June 1, 2020

In the rush to beat Trump, we can’t let Biden cave on ed policy

In a rush to find any presidential candidate that isn’t Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, I may have been too quick to drop my commitment to important education policies and to jump on the Joe Biden express. Since it has been clear he would become the Democratic nominee I’ve assumed the role of tentative supporter as a matter of pragmatism.

But, as much as I am a voting citizen desperate for a “normal” president who Tweets less than I do and can speak in complete sentences that don’t include “tremendous,” “Fabulous,” “never seen before,” or “the previous administration,” I am also something else that puts me in conflict with Biden nearly as much as Trump.

I am an education voter determined to shut down every education desert in America.

Biden’s education platform vaguely sings some of my favorite songs and some evergreen tunes I don’t mind.

His campaign site says “[a]s president, Biden will”:

  • Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  • Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.
  • Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.
  • Provide every middle and high school student a path to a successful career.
  • Start investing in our children at birth.

Yet, last December when asked by a teachers’ union activist about standardized testing he gave an unforgivably unscientific and pandering response. She asked: “Given that standardized testing is rooted in a history of racism and eugenics, if you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized testing in public schools?”

Biden responded simply: “yes…you’re preaching to the choir kid.”

“I’m not saying every teacher’s a great teacher. What I am saying is, you know what it takes to communicate to a child what in fact they need to know.”

He could have just as easily said: “research tells us teachers are poorly prepared, don’t know how to teach reading, hold impactful biases against nonwhite students, often overlook gifted children of color while also overcommitting them to low-tracks or discipline rooms.

He also could have said “well, if it’s important to point out the tenuous relationship between today’s educational testing and yesterday’s racism, then it’s also important to point out the same connection between today’s teachers’ unions, teachers, and school boards to yesterday’s racist versions of the same.

I doubt the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers could override the wishes of their rank-and-file members and rig their endorsement for him if he told that much truth.

I understand if you see that as short sighted and say “damnit Chris, there are more important things in the world than winning the ed wars! Don’t be so myopic!”

Educated people with good salaries, operable vehicles, and an above average number of bedrooms like to say dumb shit like that.

(full disclosure: I’m happy to say that I fit that description, so, glass houses noted).

I won’t apologize for sticking to my values. I truly believe that when large groups of the public leave K-12 without all the need to earn a living it becomes the fountainhead of expensive and cruel societal problems. So many of the big economic issues we fight downstream grow because educational injustice is real. That tells me a candidate for president who wants my vote as much as she or he wants campaign donations from public employees should have a well-considered vision for advancing education.

Unfortunately, Biden appears to have traded his years presumably supporting Clinton-Bush-Obama school reforms for a pandering and muddled retreat courtesy of national teachers unions who in recent years have done a bang up job of becoming education’s Tea Party within the DNC.

Here’s what I see he’s promising: attacks on school choice, charters, accountability, and testing; a shower of cash on public employees and their unions; and, abso-fricken-lutely ZERO focus on improving teacher preparation or induction, classroom instruction, evidence-based practice, or expectation of for better outcomes – especially for the most marginalized populations in schools.

Is there anything good in there? Sure, I admit he offers a laudable lifeline to HBCUs that I support, yet, putting caramel on a turd doesn’t make it a sundae.

Now, don’t let me make too much of this point. Maybe I’m misreading him. Perhaps he’s planning a Machiavellian reversal once in office and school choice will rain from the heavens like a justice hurricane. But, I doubt it.

Look at this chart comparing Biden’s and Sanders’ education proposals created by Brooke LePage at FutureEd, and find the lie.

I’m afraid to say that when it comes to voting for Biden I have buyers remorse already and I haven’t even paid yet. That can’t be good.

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