah. It was classic Mike Bloomberg at last night's DNC convention, as the former mayor of New York City (and my former boss) spoke to a primetime audience about why He's With Her.
While passionately making the case for Hillary Clinton, slinging zinger after zinger at Trump, he also admitted his differences with the Democratic nominee and both political parties. "I don’t believe either party has a monopoly on good ideas or strong leadership," he said, going on to chide Democrats for standing in the way of education reform, among other policies. That elicited a few boos, but not as many as I would have expected given how the teacher's unions have been touting their influence throughout the convention.
Why raise the issue of education? Because Bloomberg has witnessed what's actually possible. As mayor of the largest school system in the country, he partnered with visionary schools chancellor Joel I. Klein to stand up to teacher unions and push politics aside to do everything in their power to ensure all 1.1 million NYC students had access to a quality public education. I know, because I saw it firsthand as part of their crusade to put children first.
Bloomberg and Klein are responsible for implementing far-reaching changes in the system as part of the most ambitious urban school district reform in recent history. But Bloomberg didn't say what he said to the Democrats because of what he and Joel Klein did. He said it because of what their work did for students.
My colleague Matt Barnum surveyed the research on these reforms just yesterday: "Teacher quality seemed to improve as tenure decisions became stricter; schools with an F letter grade got better; small schools boosted high school graduation and college enrollment; charter schools improved test scores; school closures led more students to graduate; retained students did better on tests; new teachers, particularly those in high-poverty schools, had better qualifications; schools in the city were funded more equitably."
And the list goes on.
Bloomberg and Klein led the most ambitious overhaul of any city school system so that it worked on behalf of all students, and not on behalf of just some. That took standing up to special interests who benefitted from maintaining the status quo. It took standing up to the Democratic machine.
There's a lot of speculation as to whether Hillary Clinton will pivot away from President Obama's forward-thinking education policies, which embraced innovation and created pathways enabling students to choose a high-quality school. In deciding which way to go, Hillary should take take a cue from one of her most important, courageous, and sensible surrogates, Mike Bloomberg.
Disclosure: The 74 is partially funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which was founded by Michael Bloomberg.
When Erica Smegielski heard there was a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, she grabbed her keys and rushed to the building where her mother worked as the principal. At first, she couldn’t believe her mother had been gunned down, murdered, along with 20 children and five other staff members.
Like too many other American victims of gun violence, she couldn’t wake up from her worst nightmare.
“We don’t need another Charleston, or San Bernardino, or Dallas, or countless other acts of everyday gun violence that don’t make the headlines,” Smegielski said in her speech Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “We don’t need our teachers and our principals going to work in fear. What we need is another mother who is willing to do what’s right, whose bravery can live up in equal measure to my mom’s.”
Through the lens of school violence, Smegielski used the DNC stage to highlight American gun violence as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton promotes expanded criminal background checks and the renewal of a ban on assault rifles on the campaign trail. For decades, America’s relationship with guns and mass shootings has been framed — both by Democrats and Republicans — around violence against students and educators.
In fact, Wednesday night’s focus on criminal justice reform and gun violence occurred just days before the 50th anniversary of America’s first mass shooting on a college campus, in which Austin police officers found themselves outgunned by a University of Texas engineering student who killed 16 people from the 27th floor of a campus tower. On Aug. 1, the anniversary of the killing, a controversial state law will go into effect that loosens handgun restrictions on college campuses.
On Wednesday, Smegielski shared the stage with victims of the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed on June 12, and victims of the Emanuel Church shooting in Charleston, S.C., where nine people were murdered in June 2015.
The debates, and policies intended to crack down on school violence, intensified following the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 in Colorado, and again after the Sandy Hook violence in Newtown, Conn. Together, the two high-profile incidents also contributed to surges in public interest around school-based policing. After Sandy Hook, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre called for an increase in armed police officers in schools.
Shortly after, President Obama reacted with an executive order that paid to put a new batch of resource officers and counselors in schools. Today, there are about 19,000 sworn police officers stationed in schools nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates. In fact, three of the nation’s five biggest school districts employ more security officers than counselors.
The shooting at Sandy Hook also prompted stricter gun laws in Connecticut, New York, and Virginia. And after a deadly high school shooting in 2014 in Oregon, Obama highlighted stricter gun control measures enacted in Australia after a mass shooting left 35 people dead.
“A couple of decades ago Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine or Newtown, and Australia just said, ‘Well, that’s it. We’re not doing — we’re not seeing that again,’ and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since,” Obama said. “I mean, our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no other advanced, developed country on earth that would put up with this.”
While both parties have used tragedies in public schools to frame their stance on the gun control debate, discussions at the DNC Wednesday were near opposite from those last week at the Republican National Convention.
At the Cleveland event, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump painted a picture of an out-of-control crime wave in America. But as The Washington Post has highlighted, America is safer today than it has been in decades, despite an uptick in homicides in some major U.S. cities in 2015. But homicide rates in the U.S. do outpace most other developed countries, a point Democrats have been quick to highlight when discussing gun control.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in 2015 that would ban carrying concealed guns on school and university campuses following a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where nine people were killed. During an October 2015 campaign event in Tennessee, Trump said the shooting wouldn’t have been as tragic had the teachers been armed.
“By the way, it was a gun-free zone,” Trump said. “Let me tell you, if you had a couple teachers with guns in that room, you would have been a hell of a lot better off.”
Despite all the focus on violence in American schools, a May 2016 report from the U.S. departments of Education and Justice, crime in America’s K-12 schools has declined over the past two decades. And while tragic school shootings grab national headlines, less than 3 percent of youth homicides occur at school. During the 2012-13 school year — the most recent data available — there were 53 school-associated violent deaths, including homicides and suicides, in K-12 schools.
“The data show that we have made progress; bullying is down, crime is down, but it’s not enough,” Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a news release in May. “There is still much policy makers should be concerned about. Incident levels are still much too high.”
Editor's note: In his appearance at the DNC Wednesday night, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it clear he was appearing as an independent, and said he typically disagrees with Democrats on some key issues — notably deficit reduction and education reform. The comment elicited scattered boos in the arena. Below, Matt Barnum reviews why that rift on education may exist, and re-examines what Bloomberg did in terms of reforming New York's schools — the most extensive effort this century to reform a large American urban school system.
In endorsing President Obama for re-election in 2012, outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised Obama’s efforts on a handful of specific issues, including climate change, gun control, same-sex marriage, and school reform.
Bloomberg, who won control of the city’s schools early in his tenure, strongly supported the president’s education policies, writing, “[Obama’s] Race to the Top education program — much of which was opposed by the teachers’ unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency — has helped drive badly needed reform across the country, giving local districts leverage to strengthen accountability in the classroom and expand charter schools.”
When Bloomberg speaks tonight at the DNC, however, he will address a party and endorse a candidate that may be signaling an intention to break from Obama’s reform legacy — as well as from Bloomberg’s mayoral record.
When the billionaire media mogul entered office in 2002, New York City’s Board of Education had long been derided for what many saw as poor performance and disorder. Bloomberg successfully sought authority over the system and appointed Bill Clinton’s former White House counsel Joel Klein. The decision was informed by Klein’s prosecution of the government’s antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s; Bloomberg believed that a proven trust-buster, despite a lack of educational experience, was the best choice to reform the city’s mammoth Department of Education.
Under Klein and Bloomberg, New York City rapidly implemented a series of aggressive reforms: closing down low-performing schools, backing the expansion of charter schools and small schools of choice, making it tougher for teachers to receive tenure, retaining elementary school students who failed state exams, raising teacher pay and connecting it to school performance, and grading schools on an A–F scale based largely on standardized test performance.
Subsequent research showed encouraging results for many of these initiatives. Teacher quality seemed to improve as tenure decisions became stricter; schools with an F letter grade got better; small schools boosted high school graduation and college enrollment; charter schools improved test scores; school closures led more students to graduate; retained students did better on tests; new teachers, particularly those in high-poverty schools, had better qualifications; schools in the city were funded more equitably.
But Bloomberg’s policies faced fierce resistance from teachers and their union; the city’s Democratic political establishment, which had close ties to the union; and community groups opposed to the closing of their neighborhood schools and an emphasis on high-stakes testing.
Some argued that school closures destabilized communities and that the city’s high school choice policy was inequitable. Bloomberg’s seemingly off-handed selection of publishing executive Cathie Black to replace Klein was widely derided and she resigned after less than a year. The city also ended its school-based teacher performance pay plan when it failed to lead to achievement gains.
Many criticized what they saw as the administration’s top-down decision-making. For instance, after school board members appointed by Bloomberg said they might vote against a grade retention plan that he supported, the mayor promptly fired the dissenters. And although supporters of Bloomberg hailed record graduation rates, growth on federal tests lagged behind other big cities between 2005 and 2013.
Bloomberg’s successor, current mayor, Bill de Blasio, campaigned on (and subsequently kept) promises to roll back some of Bloomberg’s policies, including eliminating letter grades for schools and curtailing school closures.
Bloomberg is known for speaking his mind. Which then begs the question: will he mention education policy — a rarely seen hot potato in the campaign and at the convention — when he steps to the podium tonight, and use his moment in the spotlight to make the case for his brand of school reform?
Disclosure: The 74 is partially funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which was founded by Michael Bloomberg.
When the DNC does get around to talking about education, I hope they won't forget the kids who don't make it to — and through — school
After a painful week observing the Republican National Convention — the fear mongering and the eerie feeling that none of the speakers were addressing me as a black woman — I'm relieved to now be watching the Democratic National Convention. While still political theater, I expect to observe something a little more familiar and directed at my interests.
I have to admit, though, that after two nights, I’m apprehensive about how education will really shape the DNC conversation. If the campaign thus far is any indication, how we educate our nation’s children is likely to receive little mention as things wrap up in Philadelphia. And if it does, I anticipate testing, opting out, teacher evaluation, and other more popular (or political) education topics will be the issues that receive airtime.
I might not agree with what is said, but at least the topics will come up and we can argue the merits. What is less likely to be mentioned is the over 5 million opportunity youth — 16-24-year-olds who are disconnected from school and work — and what is needed to create post-secondary pathways that allow them to access education and careers.
Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda” does include investments in pathways for these young people, but what does it say about us as a country when mention of our most challenged young adults doesn’t elevate to the level of national discourse — when one out of seven young people are an afterthought to our education conversations and policy priorities?
I've spent much of the past several years working with and for young adults who’ve veered away from traditional pathways. They are smart and determined, but they need alternative on-ramps to success. Many employers — through The Grads of Life campaign and 100,000 Opportunities Initiative — are working hard to expand access to education and employment for opportunity youth. It may be a big ask, but I would like those of us who are in the business of fighting for educational equity to step outside of our comfort zones to add this group of young people to the list of children for whom we fight.
Maybe adding our voices and energy to the equation could give this issue a boost and generate political will for Clinton — if elected — to act on her commitment to these often forgotten young adults. And maybe this issue — which enjoys some degree of bipartisan support — is an area where we can find common ground to lead us towards an agenda that does more to serve all our children.
The last few years haven’t been a great time to be a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives — particularly if you're a Democrat who wants to increase the federal role in K-12 education.
"We’ve been in a political environment on the Hill where there are people who just do not believe that this a national policy issue, [that] education is just all sort of outside of the national purview," Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut said at a Wednesday event in Philadelphia hosted by The Atlantic.
Being relegated to the minority hasn’t kept Democrats from thinking about what they’d like to see, though.
Courtney, for example, wants to see more schools have health centers. Available medical care can help boost academic performance and attendance, he argued. They’re also the “perfect model” to deal with mental health concerns, he said at the event, which was underwritten by the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.
Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, meanwhile, was thinking bigger. As in, reconfiguring the whole system of school funding, bigger.
"We do have to change the model for funding. If the median household income are $20,000 in one place and home values are $100,000, those schools aren’t going to be resourced in the same way as other communities with half a million dollar homes or even more than that," she said.
Edwards – who will leave Congress at the end of the year after an unsuccessful bid for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat – also argued policy has to change outside of education to benefit schools and students. The country has to have paid family and sick leave, and raise the minimum wage, she said.
"On the one hand, we blame the parents who aren’t engaged. You don’t come to the PTA meetings, you’re not engaged in your school, you don’t provide sort of the extras [wealthier] schools get. You have parents working two and three jobs and can’t do that. Raise the wage base so that parent actually can be a better participant in their child’s education," she said.
The gap in resources and outcomes has real-world outcomes, Edwards said: students she met on the campaign trail in Baltimore know they’re being deprived.
"Kids are so smart. And they know [they’re getting less], and they don’t like it. And they’re pissed off about it. I think we have to have policymakers who get as pissed off as those kids," she said.
This election cycle, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have doggedly pursued the youth vote to varying degrees of success. As the Democratic National Convention heats up, those same young voters are on the ground in Philly — some booing, some studying, some showing careful foresight in planning for the risk of arrest.
From an education policy perspective, it’s especially interesting to see how students are lending their voices and talents to the convention conversation. Here’s how some who are currently enrolled are doing their part.
1. Delegates — College and graduate students make up only a small portion of delegates (just 10 of Pennsylvania’s 189, nine of whom support Sanders). Purdue University, Temple University, and Central Michigan University, among others, have highlighted student delegates. One of those delegates, Central Michigan’s Ethan Petzold, cited Sanders’ commitment to universal higher education, a progressive stance he says resonates with other young people, among his reasons for supporting Sanders at the convention. Also making news is Rachel Gonzalez, a 17-year-old senior in high school (high school!) and Philly’s youngest Clinton delegate. On the GOP side, California’s Claire Chiara, a 22-year-old pro-choice, pro-marriage equality UC Berkeley student, made news last week as the youngest delegate at the Republican National Convention.
2. Protestors — Several outlets have reported substantially more protestors at the DNC than the RNC; many are Sanders supporters disenchanted (or perhaps never quite enchanted at all) with both Clinton and Trump, while others support green party candidate Jill Stein. In a July 11 interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, College Students for Bernie founder Alex Forgue said his group planned to organize a meet-up and connect with other activists during the DNC. The group’s Twitter account links to a schedule of events for protesters to organize around — mostly more traditional marches and convenings, but also a candlelight vigil for the death of democracy).
3. Reporters — There’s no shortage of press at the DNC, or its GOP predecessor — the RNC credentialed 15,000 journalists. Student reporters from across the country are in Philadelphia to cover the drama — a local group has 20 high school and five middle school students on the ground, Temple University’s broadcast program has extensive coverage, and Hampton University has sent 50 public relations and journalism students to both conventions. Aimee Rodriguez, a 17-year-old Chicagoan, is eager to cover the wage gap, while Rowan University Senior Cierra Lewis plans to report on the Black Lives Matter movement.
4 & 5. Summer schoolers and interns — A few higher education institutions have built academic courses around the conventions. Students from Wake Forest University and Gallaudet University (through a partnership with Temple University) have taken their class work on the road. The Democratic National Convention Committee also hosts a group of student interns, whose operational duties include writing memos, greeting visitors, and supporting senior staff.
Through this campaign cycle, Sanders has perfected the art of courting the young college students like many of those in attendance at the DNC. Clinton, on the other hand, has largely remained one Pokémon pun away from really resonating. With so many students engaged and on the ground, the convention could be Clinton’s window to make those connections.
Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, who is married to Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, resigned from her job to focus on her husband’s campaign, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who appointed Holton in 2014, announced Tuesday.
Even as she steps aside from her post in the state education department, her leadership in Virginia K-12 education policy could help shape a Clinton-Kaine administration. She enters a campaign that’s largely focused on race and justice, just as her own time in the national spotlight began amidst a fierce school integration battle in Virginia.
Virginia lawmakers had for years waged a calculated “massive resistance” campaign to prevent public school desegregation after a federal district court judge ordered a citywide busing program in Richmond, where the public schools were sharply segregated. In an unpopular move for a southern Republican, Holton’s father, then-Gov. A. Linwood Holton, escorted his daughter Tayloe to a previously all-black public school — an historic moment that was captured in an image on the front page of The New York Times.
On that same morning in 1970, the state’s first lady, Virginia “Jinks” Holton, escorted Anne and her brother, Woody, to a formerly all-black middle school.
“We did all the things normal middle-schoolers do, but it was my first chance to get to know students whose lives were pretty different from mine, and that was invaluable,” Holton said in a 2015 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “The chance I was given to make a difference in the larger movement toward racial reconciliation in the South left its mark on me, starting me on the path toward a career in public service.”
Yet as videos of police officers shooting unarmed black men grab headlines, and the Black Lives Matter movement landed a spot on the Democratic National Convention stage, segregation in American public schools is growing. The number of K-12 public schools with high percentages of poor and black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent between the 2000-01 and 2013-14 school years, according to an April report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. More than 75 percent of students in these schools were black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
In Virginia, “significant and rising shares” of black students attend schools that are “intensely isolated by race and poverty,” according to a 2013 report by The Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2010, 16 percent of black students were enrolled in schools where white students made up less than 10 percent of the enrollment — up from about 12 percent in 1989.
Before becoming a senator, Kaine previously served as the governor of Virginia, lieutenant governor, mayor of Richmond, city councilman, and a civil rights attorney. Before taking the lead at the Virginia Department of Education, Holton was a Legal Aid attorney representing low-income families and a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge. Holton spearheaded foster care reform in Virginia during her husband’s time as governor. The couple’s three adult children — Nat, Woody and Annella — attended Richmond public schools.
Kaine has said career and technical education is his “main educational priority,” though he’s also advocated for universal preschool. Holton worked to reform standardized testing while running the Virginia Department of Education.
Holton, who graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law (where she met Kaine), told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that poverty is “certainly one of the biggest” challenges Virginia schools face, while pointing to accountability as second.
“We’ve gotten to a point in a lot of our schools where we’re squeezing the joy out of teaching and learning,” she told the newspaper. “So finding the right balance (between accountability and flexibility) is equally a big challenge.”
Democratic vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine supports individualized teaching, pre-K, and career and technical education, according to a lengthy blog post he wrote for Education Week in 2013.
The essay, apparently the product of significant time and thought, clocks in at well over 4,000 words and provides insight into Kaine’s educational philosophy. I pored over it so you don’t have to; here are the eight takeaways you need to know:
1. Individualization — without a ton of specifics: Kaine believes that one of the keys to improving schools is tailoring learning to the specific student. “We don't live in a ‘one size fits all’ world and our education system should reflect that. And with new technology tools, we have a much greater ability to have students self-pace with the assistance of teachers,” he writes.
In addition to technology — which has a mixed track record of improving student outcomes — Kaine also wants something like Individualized Education Programs, which spell out the services students with disabilities receive to meet academic goals, expanded to all kids. It’s not clear what this would look like in practice, however.
2. Avoiding the polarized debate on school choice: Kaine explicitly avoids arguments about charter schools or vouchers, saying only, “We know we have to be stronger, but much of the policy debate seems stale to me. Is better high-stakes testing, or charter schools, or more dollars invested the best we can do in terms of educational innovation?”
3. With Clinton on early childhood education: Kaine, like his running mate Hillary Clinton, is a big fan of intervening early in children’s lives, citing the work of economist James Heckman to argue that pre-K is a worthy investment. “There is no question that there is a higher public return on investing in education for a student from age 4 to 5 than from age 17 to 18,” he writes.
4. A surprising critique of elementary school testing: Kaine is a not a fan of “high-stakes testing” (a phrase he uses multiple times), saying it takes up too much time and may drive teachers from the profession. Still, he says, “I see value in having standards and having periodic assessments to see whether students are meeting standards.”
After years of complaints that No Child Left Behind squeezed out subjects other than reading and math, Kaine’s criticism of testing in the early grades is unique — he argues that there is too much focus on social studies and science tests. (Federal law only mandates math and reading tests, but Virginia also has had science and social studies tests in elementary school. The state reduced their frequency recently; Kaine’s wife, then-Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton backed this move.) In his view elementary schools should be “simply about attaining math and language literacy.”
Kaine goes on to say, “Making young kids memorize historical facts and figures or struggle with science concepts so that they can pass subject matter tests in those areas is counterproductive.“
This criticism breaks from the common argument that No Child Left Behind squeezed out subjects other than reading and math; with respect to Virginia’s tests, at least, Kaine seems to argue the opposite. Adherents of E.D. Hirsch’s ”core knowledge” theory — which posits that a student’s reading ability is based on knowledge of important facts, including in science and social studies — will surely disagree with Kaine’s skepticism about emphasizing those subjects in the early grades.
5. A broad curriculum in upper grades: Kaine views curriculum beyond math and reading in later grades much more favorably. He explains how his three children, all of whom attended public schools in Richmond, benefitted from music, creative writing, and art — subjects he worries may be undervalued due to “testing mandates.”
"Creativity, teamwork, communication — these are real and meaningful skills for life success," he writes. "Arts and music education promotes these skills."
6. Social scientists may cringe: In criticizing what he sees as over-testing, Kaine writes, “mandated tests occur every year, and there are often multiple tests each year. But as our student performance on nationally and internationally normed tests (like NAEP and PISA) show, the fixation over repetitive state testing is not producing better results.” Education researchers will not be fans of this claim: test score data are not an appropriate tool for evaluating specific policies. In fact, studies have found that test-based accountability has improved student achievement in math.
7. Thumbs up to career and tech ed: Kaine praises the expansion of career and technical education in Virginia’s high schools. He argues that they can improve students’ motivation and prepare them for careers after high school without detracting from traditional academic subjects. Recent research from Arkansas backs up this view.
8. Kaine hearts teachers: "I am amazed at how much good teachers give, in the classroom and out," Kaine writes. He says he is a “huge supporter for regular teacher evaluation” but worries “when I hear policy debate about teachers, if often seems that fundamental goal is to figure out how to get rid of bad teachers.” Like his running mate, he seems skeptical of tying test scores to teacher evaluation, saying “such an effort could make teachers want to avoid serving our neediest kids.”
Kaine concludes his essay by arguing that teachers need better professional development and pay. “At the national level, we should show how teacher compensation practices in this country stack up to the ‘best in class’ education systems worldwide.”
The first day of the DNC was about unity. Sign after sign read: “We are stronger together.” Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders argued passionately for a united party and a united country. Last night, the "Mothers of the Movement" gave Clinton their support because they say she knows black lives matter and that together we can build an America that works for everyone.
Yet until Bill Clinton highlighted Hillary’s work investigating private academies in Dothan, Alabama last night, addressing the divisions in our public schools – the most racially divided domain in the country – has been hardly mentioned.
Today, over 60 years since Brown v. Board, our schools are more segregated than ever. The vast majority of students attend racially isolated schools. And worse, students of color go to schools where most of the students are low-income.
The consequences of this are real. And they are severe.
Attending a segregated school doesn’t only mean the school lacks diversity. It also almost always means that the school is under-resourced, the building is dilapidated, and most teachers are inexperienced and underqualified. Forget high-quality curricula or college-preparatory work, these schools fail to provide even the basic elements of an education.
But despite these facts, we never talk about segregation. Why? Because it’s hard. Because it is painful. And because it forces us to face the ugly truth of decades of unjust policies and practices. The truth is our education system discriminates against students of color.
Desegregation was a powerful solution to our inequitable system. From 1971 to 1988, the achievement gap in reading between black and white students dropped from 39 points to 18. And, even though it was required by law and incredibly successful, we gave up on it in the late 1980s. Since then, court orders have lapsed and once again we operate separate, and unequal education systems.
With Clinton and Kaine, maybe that will become an even larger federal priority.
As Bill Clinton recalled last night, Hillary cut her teeth with Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund. She fought against southern resistance to school integration. She’s seen firsthand the pain and the promise of breaking down racial barriers and ensuring all students have access to the best schools.
On that score, she’s found a good match in Tim Kaine. During his first speech as a vice presidential candidate, Kaine spoke at length about the virtues of school integration. His father-in-law was the governor who forced Virginia’s schools to integrate. His wife – who just yesterday announced her resignation as Virginia’s secretary of education – was among the first students to attend integrated schools in the state.
Michelle Obama was right: we need a leader who is worthy of America’s greatness and worthy of our children’s promise. Whoever wins in November, hopefully he or she will understand that America’s greatness comes from its willingness to confront its own failings, and to work together to do better for our kids.
Bill Clinton, speaking not in his role as former president but as the candidate’s spouse, talked up his wife’s lifetime of work fighting for children, part of Tuesday night’s broader theme focusing on Hillary Clinton as the “change-maker” America needs.
One of those campaigns for change, in fact, caused an Arkansas politician to quip that the state had “elected the wrong Clinton,” the former president and Arkansas governor said.
Bill Clinton detailed Hillary Clinton’s time with the Children’s Defense Fund after law school, working to expose private segregated schools in the South that illegally benefitted from federal tax breaks.
Hillary Clinton posed as a white parent seeking to send her son to a segregated school. When an administrator admitted the school didn't take black students, “She had him,” Bill Clinton said. “I've seen it a thousand times since.”
Hillary Clinton also joined forces with a group in Massachusetts to figure out why there was a discrepancy between the number of children listed on the census and the number of children enrolled in school. The missing students, it turns out, were disabled, and schools wouldn't educate them. That research became the impetus for the law known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees access to a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment to every child with a disability.
The former president noted that all of his girlfriend-at-the-time’s work in law school — including efforts to better identify child abuse at a New Haven, Connecticut hospital and to end the practice of juvenile offenders in South Carolina being jailed with adults — required her to take an extra year to finish at Yale.
That focus on kids didn't stop when Bill Clinton launched his political career. As governor of Arkansas he set out to improve schools, in response to both a court order and a report showing alarmingly poor results for students. He put Hillary Clinton in charge of the task force investigating the best way to make changes.
“She came up with really ambitious recommendations,” including new standards, counselors in every elementary school, and raises for teachers, Bill Clinton said. He knew the high cost of the program would be a tough sell to Arkansas lawmakers, but Hillary Clinton’s testimony at a hearing swayed them — and was enough to get that “wrong Clinton” zinger from a legislator.
“She is still the best darn change-maker I have ever known,” Bill Clinton said.
The DNC kicked off last night with two parallel stories of immigration that are meaningful, especially for those closely watching education issues. Karla Ortiz — a 10-year-old American citizen — spoke along with her mother, Francisca Ortiz, who is undocumented. Another speaker, Astrid Silva — identified on the schedule simply as “DREAMer” — is the organizing director at the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. She is also undocumented. Although these speakers highlighted the importance education played in their personal stories, it might not be immediately obvious that momentum around immigration reform in the federal executive office is explicitly connected to our schools.
The appearance of these speakers on night one suggests that the Clinton campaign intends to bring renewed energy to passing the DREAM Act, now more than six years old. And while this statute is a federal immigration law, it has enormous implications for state education programs. Since 1982, undocumented students have been entitled to attend a public K-12 school; they also cannot be excluded from public college or university. But what they still can’t do is qualify for in-state tuition or get federal grants or loans to pay for it. Some states have taken up the cause and created their own state funding opportunities — but programs vary wildly with different eligibility requirements and benefits available.
By leading with two stories that are about both immigration and education, the DNC sets the stage for some high-level ideological and policy friction between the federal government and the states. Immigration policy belongs to the federal government alone (even though we’ve seen lots of states try to assert their power — and lose). Education policy is primarily a state responsibility, even though the federal government can offer incentives for states to adopt preferred policies or practices. But the recent passage of ESSA shifts even more decisionmaking power to the states, while still providing them with federal dollars.
There's also the matter of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals): a separate federal executive action that applies to this same category of undocumented people: young people ages 15-31 who are enrolled in, or recently graduated from, high school. DACA acts as an interim measure while the DREAM Act winds its way through Congress, protecting eligible students’ continued U.S. residency by allowing them to apply for a two-year reprieve from the threat of deportation.
The success of DACA, however, rests on our public K-12 schools.
In order to qualify for DACA protection, students must prove that they are attending (or have graduated from) a U.S. high school. That requirement means more than just gathering the paperwork, it also means that we’re trusting our schools have the capacity to support these students through high school.
Threading the needle — not only on immigration and education, but also state and federal authority — is going to be a tricky task. But the Clinton campaign seems to be gearing up for it. We’ve gotten a lot of the “why” now I think we’re all ready to hear the “how.”
When Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas in the late 1970s and 1980s, the state’s schools were in a sorry state – and he tasked his wife with figuring out how to fix them. One teacher from Arkansas now says he sees the results of that work every day.
Clinton “put the schools that she visited to what she called the 'Chelsea test.' If it wasn’t good enough for her daughter, it wasn’t good enough for any child in America,” fifth grade teacher Dustin Parsons told the crowd at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday.
Bill Clinton appointed her the head of the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, which recommended upgraded standards, increased teacher pay, smaller class sizes and additional funding.
"Now as a teacher in those same public schools, I know my students continue to benefit from the work Hillary started all those years ago," Parsons said.
Parsons spoke as part of a larger group Tuesday that included a juvenile justice advocate, disability rights attorney, and anti-gun-violence community organizer, who also vouched for Clinton based on her past work with children.
Jelani Freeman, also part of the group, had a slightly different story – he was an intern in Clinton’s Senate office, in the spot set aside for young people who had previously been in foster care. Unable to find a permanent placement, he was pushed out of that system at age 18 with little more than a handshake.
"The first time they met, "she said 'Jelani, I’m proud of you,'" Freeman recalled. "I felt seen and heard for the first time in my life. Throughout the years, Hillary has remained a source of encouragement. She has made me more mindful of my responsibility and purpose."
Sen. Tom Harkin, the liberal stalwart who represented Iowa in the House and Senate for a combined 40 years, came to a sad if predictable conclusion during his congressional career: Education is not a priority in America.
Harkin served on the funding and bill-writing committees covering education for nearly his entire career in the Senate, serving as chairman of both. Under Harkin’s tenure at the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Congress passed long-overdue reauthorizations of bills governing federal child care subsidies and workforce training programs, and his committee released a blockbuster report on problems in the for-profit college sector.
Harkin — compelled by the experiences of his late brother Frank, who was deaf — has long focused on issues surrounding disability. He was the author of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and he will hold the inaugural Harkin International Disability Summit in Washington, D.C. Dec. 8 and 9. The conference will focus on how to better provide productive, dignified work to people with disabilities.
Harkin spoke to the DNC this afternoon. He talked at length recently with The 74 by phone. This is an excerpt of that interview, and you can read the full exchange here.
The 74: What do you think of the Every Student Succeeds Act?
Harkin: Overall, I give it a positive. I have concerns that, in fact, we are going back to where we were before and leaving it up to states and local education agencies to sort of self-correct and to make sure that students who have been underserved in the past are adequately served with qualified teachers and that they are included in all aspects of educational opportunities. That was the good thing about No Child Left Behind.
I was involved in No Child Left Behind, and I remember being at the White House … when [President] George Bush was there and we had agreed, basically I thought, agreed upon a funding stream for No Child Left Behind … The idea was there was going to be a funding stream for No Child Left Behind. That never materialized. We kept falling further and further behind. The hammer on No Child Left Behind stayed there, but the states and local education agencies were not given the resources … The Bush Administration reneged on the funding. We got wrapped up in the war and all that kind of stuff. We just never could get adequate funding for No Child Left Behind. A lot of people say NCLB was a failure. Well, it was a failure because we never funded it, adequately enough, more than anything else.
The good thing, the really good thing about No Child Left Behind was that every subgroup had to be distinguished and subgroups have to be identified, and [there was] accountability for every subgroup. What we found was, even with the funding restrictions in No Child Left Behind, kids with disabilities were being included more and more, as a subgroup, and schools were held accountable. We found that the graduation rate … between 2002 and 2013, the national high school graduation rate increased from 47 percent to 62 percent for kids with disabilities. Now by God, that’s something that I like …
Was your concern about funding about Title I or some separate NCLB-specific program?
There needs to be more Title I funding, and the Title I funding needs to be directed …
We had a problem with Title I money in the past and how it was distributed, and we changed it so it focused more Title I money on schools that were underperforming in high-poverty areas, for example … I’m just hopeful that this new law doesn’t backtrack on that. I’m afraid it might, in terms of the quote, flexibility, that states are given. And states are just as tight with their money in education as the federal government.
May I make a statement right up front here? It had become clear to me after 30 years on the Senate education committee … that education is simply not a priority in the United States of America, and it is not a priority in our states. It’s just not. It comes after everything else. It comes after you get your budgets for everything else, then you think about education. It is not a priority. People think it is, they say it is, but it’s simply not …
Local school boards have discriminated against poor kids and kids with disabilities for years, for decades. It was the well-placed schools that seemed to get all the money and all the resources. We tried to change that with Title I.
As you know, in America, our system of funding for elementary and secondary education is based on property taxes … Why is it that the quality of any American child’s education be determined by where that child lives? Why? I’ve been talking about this for years. If you’re lucky enough to be born to a wealthy or even an upper-middle income family and live in a great area, you’ve got a great school. If you’re unlucky enough to be born to a poor parent or a single parent and you’re in the inner city or a low-income rural area in Appalachia, well, you simply don’t have good schools.
Is that sort of a national statement of ours? Is that what people want to campaign on? Is that what a president wants to stand for?…
You endorsed Hillary Clinton very early in the primary. Why?
I’ve known her for so long. I served with her on the education committee in the Senate, and I just know how well she works with others. She listens and absorbs things and can find common ground, and I think we sorely need that in the future. I agree with President Obama that she’s better prepared to be president than anyone in the last 100 years … That’s why I supported her ...
Who would you recommend be appointed the next secretary of education, either a specific individual or a type of person?
I wouldn’t say a person, but I would say someone who is bold enough to really take to the American people what needs to be done and what the cost is and why we need to do it and maybe even work collaboratively, of course, with the president and with Congress to find the sort of funding streams that are needed to do this.
This is not some dark magic. We’ve got plenty of data, we know what needs to be done ...
I think we need now one more step, we need a secretary of education and a president who will say, OK, we went from higher ed as a national concern, and then we said elementary and secondary education is a national concern, now early childhood should be a national concern and focus on that.
That’s what I want to see in a secretary of education, someone who will just keep harping on a national priority. If you think education is a priority, you’re mistaken, and how do we make this a national priority for state governments, local governments and the federal government.
Kenney, who last year was elected mayor of the Democratic convention host city, recently persuaded the city council to pass a tax increase on sugary drinks that will pay for expanded 3- and 4-year-old preschool, community schools, and improvements to city recreation centers and libraries.
City leaders had tried twice before to pass taxes on soda but were beaten by large-scale lobbying efforts financed by soda companies. This time, Kenney said, he and other advocates focused less on the health benefits of the tax, to blunt arguments that the city was becoming a nanny-state seeking to limit residents’ food choices. Instead, they tied the tax to tangible improvements for kids and neighborhoods.
“The soda guys, they were on their heels. They put tons of money into commercials, misleading stuff,” only to be slowly but surely bested by Kenney and his parent army, the mayor said.
That effort could be replicated across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country to persuade skeptical lawmakers to expand early learning options, he said.
“There’s nothing more frightening than a pre-K mommy who wants what she wants, and she’s not going away,” Kenney said.
Jeff Rose is a 31-year-old software writer from Asheville, North Carolina. He is attending the DNC convention this week — his first — as a pledged delegate representing the 10th Congressional District:
I have been a die-hard Bernie Sanders supporter for the past year. I am in Philadelphia as a delegate for Sanders and as a voice for the movement inside the Democratic Party, and I strongly believe in Bernie’s vision for the future of the party and of America. I will proudly cast my vote in the roll call for Sanders, every ballot, to reflect my faith in that vision.
Yesterday’s speeches were a stark contrast from the RNC last week. Where they had reality TV personalities, we had governors. We heard from mayors and senators. [U.S. Sen. from Minnesota] Al Franken provided some comedic relief from the seriousness of the Trump candidacy, and [U.S. Sen. from New Jersey] Cory Booker fired the room up with a speech that had me wondering if he wasn't really the VP pick. And of course, Michelle Obama was as powerful and impressive as I always heard she was.
Bernie Sanders’ speech was the most bittersweet moment of my night. He has, in many ways, helped me feel like I could be a part of the political system, not feel like it was forever outside of my control. Hearing him speak is such a joy, and as he did I realized this would be the last time (this election cycle!) I would hear him speak as a candidate.
I could feel the emotion from every person in the room, and it left me with so much hope for this movement’s future.
Even though I was on the floor for Sarah Silverman’s Bernie or Bust comments on Monday, I learned about them online. What comes across as a low murmur on TV was actually a vocal minority drowning out the speakers, something that happened multiple times throughout the day.
At times, the vocalizations were widespread and called for — such as expressing opposition to disastrous trade deals. But other times they felt uncomfortably misplaced and unproductive.
I and many others have felt a need to apologize to fellow delegates for the timing and nature of some disruptions. One Sanders supporter I talked to later in the night had taken off some buttons out of shame at being associated with that vocal minority. Many on both sides could not hear speeches from some party officials they had been excited to hear.
I was personally disappointed to miss parts of Elizabeth Warren and Sarah Silverman’s speeches due to disruption.
Unity will be hard to come by if we can’t talk about our differences from a position of mutual respect. Many Sanders supporters have felt their voices disrespected, ignored, or willfully suppressed during the primary, a feeling the DNC email leak has only exacerbated. Those concerns must be addressed, and swiftly, with more reforms of the DNC. But unity requires a mutual effort, and I hope the rest of the week sees more from both camps.
As Bernie has said the whole campaign, it isn’t about him, but all of us.
The next president will serve until 2020, which is basically “the future” in any science fiction story of consequence. As a middle school parent, I find these staples of young-adult reading nearly impossible to resist as thrilling, dystopian entertainment. But inspiration creates the future I actually want for my children.
Public education is its own Hunger Games if you listen to the Trump and Clinton campaigns. Either Washington bureaucrats are running our community schools from afar like Soviet-era department stores, or the monocle-and-pocket-watch crowd is privatizing public education and destabilizing our schools with too much testing.
The language of fear allows our leaders to speak passionately about public education without actually having to present a forward-looking agenda. This is convenient during an election cycle when K-12 education doesn’t feel like a winning issue.
The problem with a strictly fear-based political strategy is it can lead to policies that tear down existing structures but do nothing to create our ideal state.
For example, fear fueled the Brexit. But in its aftermath, no one seemed to know what was supposed to happen next. It turns out neither side had given their ideal states much thought. In a podcast with Harvard Business Review, political economist Mark Blyth observed, “I have yet to hear a positive argument [for Britain to stay in the EU]” and “if the only way that you can keep people inside Europe is by threatening punishment, you’ve already lost.”
In education, Trump’s platform of getting Washington D.C. out of education and dumping the Common Core state standards echoes the Brexit’s same lack of foresight. Several states abandoned Common Core, even though they had no real plan for how to replace their standards and assessments. Trump’s vision for our schools beyond liberating us from Common Core is anyone’s guess. Donald Trump Jr. and Mike Pence hint at it involving school choice.
Secretary Clinton is trying her best to reduce the heat around K-12 policy debates by giving “everyone” a seat at the table. Yet, in her recent speech to the American Federation of Teachers, she listed out all the K-12 policies she opposes before offering up her first new K-12 idea: more computer science education. The Democrats are striking a better tone, but their fear-to-inspiration ratio isn’t particularly encouraging.
As Ezra Klein notes in his excellent feature Understanding Hillary, “consensus is the enemy of inspiration.”
Failing to offer a vision that resonates with real people means the electorate may stop listening to one or both parties altogether. The Trump revolution stunned the GOP when it turned out many republican voters simply cared about different things than the party establishment.
The Democrats’ plan for K-12 is heavy on repudiating past reforms, largely at the urging of teacher unions, leaving us with an education system reminiscent of the 80’s and 90’s. Maybe that is what voters want, too. In Washington D.C., the average family just wants a good public school close to home. So far, so good. But the average family would also send their middle schooler up to seven miles farther if it meant choosing a school with the highest possible rating. Oh, and half of D.C. families attend public charter schools. Is a Democratic platform that emphasizes traditional district schools and eschews school ratings really in sync with the families it purports to represent?
It's hard to imagine a Trump-style revolt in education. But without a positive vision for our schools, we might see less boisterous protests in the form of paltry school funding or declining student enrollment.
U.S. presidential elections only come once every four years. Our esteemed candidates will get trolled on Twitter anyway so they might as well lead with with their vision for K-12’s future. Less fear. More inspiration.
Let’s seize this opportunity to talk about how families choose schools and what they value for their children. Let’s acknowledge voter anxiety and debate what schools should do differently to prepare students for the digital economy. Let’s discuss what a quality education looks like in concrete terms and what promises we want to make to all our students regardless of family income, race or gender.
I know education policy is a contact sport in Washington DC, But for us parents, it’s a bread-and-butter issue. Inspire us. We can handle it.
Sure, the political world needs talkers. But they—we—are parasitic on doers like those meeting in Philadelphia at the Democratic National Convention this week. And the state of education reform there is not a matter of yelling best (or loudest) on the internet.
As Peter Cunningham wrote here earlier this month, the Democratic Party appears to be in the midst of a retreat from the civil rights-driven legacy Barack Obama and Arne Duncan have built over the past seven years and change.
Education isn’t a determinative issue for presidential politics. It’s not a major national political issue, as far as news cycles go (When was the last time you saw an education story driving media coverage for more than a single segment?). So: it was always pretty unlikely that education would matter much for 2016. And ESSA takes it completely off the table. The bill makes waivers irrelevant, sidelines the Common Core from national conversation, and basically buries federal accountability talk. What's left to discuss? Not much.
So, with the DNC underway, what’s a columnist to do? Unleash another high-minded online tempest over the Democrats’ shifting rhetoric? Given education’s limited political standing and the fragmentation of the reform community, it’s hard to imagine what that might accomplish.
What if, if you’ll indulge me in one rhetorical question too many, we instead talked about some of the mechanics of why education remains such a difficult issue to mobilize around at the national level?
First: political change (in a democracy, at the very least) is an amalgamated process built out of persuasion and power. Yes, talk matters. Ideas matter. Over time, they can adjust power’s wiring, through the slow, plodding process of shifting public opinion. That’s how old, seemingly impossible ideas—universal pre-K, regular monitoring of students’ academic achievement against objective measures, etc— seep into a nation’s political bloodstream.
But in the short-term, in the electoral cycle time horizon, persuasion is weak, and power is strong. Issues advance and causes retreat within the confines of political calculus, which is framed by the present state of public opinion, as well as the direct influence, organization, and (above all) money that different groups can bring to bear.
And that gets us to the second big piece of the Democrats’ national edu-political puzzle: reform initiatives like standardized assessments and school accountability are generally unpopular, but they are particularly disliked by powerful members of the party’s political coalition. These include the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, two of the largest, most reliable donors in the Democratic camp. The teachers unions also offer strong organizing chops and scores of volunteers who can help to mobilize a candidate’s grassroots outreach and voter turnout efforts.
By comparison, the reform community has precious little to offer. It has less possible funding to dangle before Democratic candidates, no meaningful grassroots organizing abilities (certainly not at the national level), and those intra-movement sniping sessions that I mentioned above.
Third: the replacement of No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) sidelines the federal government on a host of K–12 education issues. The law’s weakness simply leaves the next administration with less to do in the area (and fewer potentially controversial positions to take).
What’s more, Clinton has no responsibility for that law—she had no part in its drafting or its passage—so she doesn’t have to answer for it. There’s no serious interest in relitigating the law’s core provisions. There is no group of voters clamoring for the Democratic Party to take a stronger stance on the opt-out movement, school choice, or educational accountability.
Fourth, and relatedly: reformers in the Democratic Party have scant political leverage, because there’s no viable alternative for them to plausibly threaten to support. Imagine the small subset of Democratic-leaning voters who might be swayed to look beyond their party’s candidates over its weakness on educational equity. Imagine them gazing across the pocked, scorched partisan landscape only to see that their other option is incoherent on education, unpredictable in general, and dangerously loathsome as a human being.
Very, very few members of this very small pool of voters will hold their nose and support a party led by a man who’s insisted that the United States close its doors to Muslims—just because he thinks charter schools are “terrific.” These voters might have been tempted by, say, the 2007, pre-Palin vintage of John McCain, but that’s not the candidate—or the party—currently available over there in (far) right field.
In sum, Hillary Clinton has been blessed with a status quo established through bipartisan support from officials and organizations across the political map. She’s also facing a weak, non-traditional candidate prone to unforced errors. The last thing she wants to do is court any dangers of her own by opening a controversial education discussion.
It’s an ideal situation for a famously risk-averse politician. So: why are Democrats’ K–12 policy discussions stuck in bromide mode? Clinton’s allies are satisfied with the shrinking federal role in education, the Republican Party is running a candidate incapable of offering even basic education platitudes (let alone serious policy ideas), and voters don’t base their votes on education.
Will K–12 education come up during the Democrats’ convention? Sure. We’ll hear a lot about extending educational opportunity to all kids and supporting teachers. We’re just not likely to hear much in the way of details or novelty. Why, it’s enough to prompt a guy to write a bunch of angry words online.
Yesterday, my Bellwether Education Partners colleague Andy Rotherham wrote on this blog that “as long as the Democrats don’t burn the place down, it’s going to be hard for them to have a worse convention than the GOP just did.”
Well, it came close.
The Democratic National Convention delegates didn’t seem to get the memo on the theme for the night: “United Together.” Amid tensions over leaked emails showing that the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, steered the party in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders during the primaries, Sanders supporters started the night booing at the mention of Clinton’s name.
It all came to an awkward, unexpected head when former Sanders supporter comedian Sarah Silverman called the “Bernie or Bust” attendees “ridiculous" from the stage.
It was smoother sailing from there. Senator Cory Booker seemed to soothe the crowd with a speech framed on Maya Angelou’s poem "Still I Rise" (See our smart piece from last night on Booker's rich education record). Michelle Obama gave a moving speech echoing a Clinton advertisement about the power of the next President to be a role model for children. It got a slightly rocky again at the beginning of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s speech when delegates chanted “We Trusted You!” at Warren, but by the end of her speech, the crowd was nearly silent, seemingly supportive of her message to elect Clinton.
And when Sanders took the stage endorsing Clinton and the Democratic platform, delegates rallied in support of his message.
Given how the first night of the convention went, policy topics for the next three days are likely to stay on noncontroversial issues that all Democrats can support. Sadly, that means K-12 education is out (not that it was ever in).
Clinton has campaigned on K-12 policy platitudes, and her running-mate choice of Tim Kaine, who also steers clear on the nitty gritty of K-12 policy, put a nail in the coffin of that policy conversation.
The little that was mentioned about K-12 education last night came from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who worked in a favorite talking point of hers around over-testing in our nation’s schools.
If anything is clear from the first night of the convention, it’s that the party needs to continue to work on unity. Therefore, for the remainder of the DNC, education reformers can expect speakers to stick to policy areas that Democrats agree on, including early childhood education access and college affordability.
Now is apparently not the time to rock the boat.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law just before Christmas, ushered in a new era of local control in K-12 education.
Though widely celebrated as a rare example of federal bipartisanship, many in the education world, particularly those on the reform side of the policy spectrum, are frightened the new law will mean a return to the bad old days when kids were left behind.
"I fear that local control…could be used to simply turn back the clock to a time when local control too often meant national indifference,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said at a Monday event hosted by Education Reform Now ahead of the Democrats’ convention in Philadelphia.
Opponents of education reform will use the new law to advance their own agenda, said Massachusetts state Rep. Alice Peisch.
They'll “see this as an opportunity to kind of go backwards, and they are misrepresenting a fair amount of what’s in the act, so I think we have to be really vigilant,” she said. In particular, she said, reform advocates need to emphasize that tests are still required, and schools are still accountable for results.
The last eight years under the Obama administration, during which policies like charter schools and test-based teacher evaluations were promoted, have allowed states and districts to really run with the work of education reform, said Kira Orange Jones, a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
But that wind at the back of reforms could be changing, she said.
"I am profoundly concerned that we are going to lose that level of focus if we cannot get very clear, quickly, as a party about what it means to be the party that protects the rights of all children, especially the most disenfranchised children,” she added.
Rep. Bobby Scott, the top Democrat in the House negotiating the bill, said the assembled state and local education advocates would be key in ensuring appropriate implementation.
"The Every Student Succeeds Act, because of this flexibility, you’ve got to make sure they do it right,” he said.
"What good is education reform if it ends at high school graduation?" asked Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware Monday, challenging an audience at a panel hosted by Education Reform Now and encouraging them to expand their focus into the country'ss colleges and universities.
A student who graduates from high school but can’t succeed in college academically — or pay for it — likely won’t have much chance of success in the future, he said.
"The moral outrage that has animated the education reform movement needs to be brought to higher ed as well,” he said. “If we don’t bring that same passion to higher education we’re truly missing our ultimate objective.”
Coons said he’ll be introducing a bill this fall that would shift federal dollars from elite colleges that don’t offer broad access to low-income students to others that accept wide swaths of students but may need assistance in helping more students graduate.
He's introducing the bill with Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican of Georgia, but said he doesn’t expect the bill to be an easy sell to colleges.
"Accountability, resources and reform are the right recipe for K-12 education, and it’s also the right recipe for American higher education,” he concluded.
The leaders of the country’s two largest teachers unions joined the presidents of other labor unions to address the Democratic National convention Monday evening, voicing their support for Hillary Clinton and making the case for why she should win the election in November.
The two teacher representatives, however, didn’t have much to say on the issue of K-12 education.
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, talked primarily about immigration, emphasizing Clinton’s contrast with Donald Trump on the issues of building a wall along the Mexican border and instituting partial bans on immigrants.
Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, focused chiefly on tearing down Trump University — though she also had a few K-12 comments, noting that Clinton will “reset education policy to focus on creativity and critical thinking, not on more testing.”
(There has been an ongoing split in the party, most recently exemplified in the battle over the Democratic education platform, about the appropriate role of, among other things, testing.)
Eskelsen Garcia said students today, particularly those from immigrant families, feel they won’t have any opportunities after graduation, or fear that they or their family will be deported.
“We’re better than that. Our kids deserve better than that. Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to divide people with walls of hate,” she said.
My colleague Mareesa Nicosia has previously reported on how increasing government raids of undocumented families have led to skyrocketing anxiety among children of immigrants. Many union leaders have joined forces to petition the U.S. government to stop such raids, noting that children are bringing this stress into the classroom each and every day.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, in advance of his speech tonight before the Democratic National Convention, emphasized the need for the Democrats to strike a contrast to the “dark” convention staged by the GOP last week.
Booker, a short-list contender for vice president, is himself a contrast to the man Hillary Clinton did pick for her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia — at least when it comes to education.
Kaine, a moderate who hails from a swing state, has made a name for himself in education circles by advocating for politically friendly policies such as expanding early education and bolstering career and technical education.
Meanwhile Booker has pushed for education reforms, even while alienating part of the traditional Democratic base, including the teachers unions, who have supported Clinton from the get-go, and the progressives, who embraced U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign and will now have to be won over for the general election.
As you watch Booker’s speech in Philadelphia, four things to keep in mind about his education record:
1. He’s pro accountability. Last year when lawmakers were in the throes of rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act, Booker was one of a handful of senators to propose an amendment which would require states to intervene in the bottom 5 percent of public schools or in public high schools where two-thirds or fewer students are graduating on time. Though that exact amendment failed, Booker said later he would be willing to filibuster to make sure there were stronger accountability measures in the final law. Newark, New Jersey’s school system is controlled by the state but as mayor, Booker worked with Republican Gov. Chris Christie to bring in a superintendent who negotiated a teachers contract that included provisions such as merit pay. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's donation of $100 million helped support the increased teacher pay. Fallout from how the Zuckerberg gift was felt in Newark schools was recently depicted in veteran reporter Dale Russakoff's book "The Prize." Booker also expressed support for reforming New Jersey teacher tenure laws, which allow teachers to be fired after two straight years of negative performance ratings.
2. He’s pro-charter. When Booker was mayor, Newark saw a rapid expansion of charter schools including some of the best-known operators in the country, such as KIPP and Uncommon Schools. Booker again worked with Christie to bring in a superintendent who would champion a menu of a school options for Newark kids. “I hold no allegiance to a school delivery model,” Booker has said. “I really don’t care if you’re a charter school, a magnet school, a traditional district school. The question is: ‘Are you providing quality education?’”
3. He supports vouchers. Vouchers, public stipends given to private schools often on behalf of needy students, are usually firmly in the Republican Party’s toolbox, but Booker has supported them in the past. He touted a bill that would have offered private and parochial school scholarships to some students. "We have created a system that chokes out (the) potential of millions of children trapped in schools that deny the beauty of their genius," Booker said. "We need to get the Opportunity Scholarship Act passed because we need to lift the bar higher." In fact, during New Jersey’s 2013 Senate race Booker’s support for vouchers became one of the only issues dividing him from his Democratic rivals.
4. Booker's education legacy is controversial. While Booker was able to recruit many advocates (and donors) to support his education agenda in Newark, he was also criticized by community activists who said the expansion of charter schools siphoned resources from traditional public school students and the local community was not consulted about the reforms. Teachers unions were also opposed to his push for stronger accountability measures in the rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Sincerely, Tim Kaine is 1 of the most honorable men in politics. I admire & am inspired by him, give them your vote. https://t.co/PABfjA3QOC— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 23, 2016
It’s not often that educational research is mentioned in a major party platform. But several researchers who study teacher evaluation say the suggestion that there is a scholarly consensus against using test scores in teacher evaluation is misleading.
The 74 contacted a number of researchers who have studied teacher evaluation or value-added measures, a common method for assessing teacher impact on student test-score growth.
“There are many ways in which the use of test scores to inform teacher evaluation and school accountability can and should be improved. But the wholesale rejection of using test scores to inform teacher evaluations is an unproductive reaction to the limitations of test-score-based evaluation metrics,” said Matthew Kraft of Brown. “A balanced reading of the literature suggests there is mixed evidence for and against using test-score-based evaluation metrics.”
Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern said he disagreed with the platform’s language and that “test scores measures are valid, albeit imperfect, measures of teacher impacts on student skills.”
“VAMs, for the teachers for whom they can be created, do provide a piece of information about teachers’ abilities to improve student test scores,” said Katharine Strunk of the University of Southern California. “I think the research suggests that we need multiple measures — test scores, observations, and others – to rigorously and fairly evaluate teachers.”
Matthew Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania said, “My view is that there is not in fact a consensus among academic researchers, particularly economists, who do this work, that value-added scores should not be used in high stakes teacher evaluation systems.”
Jim Wyckoff (University of Virginia), Cory Koedel (University of Missouri), and Dan Goldhaber (University of Washington Bothell) all also agreed research did not support categorically rejecting test-based teacher evaluation.
Several of the researchers said that measures of test score growth had significant limitations, but also provided meaningful information about a teacher’s impact on long-run outcomes; moreover, other ways to evaluate educators, particularly classroom observations, have some of same flaws as value-added. Some studies have found that teacher evaluations that include test scores can lead to improve student outcomes.
However, Jesse Rothstein of the University of California Berkeley said that while there was not a “full consensus” on the issue, “I do think the weight of the evidence, and the weight of expert opinion, points to the conclusion that we haven’t figured out ways to use test scores in teacher evaluations that yield benefits greater than costs.”
Susan Moore Johnson of Harvard agreed, “Both standardized tests and value-added methods — widely used to calculate each teacher’s contribution to her students’ learning — fall far short of what is required to make sound, high-stakes decisions about individual teachers. Because standardized tests often are poorly aligned with state standards or a required curriculum, they fail to accurately measure what teachers teach and students learn… Combining standardized tests and VAMS for use in teacher assessment is unwise and indefensible.”
The platform may have been referring to statements from the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association that raise concerns and limitations about the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluation. (Notably, though, neither statement says that such scores should not be used whatsoever in evaluation.) A 2010 position paper signed on to by several prominent scholars also raised concerns, though a response by other researchers argued that value-added had an important role in teacher evaluation.
It’s hard to say what level of agreement amounts to a consensus, and The 74’s poll of just nine researchers may not be a representative sample of expert opinion.
And while the scholarly debate has focused on value-added measures, teachers are actually more likely to be evaluated via “student learning objectives.” The 74 previously reported that such measures have limited research evidence and several teachers say they can be easily gamed.
All told, though, the researchers’ responses highlight significant disagreement — rather than clear consensus — even among scholars on this important issue.
The Democratic platform is certainly right that some researchers reject test-based teacher evaluation — but that’s hardly the full picture.
Low and stagnant teacher pay is alarming, but simply — and hastily — raising teacher salaries across the board will not solve the problem. Instead, districts should use teacher compensation as a lever to attract, retain, and support a high-performing teaching force, and they need to do this in a financially sustainable way. Base salary increases may be part of the solution, but districts also need to consider other key components of teacher compensation including teacher effectiveness, the speed of salary growth, bonuses and rewards, incentives for hard-to-staff schools and positions, and so on.
The balancing act isn’t easy. The best solution is to use data to make decisions about teacher compensation — a practice most school districts do not employ. As a new Bellwether Education Partners resource called The Learning Landscape explains, the structure of most teacher salary schedules does not align with the evidence of teacher performance. For example, research shows that teachers improve greatly in their first few years of teaching and then their performance levels off, however very few districts use this data to make decisions about teacher compensation to retain top-performing new teachers.
As the above charts shows, while teachers on average rapidly grow in their effectiveness in the first five years of teaching, they do not see substantial pay raises until about one decade into their careers. To retain effective new teachers, a district might consider increasing how quickly those teachers receive large pay raises. A district might not have the funds to use this data-driven compensation strategy if it raised all teachers’ salaries.
This is not to mention other data-driven and research-based teacher compensation strategies such as raising teachers’ compensation as they take on leadership roles within their school communities.
Most districts have a long way before they implement these kinds of strategic compensation designs. The vast majority of school districts implement a compensation structure that treats all teachers the same, regardless of performance, skill, or responsibility. In fact, as The Learning Landscape details, in 2012 only 11 percent of districts used pay incentives to reward teachers for excellent performance.
However, if districts follow Hillary Clinton’s suggestion to raise all teachers’ salaries, data-driven teacher compensation strategies of any kind will not be possible in most places. Perhaps Clinton has something more strategic in mind when she talks about teacher pay, but voters will not know if she continues to speak in generalities when it comes to issues of K-12 education.
Bernie Sanders declared his support for public charter schools, but not private ones in a CNN town hall event last March — belying a fundamental confusion about what charter schools actually are. Last year Hillary Clinton disparaged charter schools with a blanket statement suggesting that they reject serving students who are the “hardest to teach.” And while decrying the federal footprint in education, Donald Trump said he wants more charter schools because “they work, and they work very well.”
The primary flaw with all of these statements is that each one lacks nuance and ignores what is true, what we know, and what we don’t know about charter schools. After all, one of the hallmarks of political campaigns is the reduction of complex issues to simple binaries. Candidates harp on divisive issues and ask voters to pick a side — for or against, good or bad. While this strategy makes for rousing stump, it misleads and under-informs voters about critical policy issues.
Sanders’ confusion about whether charter schools are public or private schools is not uncommon, but it’s easy to clear up. Charter schools are public schools. They are publicly-funded, and they provide education free of charge. The confusion arises because they are often operated by private organizations (a mix of non-profit and for-profit). Some of these private organizations are very good at running schools that achieve amazing outcomes with kids. Some of them are not as good.
Similarly, by painting all charter schools with the same brush, either negatively or positively, both Clinton and Trump ignore the complex reality of what we know about charter schools. (Clinton, I should note, told the NEA convention earlier this month that we should seek to learn from the many good charter schools - that common sense statement drew boos from the crowd).
In practice, who is served best and most often by charter schools varies significantly from state to state and city to city. And the overall quality of charter schools varies, too. In some cities, like Washington DC, charter schools produce an average of 101 days of additional learning in math compared to the surrounding district schools. That’s a tremendous difference. But in Fort Worth, Texas, charter schools underperform district schools on average.
Attempting to define the whole notion of charter schools as either good or bad encourages us to continue to focus on the existential question of whether we should have charter schools at all. And that is simply the wrong question.
What should we be asking instead? On the charter front, simply put, what do we need more of in the charter sector, and what do we need less of? But answering this question requires determining what charter schools’ successes and failures teach us about what factors promote schools’ ability to produce great outcomes for kids, and the evidence isn’t simple. Charter schools now have the same diversity in quality and norms as other public schools and private schools and don’t lend themselves to simple generalizations any more than those other school sectors.
In education, confusion and distortion is not confined to the campaign trail or the debate about charter schools. Across the sector advocates, activists, the media, and other players fail to engage honestly with education’s complicated realities, and instead manipulate or cherry pick the facts to reflect forced (and often false) choices.
We need a new national conversation about education. The foundation of that conversation must be an accurate understanding of what we know, and what we don’t know, about our education system. Where have we succeeded and failed in measuring student learning? How fair is our school funding system? What do we know about what makes a great teacher?
These are the critical debates essential to charting a rational course forward for our schools, and high-quality research and information must inform these conversations. In an effort to support a shift to a more evidence-driven debate, Bellwether Education Partners has launched a new resource — The Learning Landscape — that aims to bring together information from disparate, credible resources on a range of topics in education. The hope is that The Learning Landscape will serve as one tool in moving toward this new and much needed conversation.
Whether it’s charter schools or testing or something else, we won’t get to real solutions without working toward a deeper understanding of a system as nuanced and complex as the 50 million students it serves.
And given the fractures in America’s body politic this year, given the success of a presidential campaign that intoxicates voters on the idea of lost hopes, that makes disappointment a badge of honor, his concern seems sensible — if vague and better aimed at the other party’s divisive leader.
But Hite, who recently completed his fourth year as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, has children in mind. Poor children, in a city where 90 percent of the 130,000 district school students qualified for lunch assistance before the district began giving all children free lunch two years ago. (Full disclosure: I once worked for the district)
Philadelphia may surprise visiting delegates who don’t know it, or know it only from the movies. The gritty, working-class streets that Rocky Balboa memorialized in dirty sweats and black Chuck Taylors four decades ago are mostly gone. Center City, the downtown, is prosperous and energized; the jewel-like Old City, townhouse-lined squares that look like postcards turned real, and industrial and hardscrabble areas lately gentrified and culture-infused — all witness the city’s 21st-century renaissance.
The convention’s guidebooks sends Democrats to “5 Great Philly Coffee Spots,” on tours around the National Constitution Center and Liberty Bell and the city’s many museums, and recommends three “most instagramable spots (sic).”
None of these will take visitors near the north and west precincts where the city’s very large poor population lives. Philadelphia remains the poorest of the nation’s ten largest cities. The median household income in 2011 was $34,207, nearly one-third less than the national figure of $50,502. Even as Democrat rally around a vision for a better future this week, there are no easy answers for the nearly 40 percent of Philadelphia children who are poor, or the roughly 12 percent of residents who are deeply poor — families of three earning $10,000 or less. About 60,000 Philadelphia children live in deeply poor families.
Hite adheres to the reform precept that a student who doesn’t thrive has been failed by her school. He comes by the idea honestly: after a football career at Virginia Tech, he became a teacher, then principal, and quickly rose up the education ladder, landing in Prince George’s County, Maryland, first as deputy to reformist district head (and later Los Angeles schools chief) John Deasy, then succeeding Deasy as the top man.
Like Deasy, he attended the Broad Superintendent Academy, a kind of West Point for education reform executives, but when he arrived in Philadelphia, summer 2012, to a massive budget crisis — precipitated as in other struggling districts by years of state funding cuts and gross inequities, charter growth, benefit costs, and years of fiscal mismanagement in the district — keeping school system open trumped policy.
Dozens of school closures, along with layoffs and austere budgets (Northeast High School had an extracurricular budget of $14,000, about $5 per student for the school year), have kept the district pulse beating, but Philadelphia remains riven by conflicts between charter proponents who want much faster growth and a community of educators and electeds that believes charters are yanking dollars from the poorest students’ hands (the state’s charter funding law punishes the district). “I would never advocate for one sector over the other when that sector cannot respond to the needs of all children,” Hite has said.
The district’s budget and charter difficulties are exacerbated by perennially unfriendly state Republicans, while its unilateral efforts to reduce health costs in the teachers contract has alienated labor supporters in one of the nation’s strongest union towns. And the consequences and debate about the state’s 2001 takeover of the District — Hite reports to a joint state/city board — continue to grow, 15 years later.
Attacked on the right and left, though almost universally liked — his hail-fellow-well-met manner and probity, and a courtliness that manifests in part in a seemingly endless closet of well turned-out suits and shirts — Hite has become a new type of school leader: the non-ideological radical, urgent, open to any solution that works, doubtful about real progress without a national change in culture.
He spoke with The 74 last week from his office in Philadelphia.
The 74: Why do you think there’s been almost no mention of education in the campaign?
Superintendent Hite: I’ve actually been talking about the absence of education conversation… Everyone watching what has actually happened over the last eight years maybe see it as too complex, too hard, and filled with political strife. I think that’s why you only hear the more general things that people think about as reform, like charter schools and choice. People feel like that’s the only safe place to be.
Although Hillary was booed when she mentioned charters to the National Education Association.
You’re right. What’s missing in this whole conversation is quality: how do we create high-quality schools irrespective of sector. And I do think the whole notion of choice and charters as the only solution [reflects], or speaks to, the type of disillusionment that we’re seeing with banks, Wall Street, government. You think of school districts — they think of bureaucracies.
It feels like the desire not to deal with complex things complexly has seeped into education more than it had five or ten years ago. Donald Trump shows everyday that a lot of people don’t want to think about actual solutions to life problems; they want magical thinking. Do you see that in the schools?
More people see that the work is hard. Charters that have begun taking on some of the most challenging areas in the city and more challenging and more at-risk populations — they’re either not meeting the academic outcomes that they agreed to or they’re handing them back to us. Young Scholars has handed back two charters to us. We have made recommendations to non-renew four other ones… So we made a recommendation [to close] four and two others have handed it back over. And then we approved still a third for this year and the people said we can’t do it, we don’t have the capacity to do this. So people are recognizing that this work is hard and this work is complex and challenging and it doesn’t happen overnight. And has not been happening overnight with even a charter.
Philadelphia, like almost every big city in the country, has been killed over the last few years in terms of funding. Do you have thoughts about how the country can fund public schools more effectively?
We’re still 800 million dollars down from where we would be if in fact there weren’t state cuts in funding for four years [ former Governor Tom Corbett cut school budget for four consecutive years]. And so even with additional revenue we’re still down 800 million dollars. If you think about revenues, you have to think two ways on this. One, the monies that are available for us to educate children — the revenues are always going to be a challenge because these costs are escalating, and the costs of running schools are escalating And then we have think just as they’re thinking at the national level with respect to all the federal monies that have some pretty stringent requirements associated with them — provide some flexibility for use of that money differently.
I still say we have to make the same investments in education around research that we do with the military or with medicine, and we don’t do that. We try a lot of stuff, the stuff doesn’t work, and then we cycle back through it a decade later adding a new wrinkle without the level of research. We need an NIH for education. I think that the department (of education) or the federal government should think about what is working and take a more empirical look at the data associated with it.
The other thing is, there has to be dedicated revenues streams for this stuff. Education has always been a target, and just as costs escalate to do everything else costs have escalated in education. I’m not just suggesting that we all need air conditioned climates, because school districts have to rethink how we do our work as well. How to pay labor, pensions, benefits, all of those institutional structures that cause costs to increase are very problematic for districts and those are fixed costs that have to get off the table first.
There’s some kind of disconnect between what people say they believe and the way political priorities have been constructed.
I’ll add a point to that. I’m not so sure if it’s a disconnect or the intent to dismantle. You could dismantle structures or systems in multiple ways. One is attacking them like a frontal attack. Another is creating a structure that disperses resources to multiple places and then systems are left to figure out how they’ll manage their legacy costs (costs of programs initiated by previous administrations).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calls and want to bring a group of congressional leaders to see two Philadelphia schools in action. Which would you choose and why?
I would take them to a school that has looked at itself, said we’re not working for children, and redesigned itself. I would take them to a PA school [Promise Academy, a district turnaround model] in North Philadelphia that has redesigned itself. It remains a school district school. They are seeing outcomes now that are very different.
That’s for K-8. And then I would take them to an inquiry-based school that’s open to all children... the Workshop School. I would take them to the Workshop School because I’m pretty sure they would be amazed at the problems that children are working to solve. Or create solutions for. And the type of children that they serve. They’re not a special admit (magnet). They take on all children, any children that are interested in that kind of school, and the children are doing incredible stuff.
For years schools didn’t do inquiry with poor kids because educators thought poor kids couldn’t do it, and it turns out that’s totally wrong.
If you could insert an idea into Hillary Clinton’s speech on Thursday, what would you have her say?
If I had to insert something into her speech I would say: here in Philadelphia, just like every other place in the country, children need high-quality, great schools close to where they live, irrespective of zip code, irrespective of income, irrespective of nationality, or gender identification, they need high-quality options close to where they live.
How could she help make that happen? What are your biggest needs: teacher training, classrooms resources, community engagement?
We need a mindset change. We need a mindset change around the ability of all children to achieve at high levels. We need everyone to have the belief in all children... We need that. We need sustaining corporate revenue because we need to insure that we can support the investments we’re making in schools this year five years from now. So that it’s not this thing of investing and then subtracting and then every three years you have to insert trauma into the equation because you’re laying off people, closing stuff, reducing stuff, eliminating stuff. Recurring sources of revenue become extremely important for us to continue our investment to provide school districts with what they need.
In addition to Clinton, other high-profile Democrats who will address the convention have extensive education policies.
Here are the edu-creds of 14 marquee names set to take the stage in Philly:
Vice President Joe Biden — During his time as vice president, Biden has taken a lead in the effort to reduce sexual assaults at colleges and universities. While a senator, Biden twice sponsored the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights Act. He also introduced a bill that would identify top-performing, low-income eighth graders as part of a program to guarantee them Pell Grant funds for college.
Former President Bill Clinton — In his 1999 State of the Union address, Clinton proposed what could be seen in retrospect as a prototype of No Child Left Behind. In exchange for federal funds, states would have to end social promotion, issue report cards on school performance, hire better-trained teachers, and “shake up failing schools,” as the Los Angeles Times put it. During his tenure as governor of Arkansas in the 1980s, Clinton pushed to direct more money to the state’s schools, set new academic standards, and required competency testing for teachers. Arkansas schools remained among the worst in the country.
President Barack Obama — The president is in some ways the model DFER-style Democrat, promoting education reforms like charter schools and data-driven teacher evaluation despite backlash from traditional allies in labor. His edu-legacy will live in the Race to the Top program (including the Common Core and teacher evaluations tied to student test scores), his push for federal pre-school spending, spotlight on the school-to-prison pipeline and, in higher ed, reforms to student loans, call to make community college free, and a crackdown on for-profit colleges.
Michelle Obama — The First Lady is probably best known for her Let’s Move initiative promoting physical activity and healthy eating to combat childhood obesity. The program set off a conservative backlash around issues of cost and government intrusion, particularly in response to her efforts to incorporate more produce and whole grains and less salt in school lunches. She also launched Let Girls Learn, aimed at helping the 62 million girls currently not in school worldwide to access a quality education.
Sen. Bernie Sanders — Vermont’s progressive sensation focused primarily on higher education during the primary and sometimes stumbled when trying to address K-12 issues, like charter schools. While in Congress he introduced bills to pay for extended school days and years, fund dual college enrollment, promote community schools, and support high school reentry. Sanders voted against No Child Left Behind as a member of the House.
Astrid Silva — Silva is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She arrived as a penniless small child but grew up to become a political activist whose story has often been cited by Democratic lawmakers and President Obama in arguing for passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow young people brought to the country illegally to work and go to school legally.
Sen. Cory Booker — Best known for his role in Newark’s state-run schools during his tenure as mayor, Booker pushed to include stronger accountability measures in last year’s Senate rewrite of No Child Left Behind.
Gov. Jerry Brown — The California governor approved a state budget last month that will allow for the expansion of pre-K, help with hiring teachers, boost spending for charter school start-up costs, and increase per-pupil funding. He has also resisted the national trend toward data-based school accountability.
Mayor Bill de Blasio — Improving schools has been central to the first-term agenda of New York City mayor. He has fought to retain mayoral control of the city’s schools while launching a universal preschool initiative and allocating significant extra funds to poor-performing schools. He has had a fraught relationship with charter school operators but says he doesn’t oppose charter schools.
Sen. Al Franken — The former Saturday Night Live star and comedian has focused on combating bullying against LGBT students, education technology and its possible consequences for student data privacy, and the education of Native American students, particularly those in Bureau of Indian Education schools.
Sen. Tom Harkin — The former senator and past chairman of the Senate education committee was long an advocate for early childhood education. He tried to rewrite No Child Left Behind twice and oversaw the release of a key report on wrongdoings by for-profit colleges. He is best known as the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mayor Jim Kenney — Philadelphia’s top official made national news recently for successfully pushing to increase taxes on soda and other sugary drinks to pay for expanded pre-K and the creation of 25 “community schools” in the city.
Sen. Chris Murphy — The Connecticut senator was one of Cory Booker’s partners in the push for increased federal accountability standards in the Every Student Succeeds Act. He has also advocated for stronger federal restrictions on the use of seclusion and restraint for students with special needs.
Gov. Tom Wolf — The first-term governor of Pennsylvania was elected in part because voters saw the deep cuts to schools made by his predecessor as destructive. He has spent much of his time in office battling the Republican-led legislature over the state budget, a fight that had a drastic impact on Keystone State schools — particularly in poor districts — last year.
Hillary Clinton appeared with her new running mate, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, in Florida on Saturday. As part of his speech, Kaine spoke passionately about education and classroom equality, reflecting on his father-in-law's role in integrating Virginia's schools, as well as his decision to send his children to public schools. (Kaine's wife, Anne Holton, is currently Virginia's secretary of education).
— Carolyn Phenicie and Matt Barnum (Share on Twitter & Share on Facebook)
Undermining standards and accountability as @AFTunion + others are trying to do hurts kids, esp in low-income comms and comms of color. 7/— Shavar Jeffries (@shavarjeffries) July 20, 2016
5 p.m. Thursday
Education should be at the heart of any debate about the future of this country — and yet there’s been almost no attention paid to education policy during this campaign cycle. That's why The 74 and Bellwether Education Partners are teaming up to co-host the #EDlection2016 Convention Live Blog — showcasing the conversations we should be having about education.
Through the end of next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, we’ll be live blogging and analyzing the speeches, announcements and votes, featuring a wide range of voices and perspectives across constituencies and political parties. (See our extensive recap of live coverage from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland here)
If the candidates and their parties won't talk about education, plenty of informed people will.
It’s up to us to drive the conversation, and get beyond polarizing and simplistic rhetoric to the real substantive dialogue our students deserve. Whether Republican, Democrat or independent, all of us know that our education system is failing too many Americans — especially those who need it the most as a gateway to opportunity — and that problem demands attention and action.
We hope you'll bookmark and refresh this page – and watch for updates @the74 — for a rich conversation about these issues.
— Campbell Brown and Andrew Rotherham