Identifying Fact from Fiction: Who are the REAL Progressives in Education Reform?
Marla Kilfoyle @marla_kilfoyle
Melissa Tomlinson @jmtrht0625
To be a Progressive means to believe and advocate for Progress. What defines Progress? Progress is defined as moving forward and onward. As we discuss people of the Progressive movement, we should be asking one important question; “Who are they advocating for?” Let’s review how some self-proclaimed Progressives are moving public education forward. Rahm Emmanuel, Mayor of Chicago, supports the closure of over 50 schools in predominantly communities of color. He allows the opening of close to 30 charters and a contract for over 300 Teach for America recruits to go into schools, replacing veteran teachers and teachers of color. Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, is an ardent supporter of the privatization movement. His continuous support of charter schools continue to hyper-segregate communities. He continues to be an ally to Wall Street hedge funders who finance and support the privatization of public education. Governor Cuomo has even stated emphatically that he would “break” New York state’s public school system.
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education USDOE, continues to push out policies that harm children in our public schools. He continues to push his agenda of high stakes testing that has led to the false identification of our children, schools, and teachers as “failures.” He has insulted mothers and grandmothers who work hard to support their children and public schools. Arne Duncan falsely uses IDEA (Individuals with Disability Act) to support an agenda that seeks to put curriculum and graduation out of reach for our children with disabilities. He continues to ignore the undeniable fact that the Common Core Standards and the testing that will accompany it will not address the issues of poverty and inequality that continue to exist in our public school system.
President Obama’s Race to the Top program has done little except support the privatization of our public education system. Race to the Top requirements attempted to establish statewide longitudinal student data tracking systems. Race to the Top would not allow a state to receive money if they put a cap on charters, did not support Common Core and the testing consortia that went hand in hand with it. Race to the Top money would also not be available to the state if they did not evaluate their teachers based on student test scores. This “progressive” agenda quickly led to the closing of schools, the push-out of teachers of color, and the push out of veteran teachers. This “progressive”agenda led to charters taking the place of closed public schools and Teach For America recruits with 5 weeks of training taking the place of fired veteran teachers and many teachers of color.
Another self-proclaimed progressive group is Democrats for Education Reform, a front for Republicans and corporate interests. In 2014, DFER financed candidates in elections that sought to close public schools. DFER supports the agenda of punishing children with High Stakes Testing, blaming teachers for “failing” schools, attacks teachers right to due process, and doesn’t seem to support providing equitable educational funding to help children. They are secretly funded by billionaire Eli Broad and many other hedge funders. It is clear that the education agenda of the self-proclaimed Progressives has been, as Diane Ravitch writes, “to transfer public funds to private management and the creation of thousands of deregulated, unsupervised, and unaccountable schools that have opened the public coffers to profiteering, fraud, and exploitation by large and small entrepreneurs.” This doesn’t seem to be forward movement for children or education. It sure seems like forward movement for the self-proclaimed progressives to make more money off the backs of our children and their public education.
What do real Progressives look like and what are they saying? Diane Ravitch continues to write and tour the country exposing the false narrative of the self-proclaimed progressives. Her latest quote, “I want schools for the poor that the wealthy are giving their children.” Her most powerful quote is, “closing schools is not reform.” She challenges the undemocratic nature of corporate education reform, “There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people; when the wealthiest of these foundations are joined in common purpose, they represent an unusually powerful force that is beyond the reach of democratic institutions.” (Ravitch – The Death and Life of the Great American Public School System, 2011).
Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka, another strong and true Progressive, says of public schools, “We need our schools to be reformed, but we should be involved in that reform. We are smart enough to reform our schools. We don’t need to give them away.” Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, states“Forty years ago, some of our great public universities, as well as many state colleges, were virtually tuition free. Today, the cost of college is unaffordable for many. In 1990, the U.S. led the world in the percentage of 25-34-year-olds with college degrees. Today we are in 12th place. Things need to change. Higher education must become affordable for all.” Finally, Pedro Noguera, a professor of sociology at New York University, and the author of City Schools and the American Dream and co-editor of Unfinished Business: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap in Our Schools, points out in The Nation, “Canadian policy analyst Michael Fullan has argued that the United States will not make progress in improving its schools because it relies on what he calls the “wrong drivers”—‘using test results and teacher appraisals to reward or punish teachers and schools,’ and ‘promoting individual versus group solutions’—instead of focusing on developing the capacity of schools and educators to meet the educational and social needs of students and improving the culture of under performing schools.” Do you see the difference in the narrative?
Look at the distinct difference in the actions and words of our true Progressives versus our self-proclaimed Progressives. The self-proclaimed Progressives talk about “failing” schools, punishing children and teachers with testing, Common Core, school closures, the financing of the privatization agenda, and increased charters. What are our real Progressives saying? Stop inequality, address the achievement and wealth gap, and address the needs of our children who are in under performing schools, support teachers, and fund public education equitably. We would like to end this piece with a request. We would like any group that seeks to ignore how poverty and inequality influence children and their education to stop calling themselves Progressive. You are not Progressive; you are regressive; we know it and the nation knows it.