Wednesday Reading List: Tension at the Party

First, before you do anything today, watch the "Mothers of the Movement" and their speeches from the Democratic National Convention last night:

Blavity looks at the significance:

Called “The Mothers of the Movement,” the group consists of Sabrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, Lezley McSpadden, Mike Brown’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother to Hadiya Pendleton, Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontré Hamilton, Geneva Reed-Veal, mother to Sandra Bland, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner and Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant. Each of them appeared on stage to publicly and collectively throw their support to the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Three of them addressed the nation, giving personal stories about their slain children and why Hillary Clinton is the best candidate to resolve the issues plaguing our country.

I don't know how you can watch the pain that these mothers express and think that police violence is a trivial issue. The Washington Post is keeping a running tally of police violence, and over 500 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016.

In other news, Alyson Klein at Ed Week looks at the future of the intra-Democratic party education wars:

... while [Clinton has] talked a lot about new resources on the campaign trail, she's mostly steered clear of accountability and testing. Plus, she needed help from both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers to win an unexpectedly tough primary against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. And oh, yeah, the Democratic platform this year takes aim at the "test-and-punish" regime, saying it hurts schools and kids of color. It's also sanctioned parents right to opt their children out of standardized tests. Contrast that to 2008, when Obama had been out on the campaign trail talking about policies that Democrats didn't normally rush out and hug—expanding charter schools, raising standards, and paying teachers based on their performance.

Andre Perry is at The Root discussing the tension, and he takes aim at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER):

DFER must find common ground with other Democrats—particularly teachers and unions—or the organization will always find itself criticizing the base, which is especially problematic in an election in which worker rights are in focus. The inability to win over the base of the Democratic Party really caused the changes to the platform. Don’t blame unions. Blame an unspoken alliance with the GOP and deafness to black educators on issues of race, governance and social justice.

Peter Cook pushes back, annotating Perry's piece:

All of us are confronted with having to choose among candidates, referenda, etc., which do not completely represent/embody our personal beliefs and/or wishes. That's just part of life in a democracy. We have to make compromises all the time. The platform - prior to its final changes on July 9th - was a compromise which all sides could live with, but some folks decided to score some points by changing it last-minute. That's the issue.

Perry's point about "reformers" needing to find more common ground with the political base of the Democratic party is correct, but his characterization of reform-oriented Democrats is outdated, at best. He's parroting anti-reform talking points, and I wish he would get beyond that. Emmanuel Felton looks at these same intra-party tensions from a local perspective:

The Obama administration also, through its Race to the Top program, increased federal funding to promote the expansion of charters and touted charters like Mastery, Philadelphia’s largest charter network. Now, a third of Philadelphia’s public school students attend charter schools and the union has withered, in a state that will be a key battleground this November. In Ohio, another key state, three in 10 public school students now attend charters in Dayton and in Cleveland. As the Democratic Party gathers in Philadelphia for its convention this week, an open question is whether Obama’s education policies weakened a key element of the party’s political machinery — and whether Hillary Clinton, the presumptive presidential nominee, will continue those policies.

You should read Felton's whole piece. I have a couple of thoughts, which I also will discuss in more detail in a longer piece. First, it's important to understand how deeply intertwined Democratic party politics, schools, labor unions, and municipal policymaking are. This article has nothing to do with actual schools, their quality, or their impact on children. That's not a judgment, just an observation. It's important to remember that, while schooling and politics are intertwined, making a political point about the relative strength of the Democratic party is different from offering an assessment of the quality of schooling.

Second, the two things I discuss above - actual school quality and the strength of local Democratic party operations - do not need to be in tension, but they sometimes are. Current reform policy priorities have forced those things to be in extraordinary tension for a decade, partly because of the aggressiveness of the Obama administration's reform agenda, and partly because of a political decision on the part of labor unions to run a campaign of resistance rooted in harsh rhetoric. This tension explains Perry's perspective, and the heightened animus between reform-oriented Democrats and the base of the party. The tension is inevitable, but it doesn't NEED to be the defining feature of education reform going forward.