What Arnie Duncan’s Resignation Really Implies (Guest Post by Daniel Kwet)

Daniel Kwet is a Connecticut educator on the front lines of the effort to provide Connecticut’s urban children with the education they deserve.  In a school system under-funded by both the State of Connecticut and the local community, Daniel Kwet and his colleagues are not only fighting for children but provide a powerful inspiration for the rest of us who are advocating on behalf of students, parents, teachers and our public schools;

What Arnie Duncan’s Resignation Really Implies (Guest Post by Daniel Kwet)

Recently, Arne Duncan announced that he will resign as United States Secretary of Education.  His tenure has been controversial.  The National Education Association had recently asked for his resignation and its board cheered when he stepped down.  Understanding these events and their significance should help us better understand what is happening in the ongoing fight for public education.  It should also help us to understand the obstacles our unions and all people interested in the future of public education are facing.

While I am no fan of Arne Duncan, I think his resignation needs to be situated in the broader landscape of our political system.  We are currently entering an election cycle.  When Barack Obama ran for office in almost 8 years ago, he ran with Linda Darling-Hammond as his educational advisor, one of the most progressive possible choices he could have made.  Upon election, Obama made a clear shift in appointing Duncan.  Duncan had been “CEO” of Chicago schools and pushed a corporate agenda, so no one could have had any delusions about who he was.  He proceeded to help push through the Race To the Top, the Bush administration’s educational policy on steroids.

The Democratic Party is thoroughly saturated with pro-corporate education deformers.  At every level, national, state, and local, Democratic deformers have been pushing charter schools and restructuring our school policies to adopt a corporate mentality, stripping the public sphere of its emphasis on common good through high stakes standardized testing and through grants that are funded by the super-rich, especially Gates, Waltons, and Eli Broad.  Many urban districts are strapped for cash, leaving them in a weakened position to turn down outside programs when there is a strong enough financial incentive.

As we enter another election cycle, there will be an attempt to make Hillary Clinton look like a saint.  The NEA has officially endorsed Hillary and highlighted her “achievements” in a front page editorial.  Environment plays a large role in shaping the child’s education.  As educators, we should be aware that her husband ripped apart welfare with the Orwellian titled Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, passed through the anti-labor North American Free Trade Agreement that sent good paying jobs to sweatshops overseas, greatly increased the amount of people (mostly black and Latino) in our prison systems (though now we’re supposed to believe it was a mistake).  Perhaps most egregiously, he pushed the Democrats further into the hands of its corporate wing, the Democratic Leadership Council in so-called “Third Way” politics, helping to pave the way for what we are dealing with now. It is also worth noting that Hillary Clinton has served on the board of Walmart.

At this point, Arne Duncan was a political liability for Hillary to gain the support of teachers.  The NEA needs to have real demands and not simply clap for public relation moves.  Below are some simple things should be a base line of support for any candidate:

Will you guarantee that if elected, you will appoint a pro-teacher, pro-union secretary of education?  Who would you consider viable candidates for that position?

Will you denounce charter schools and do everything in your power to get rid of them?

Will you oppose the corporate restructuring of our schools and do everything in your power to get them adequate funding so they can more easily refuse grants that don’t align with our actual needs?

Will you refuse campaign donations from the Gates Foundation, the Waltons, the Broad Foundation, and similar foundations and their front groups?

Furthermore, the NEA has a lot to account for when it writes editorials that omit the clear flaws of the candidates.  This is a pedagogy of deceit, and we should be opposed to it, as it misinforms our members so the NEA can continue a game of begging the Democrats to dismantle public education with kiddy gloves on and friendly faces while it puts the rank and file to sleep.  We should learn from the victories in Chicago and Seattle that nothing is gained if nothing is demanded.  If we fail to learn, we will be in the same place in 2017 as we were in 2009.

AFT, NEA and the Corporate Education Reform oriented DGA

Perhaps we should simply call it a symptom of the corporatization of the modern American labor movement.

Or perhaps we call it a product of the centrifuge that is sucking mainstream American politics into the control of the corporate elite.

But whatever we call it, the premature decision by the American Federation of Teachers to endorse Hillary Clinton for President is yet another example of how the unions representing teachers have been gravitating toward backing those who are perceived to be more acceptable to corporate interests, display a track record of supporting policies that are less than supportive of teachers and the nation’s public schools and/or are defined as the “only” choice because the Republican alternative would be “even worse.”

Truth be told, the issue isn’t even really about Hillary Clinton.  As the presidential nominating process moves forward Hillary Clinton may very well be the “best” choice for the Democrats and the electorate, but the AFT leadership’s decision to endorse her now is an stark indicator of just how far the teacher unions have gone to become part of the get-a-long, go-along status quo.

Rather than requiring that any candidate seeking political support from teachers have a solid progressive record on public education and articulate clear-cut policies and positions that are diametrically opposed to the corporate education reform industry, there is a growing acceptance of candidates who have thrown their support behind the charter school industry and the broader education reform agenda.

Above all else, one thing is certain and that is that the American Federation of Teachers, and for that matter, the National Education Association, has consistently backed Democratic candidates whose records and positions are closely aligned with the so-called “education reformers.”

No where is that clearer than with the massive financial support that the AFT and NEA have given to the Democratic Governors Association, despite the DGA’s outspoken and on-going support for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s education reform agenda, the Common Core, the associated Common Core testing scheme and the inappropriate requirement that standardized test scores be used as part of the teacher evaluation process.

Over the past five election cycles, the American Federation of Teachers has handed the Democratic Governors Association more than $5.5 million in money that was earned by America’s teachers and given to their union with the intention that the funds would be used to support candidates and promote policies that support teachers and enhance public schools.  The National Education Association has donated $4.8 million more.

But despite teacher unions giving more than $10 million dollars to the DGA over the past decade, the organization whose role it is to elect Democratic governors has remained committed to an education reform agenda that is actively and intentionally undermining teachers, the teaching profession and the nation’s public education system.

Just last summer, as opposition to the Common Core and its associated unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing scheme grew, along with the resulting opt-out movement, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who was Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association at the time, dismissed the legitimate concerns that were being raised as nothing more than the work of right-wing nuts.

As reported in an AP story in June 2014, Democrat Shumlin dismissed the opponents of the Common Core as “crazy” conservatives adding, “The fact that the tea party sees that as a conspiracy is a symptom of their larger problems.”

But of course, opposition to the corporate education reform agenda is not a “right-wing issue,” nor is the push back against the heavy-handed and faulty implementation of the Common Core and the Common Core testing scam.

In fact, it is real world it is a broad spectrum of liberal, moderate and conservative parents, teachers and public school advocates who are leading the effort, all across the United States, to turn back the corporate funded public school privatization and education reform effort.

Although the NEA and AFT were two of the DGA’s four largest donors during recent 2014 election cycle, one would think the DGA went out of its way to remind teachers that while their money was useful, their opinions were not.

Not only did the DGA spend more than $3.8 million to promote the re-election of corporate education reform aficionado Democrat Dannel Malloy to serve a second term as  Connecticut’s governor, but the members of the DGA went on to elect Malloy to serve as the next Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

Malloy, who in 2012 became the first sitting Democratic Governor in the nation to propose doing away with tenure for all public school teachers and repealing collective bargaining for teachers in the poorest schools districts is such an eager charter school advocate that he threatened Connecticut’s Democratic controlled General Assembly that at the same time he was proposing to cut funding for public schools, he would not sign any budget bill that did not expand the number of charter schools in the Constitution State.

And the Democrats in the legislature acquiesced to Malloy’s threats.

Malloy also vetoed a bill, passed with bi-partisan support, to require that anyone who serves as Connecticut’s commissioner of education must have appropriate classroom teaching experience.  Malloy whined that requiring the state’s education commissioner to have education experience would cramp his appointment decisions.

Although Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy rivals New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo when it comes to anti-teacher rhetoric and policies, the harsh reality is that Malloy is nothing more than a continuation of the DGA’s effort to support Democratic governors who are wedded to the corporate education reform agenda.

Teachers, students, parents and public school advocates deserve better from the Democrats and from the unions representing teachers, the very same unions that are pouring millions of dollars into the Democratic Party.