Education Campaigning, Democratic Style

Unlike their Republican competitors, Democrats have been campaigning on education issues for decades.  Building off of Tip O’Neill’s adage that all politics was local, the Democrats have long focused on their local schools and their local school districts.  And with the local teachers unions offering organizational support, telephone banks, and scads of votes, campaigning on education issues has been a no brainer.

Certainly, the Democratic field will soon be deferring to the NEA and AFT on their education platforms.  As we saw in Education Week a few weeks ago, today’s Dem contenders have to go back 10 or 20 years to cite their commitment to education, and that’s even with Hillary and Obama sitting on the Senate Education Committee.  But if they are going to break through the white noise of typical union ed policy, they need to be bold and connect with those on the front lines, not their DC representatives.

For the record, I am the son of a long-time NEA school teacher.  In 1990, my mother walked the picket lines in West Virginia for two weeks.  And I never saw her prouder of being a teacher than during that 11-day exercise of civic duties.

And I know, as a former political operative, the value the NEA and AFT can play for a political candidate, particularly one on a national stage.  So I ask the Democratic field — Hillary and Obama, Edwards and Richardson, and the rest of the pack — to be strong, be valiant and stand up for education reform, not just for union education.

To that end, Eduflack has a five-point plan for our Democratic presidential candidates to frame education as a key component of their campaigns.  For most, they can’t speak of their work at the school district or state level.  But all can talk about education improvement for all.

1.  We all must commit to improve our schools.  We cannot and should not simply protect the status quo.  That means having hard coversations with the teachers unions and pushing them and school administrators to make hard decisions.  Sacrifices today can yield improvements tomorrow. 

2. Additional funding does not directly result in improved achievement.  For every carrot, there is a stick.  If we are to increase NCLB spending (and we should, particularly to get effective teachers in the classroom), we need to ensure that such funding increases are focused on proven programs, improved assessments, and effective interventions.  As a nation, we will pay more if we see the results.

3. National standards level the playing field.  Regardless of who controls Congress or the White House, no one should be afraid of national education standards.  Such standards offer a promise of equity in all of our schools.  For those traditional blue states, and the urban centers located in them, national standards ensure that all students, regardless of their hometown, race, or socioeconomic status, are taught and measured compared to every other student in the country.  That equal field only helps when it comes to college, to jobs, and to life.

4. The time has come for Democrats to push the unions.  Can anyone honestly say that our schools wouldn’t benefit from teacher improvement.  HQT provisions in NCLB are fine, but the NCLB Commission got it right — we need to focus on effective teachers, not just qualified ones.  Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs out there, but intellectually and emotionally.  We need to do everything possible to support those teachers on the front lines.  But we also need to recognize that not everyone is cut out for the challenge.  Our schools need an assessment/improvement/mentoring model for all teachers.  Good teachers will thrive.  Those not destined to teach can move on with their professional lives.

5. Education reform is a shared responsibility.  Meaningful change is not just left to the teachers or the national education organizations.  Just as Hillary Clinton wrote about it taking a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to educate one.  Improving our schools requires teamwork.  Teachers and parents, business and community leaders, local, state, and federal officials all play a role in identifying, implementing, and assessing meaningful, results-based reform.  Shared responsibility results in shared success.

Education is an easy topic for today’s Democratic candidates.  But now is not the time to sing exclusively from the union hymnals.  Democrats were a key part in getting NCLB implemented across the country, and Democratic presidential candidates can continue the push for results-based education reform by building on the foundations of NCLB and pushing for shared responsibility, shared desire to improve, and a shared commitment to increase funding for our schools … as long as it is spent on proven programs, training, and intervention.

3 thoughts on “Education Campaigning, Democratic Style

  1. This is fantastic! I loved the topic and your treatment of it. The blog is unique and certain to create badly needed dialogue about some heretofor verboten subjects.

  2. I like the five point plan, especially number three. Students from Mississippi should have access to the same rich body of knowledge as students from Massachusetts. And all 50 states should have a common definition for “proficient” before 2014. Never mind the “feel good” definitions being used now by half the states when left to their own devices. Some of their test results when compared with NAEP (the nation’s report card) test results are an embarrassment. Do they really believe they’re fooling anyone? Especially their taxpayers?

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