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We Should Heed Jeff Bryant’s Call to Arms

December 30, 2016

Progressive education blogger Jeff Bryant wrote a Common Dreams blog post that could well save as a  call to arms for progressive pro-public education advocates across the country. In his essay Mr. Bryant delineates the flaws in the “free market” direction Mr. Trump intends to take public education and the weak-kneed responses thus far on the part of Democrats. This section of his post is particularly damning of “the opposition”:

A burning question is, “Where are the Democrats?”

As for the outgoing US Secretary John King, according to Education Week, he’d like all “supporters of public education” to “set aside the policy differences that we have let divide us and move forward together courageously to defend and extend this fundamental American institution.”

While we should appreciate the Secretary’s respect for decorum, what needs to be made clear is who are the real “supporters of education” and what “differences” are appropriate for setting aside and which are worth fighting for.

Education marketers have rebranded “public schools” to mean any institution that gets tax dollars. And the phrase “doing what’s best for kids” has been turned into an empty PR slogan.

Mr. Bryant then chastises the narrow gauge of the five “progressive” senators’ opposition to DeVos on the basis of an unpaid fine before using a Think Progress article to drive home the point that Democrats will have a problem opposing charters given their recent track record:

As Casey Quinlan observes for Think Progress, Democratic advocates for charter schools, like King, are “stuck” in a difficult space between those who are increasingly alarmed with school choice run amok across the nation and “a new administration that’s hostile to public education.”

Exhibit A in Quinlan’s argument is US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), who “has been a staunch advocate for the expansion of charter schools and of school choice,” but has now felt pressured to publicly declare he has “healthy skepticism” and “serious early concerns” about DeVos.

Quinlan points to national teachers’ unions as the force driving Democrats into these difficult spaces, but the opposition to the oncoming Trump education doctrinaire goes well beyond the national unions.

Bryant concludes his post with a heartening summary of State charter expansion initiatives that were defeated at the polls by grassroots efforts… efforts that prevailed in the face of prodigious spending by the pro-charter lobby. He concludes his article with these paragraphs:

“What our children don’t need is the federal government trying to divert any amount of that funding to private and religious schools,” writes David Sciarra, the executive director of the Education Law Center. His recommendations include “start[ing] state-level conversations about rejecting offers of federal funding that come at the price of defunding public education and causing even more inequity and disparity of opportunity for students” and “legislative campaigns for charter school reform.”

The Nation’s Dana Goldstein has good advice too. “If progressive education … is to be effective over the next several years, it will have to focus strategically on statehouses, school boards, city councils, and mayoral races.”

We know what’s at stake. Let’s get to it!

I’m ready to keep an eye on New Hampshire’s education bills… I’m going to go to it in 2017!

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