Every Democrat who has run for president since 1960 has promised to fix America’s public schools. That promise remains unfulfilled. American schools have not improved, and many argue that they have grown progressively worse over the last half-century.
No part of life in America is as socialist as public education. Therefore, education is a happy hunting ground for the left.
The Democrat’s 2020 Platform
The Democrats describe their 2020 policy goals in their party platform. Its education “plank” describes the changes that the Democrats want to make (or not make) in America’s public schools. Thus, this article will quote the document and make comments.
“For too long, we have short-changed our children by underinvesting in our nation’s public schools and in our higher education system.”
A little simple arithmetic dispels the underinvesting idea. According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, “In 2017 [most recent numbers available], public elementary and secondary [middle and high school] education revenue, from all sources, amounted to $694.1 billion.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there were 50,686,000 students in America’s public schools. Simple division yields a per-pupil expenditure of $13,694.12. Presume that there is an average class size of twenty students, which means that every classroom costs an average of a bit over $273,000. Even in the land of Democrats, that should be a sufficient amount to get the job done.
The Democrats’ Egalitarian Impulse
“Each year, the United States spends $23 billion more on schools in predominantly white districts than in non-white districts.”
“It is unacceptable that America’s public schools are more racially segregated today than they were in the late 1960s. Schools—and classrooms and programs within schools—continue to be segregated by race and class.”
Most Americans – of all races – treasure the idea of neighborhood schools. Thus, the ethnic make-up of schools echoes the composition of their neighborhoods. Indeed, many urban school districts are not as affluent as suburban districts. However, the cure is not to end local control of schools. The lessons of history are telling. During the early seventies, federal courts ordered cross-district bussing to redress this imbalance, notably in Detroit and Boston. The results were disastrous. Members of all ethnic groups resisted the loss of control of their schools, often violently.
“Democrats will make sure schools do not engage in, and appropriately address, discrimination, bullying and harassment related to sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity; race; national origin; immigration or citizenship status; religion; disability; and language status.”
“Democrats will prioritize equitable education and access for students with disabilities, English language learners, low-income students, students of color, and urban and rural students, including those who are homeless, are immigrants or refugees, or are in the foster care or juvenile justice systems.”
This section contains the egalitarian language that the Democrats love so much. Two items stick out. A Biden Administration will pick up where the Obama Administration left off and allow “transitioning” biological males to use female restrooms and locker rooms, as well as participation in girls’ athletics. Second, their general “open borders” approach to immigration echoes in their prescriptions for the schools.
“We will equip students with the knowledge and skills to understand complex scientific issues, counter the rising tide of denialism by promoting environmental and climate literacy, and reverse the Trump Administration’s cuts to the National Environmental Education Act.”
The National Environmental Education Act is an excellent case of building a school curriculum around an activist agenda. Like many such laws, this 1990 act contains ambiguous and non-threatening language. However, it is replete with invitations for the activists to control this aspect of education. Consider, for example, Section 4.b.3: “The Office of Environmental Education shall develop and disseminate, in cooperation with other Federal agencies, not-for-profit educational and environmental organizations, State agencies, and noncommercial educational broadcasting entities, environmental education publications and audio/visual and other media materials.” This is a green light for one-sided environmental propaganda.
The Trump Administration attempt to scale back the indoctrination was half-hearted. Nevertheless, it will be rolled back and quickly abandoned.
Eliminating Charter Schools
“Democrats believe that education is a public good and should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding.”
Charter schools have been a thorn in the side of the teachers’ unions for at least twenty-five years. They would love to kill the beast entirely, but charter schools are popular with other parts of the Democrat’s “coalition,” especially African-Americans. Therefore, they must carefully target their attacks.
In 2017, the National Education Association (NEA) put out a statement alleging that “The explosive growth of charters has been driven, in part, by deliberate and wellfunded [sic] efforts to ensure that charters are exempt from the basic safeguards and standards that apply to public schools, which mirror efforts to privatize other public institutions for profit.” Reading the statement makes it clear that the NEA would eliminate any independence that charter schools possess.
Of course, many charter school faculties eschew joining the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). This fact plays a significant role in the continuing animosity.
Student Assessment and Teacher Accountability
“Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop reliable, continuous, evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement.”
This statement represents a divergence from the Obama Administration’s policies, which included “high-stakes tests” as a prominent feature of their “Race to the Top.” These tests have been routinely dismissed by both the NEA and the AFT since the Reagan Administration.
At the same time, there is a logical contradiction within this statement. “Reliable, evidence-based student assessment” has hitherto fore meant using pencil and paper tests to implement a national standard. It is not consistent with the “holistic measures” that the platform advocates.
A “Research Report” on the topic shows how complex a “holistic” assessment can become. Ideally, it would include “food security” and “home security” and the more standard academic measures. Other criteria include physical and mental health, the extent to which the student is “engaged” in the evaluation process, and the availability of transportation and internet access. Any attempt to collect and compare such information on the nation’s 50.6 million students would be a herculean, and probably pointless, task.
Of course, failure to assess students’ learning makes effective evaluations of teachers equally elusive, which is probably what the unions want.
A New Secretary of Education
Education Week raises a related question when it speculates on the identity of the incoming Secretary of Education. It prominently mentioned AFT President Randi Weingarten or former NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. Either choice would ensure that the teachers’ unions would be the vanguard of the non-reform effort. At the same time, it is unlikely that a Republican-run Senate would approve either.
Far more likely would be a University president or the Dean of one of the larger education schools. Any such candidate would embrace the educational ideology of John Dewey, which has done so much to ruin America’s schools. Many of these promoted the “Common Core” and would be happy to resurrect the failed program’s premises (minus testing), if not its name.
A Needed About-face
Unfortunately, the Deweyite ideology has held sway for so long – well over a century – that it feels conservative. A valid traditionalist response would require a return to “direct instruction,” reliance on fact over conjecture, and adherence to absolute truth. These would require such an about-face that they would face immediate resistance from all levels of the educational bureaucracy. For now, such solutions are the preserve of homeschoolers and a few of the better run classical academies.
© Adobe Stock/Stock Rocket