What we need more of: Democrats for Education Reform

The politics of education are easy to typecast: Republicans don’t like teacher unions but do like school choice measures such as charter schools or school vouchers. Democrats are beholden to unions,  don’t like school choice, and think the only thing schools need is more money and less No Child Left Behind.

There’s some truth to this generalization, but as with any generalization, there’s a danger in taking them too literally. There are plenty of Republicans who oppose school choice. Happily, there are also some Democrats who favor reforms.

Meet Democrats for Education Reform. I don’t agree with all their agenda, but I think they’re in favor of some ideas that could help advance education, if not necessarily people running and working in today’s public schools.

When I sometimes use the “M” word to describe the state of public schools, people scoff. But Democrats for Education Reform doesn’t shy away from using it: “We believe that reforming broken public school systems cannot be accomplished by tinkering at the margins, but rather through bold and revolutionary leadership.  This requires opening up the traditional top-down monopoly of most school systems and empowering all parents to access great schools for their children. ” (emphasis added)

Here’s their list of “What we stand for:”

  • We support policies which stimulate the creation of new, accountable public schools and which simultaneously close down failing schools (emphasis added)
  • We support mechanisms that allow parents to select excellent schools for their children, and where education dollars follow each child to their school.
  • We support governance structures which hold leaders responsible, while giving them the tools to effectuate change. We believe in empowering mayors to lead urban school districts, so that they can be held accountable by the electorate.
  • We support policies that allow school principals and their school communities to select their teams of educators, holding them accountable for student performance but allowing them flexibility to exercise sound, professional judgment.
  • We support clearly-articulated national standards and expectations for core subject areas, while allowing states and local districts to determine how best to make sure that all students are reaching those standards

I’m in favor of most of them, too. The third item places more faith in mayoral control of school systems than is merited by the historical record. (Chicago? Some progress. New York? Some progress. Detroit? Not so much.) I’m also not a fan of national standards. This country was founded as and should remain a republic with both a national government and multiple state governments. National standards, even those mutually agreed upon by state governments, effectively nationalizes education policy.

The group is in favor of charter schools, which (usually) “are allowed the opportunity to explore innovative ways of educating children, as well as the ability to create their own rules, agenda, and mission.” It also favors “a parent’s right to choose an alternative school that will provide a quality education for their child, ” though they make that a conditional rather than an absolute right.

DFER also supports alternative education methods (part of breaking up the monopoly).  It’s also a fan of universal, taxpayer funded preschool. I can’t buy that, for reasons I explained in 2008 (see this PDF document published by the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy).

The group has several state chapters, but none in Kansas. Anyone want to start one?

By the way, I noticed that DFER won what I might start calling the Who’s Your Daddy “award” from a teacher who offers a “warning” about the group. Their offense? One of their board members sits on the board of a charter school that received money from <cue up “evil man” music> Robert Murdoch, he of “Faux News” fame. I guess his efforts to, you know, help actual children receive an education don’t count for much.

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