I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Republicans Must Own Trump; "Reformers" Must Own DeVos

One of the more amusing things to come out of the Trump presidency -- that is, as amusing as things can get during this horror show -- is watching "moderate" Republicans and other center-rightists try to distance themselves from The Donald. Here, for example, is Andrew Sullivan (the guy who tried to convince us racism could be part of a legitimate academic pursuit) now thoroughly vexed that a maniac like Trump is in the White House. And here's David Frum, scared that Trump will sail to an easy reelection because Reaganomics always works, and therefore people will be so happy with the booming economy that they will readily overlook Trump's fascist tendencies.

The problem with Sullivan's and Frum's arguments, of course, is that they desperately want to believe Trump is an anomaly; that this corrupt, intemperate, freak of a man just happened to be in the right place at the right time, up against the wrong opponent. It's only through some strange confluence of circumstances and some overlooked back door in America's political code that Trump was able to worm his way in and take power.

The hard truth, however, is that Donald Trump was inevitable. That he is a product of a political and media system in which Sullivan and Frum have held positions of influence for years. That the conservative/neo-liberal framing of the issues (what Atrios calls the "Free Republic to New Republic" range of acceptable discourse) set up the rise of a nationalist like Trump.

Plenty of others have taken down Frum and Sullivan from this angle (here, here, here), and I'm not about to dive into their complete bodies of work without a substantial paycheck and a gas mask. So I won't contribute any more to this debate; I only wish to point out this ongoing attempt by the "reasonable" right to distance themselves from Trump as a way to explain what is already happening in my little universe of education policy:

Some of the center-right is disavowing Trump, even though they were instrumental in creating him -- just like some of the neoliberal school "reformers" are disavowing Betsy DeVos, even though they were instrumental in creating her.

Here's a good example of this, courtesy of (you guessed it) The New Republic:
Perhaps the most nebulous term in these discussions—aside from “school reform” itself—is the simple phrase “school choice.” Sometimes it just means charters, which are strongly supported by the Obama administration and many mainstream Democrats. But it can also mean vouchers, which are generally opposed by the center-left for diverting taxpayer dollars to private schools that may be religious, virtual, or for-profit.

When DeVos appears before the Senate on Tuesday, part of the project for Democrats ought to be drawing distinctions—between charters and vouchers, but also between good charters and bad charters. They may have internal divisions on these issues, but Democrats should recognize that DeVos represents not just an unprecedented threat to public education but the worst of the “school choice” movement. 

Republicans will say Democrats are fear-mongering. The Wall Street Journal mocked DeVos’s critics in a weekend editorial, arguing that the nominee “committed the unpardonable sin of devoting much of her fortune to helping poor kids escape failing public schools.” But DeVos, a billionaire Republican donor and former GOP party chair in Michigan, has been a leading financial backer of the worst kind of “school choice” in her state and across America: vouchers, plus charters that are unregulated and unaccountable. [emphasis mine]
Here's another from Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform:

Mrs. DeVos articulated strong support for parental choice. When most people hear parental choice it sounds like a good thing. Why might it be a problem?
Choice is only as good as the quality of options available to our families. Choice without quality controls, particularly where profit-seeking entities are involved, often creates a menu where families are deciding among subpar options. 
DeVos who appears to have troubling conflicts of interest with multiple profit-seeking companies who could benefit from her confirmation as the Secretary of Education. 
There are places where you see non-profit charter schools saving lives, but in other cases, lax oversight means these schools barely out-perform poorly performing district schools. Just as we aggressively fight old-school traditionalists who seek to deny options to parents whose neighborhood schools have failed children, we also fight against folks who believe that government should have little role in regulating schools to ensure our kids are educated well. [emphasis mine]
Give Jeffries credit, the man knows how to stay on message: he never turns down a chance to beat up public schools. He also brazenly tries to lump a fundamentalist free-marketer like DeVos in with "traditionalists," which we all know (at least, those of us up to our necks in education policy) is code for "teachers unions."

But what's remarkable here is the attempt to separate DeVos from the entire "reform" project -- just like the center-right is trying to separate itself from Trump. Sorry, my reformy friends, but you don't get away that easily. In the same way "moderate conservatives" have set up Trump, you've set up DeVos.


1) The "reform" movement has repeatedly -- and with very little evidence -- sold America on the idea that its schools are "failures."

The notion that schools in the United States are abject failures compared to the rest of the world is completely without merit. Given the economic inequities in our country, and what we are willing to spend on schooling, we are just about where we'd expect to be in our educational outcomes.

The "failure" of American schools is the bedrock on which all forms of school "choice" are built. DeVos's beloved school vouchers depend on the public believing that public schools are a mess -- but so do Jeffries' beloved charter schools. DFER's relentless beatdowns on public education have been enormously helpful to the vouchers pushers, and to the for-profit charter industry, which is taking money out of the classroom (more on this soon).

2) The "reform" movement has refused to acknowledge that the primary causes of the "opportunity gap" are the inequitable lives of children outside of school.

Over and over, reformy types keep saying: "Poverty can't be the excuse that stops reform!" Their argument is fundamentally flawed: when millions of Americans are doing difficult, necessary work but can't live dignified lives, sending a few more kids to college isn't going to change much. We need real social mobility, but that's not the same as social equity.

The millionaires and billionaires who donate to Eva Moskowitz's charter schools and DFER, the millionaires and billionaires who want vouchers to advance "kingdom gain," and the millionaires and billionaires who are making money off of for-profit charters all have a common interest in selling the public on the idea that economic inequity is the product of public school "failure."

Let's not pretend for a second they aren't all aligned on this. And let's not pretend for a second that an entire industry of selling school "reform" to the masses isn't being bankrolled by very wealthy people who have a vested interest in the real status quo.

3) The "reform" movement has repeatedly blamed teachers and their unions for the "failure" of America's schools, ignoring the lack of adequate educational resources, especially for schools serving at-risk children.

Almost all of those who regularly bash America's public schools have convinced themselves these schools have plenty of money. That's nonsense; many are lacking what they need, especially since the Great Recession. And we have plenty of evidence that school funding matters and can positively impact school performance. If we want to improve schools -- and I, like nearly all of my fellow public school teachers, want nothing more -- we should start there.

What the "reformers" have tried to argue, instead, is that we can "fire our way to Finland." On its face, that argument makes no sense. And yet, again, it is a bedrock assumption that "good" and "bad" choice advocates make in promoting their vision of reform: that teachers unions have protected hordes of "bad" teachers, and that scads of potentially "good" teachers are waiting anxiously to take their place for less money and fewer job protections.

4) The "reform" movement has worked to de-professionalize education by repeatedly suggesting experience is an impediment, and not a virtue.

The Teach For America types -- who have been implanted within the political mainstream to make arguments like this in the halls of power -- keep telling us that traditional teacher prep programs are a failure. American schools really need the "right" kinds of elite young people as teachers, constantly churning through urban schools. No need to bother with all that tedious coursework -- we'll just create some "alternate" prep programs.

This emphasis on "talent" in lieu of training and experience has given us, among others, Michelle Rhee, Cami Anderson, Chris Cerf, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, John White, Merryl TischHanna Skandera...

And now, Betsy DeVos. A woman so unqualified to be the Secretary of Education she embarrassed herself beyond belief at her own confirmation hearing. Over and over, neoliberal "reformers" told us experience wasn't as important as talent. Look where that thinking got us.

Betsy DeVos is the inevitable result of the "reform" movement: a movement that has denigrated public schools, ignored the structural causes of the "opportunity gap," downplayed the need for adequate and equitable education resources, blamed teachers and their unions for "failure," and pretended a few elites with minimal to no experience could change the system for the better.

Reformies, you now own Betsy DeVos -- just like the center-right owns Donald Trump. She is in office because of you.

Deal with it.

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." - Matthew, 19:24.


edblisa said...

100% correct. When will the adults sitting at the table start to play nice with one another? For years now, it's about 1 side wanting to get it's way without thought or compromise. It's all been a game to lie (or omit truth) to the public in order to line pockets with money. All of this done to children and that is sinful.

Pete Zucker said...

Thanks for jumping on the bandwagon I pointed out months ago.