Let me preface this by saying that I am dues-paying member of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (as well as Co-Chair of Progressive Dane) and don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. Yet the trends and developments I see everywhere (and have been seeing for sometime) are too disturbing to ignore. Democrats are repeatedly championing destructive conservative policies in the service of economic elites while pushing aside both common sense and social justice. The current GOP extremist obstructionism is beside the point, except that it enables the Democratic moves to the right because with the major parties the choice becomes one of very bad (Dems) versus unbelievably insanely bad (GOP).
Let’s start with the “EduJobs” Bill. I think last time I mentioned it, Senator Tom Harkin and Rep. David Obey were pushing for $23 billion in aid to states to prevent teacher layoffs. After it was killed, President Obama gave it a push. This is a classic example of the kind of selective use of Presidential power that Glenn Greenwald has been documenting at Salon. The progressive positions get the rhetoric, but the conservative policies get the muscle.
The deficit hawks managed to get the the allocation whittled down to $10 billion, but rather than pay for it via more progressive taxation or the kind of deficit spending that Keynesian economics has demonstrated to be effective in these kind of economic times, there was insistence that cuts elsewhere in education be part of the package (makes me think of the Madison Metropolitan School District budget madness where cuts were justified because “people are reluctant to pay higher taxes”).
The good news is that those cuts were to be taken from the Race to the Top education deform con game. The bad news is that all the Education DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) and their allies, are up in arms protesting the cuts to their favored scheme of more Charter Schools, and more tests used for more things (and here and here and here). This follows their typical union bashing over the distracting issues of which teachers are slated to lose their jobs. What a spectacle, “Democrats” and self- proclaimed education reformers more interested in destroying organized labor and expanding Bushian policies than in keeping teachers in the classrooms.
Now the biggest Education DINO, President Obama, has threatened to veto the bill if the cuts to Race to the Top remain.
A little break for sanity. This week the Journal of Education Controversy posted a new critique of the Obama/Arne Duncan education policies from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Here is an excerpt:
We reject the language of business for discussing public education.
Not only has the language of the marketplace entered discussions of school governance and management, but we also notice that the language of business accountability is used to talk about education, a human endeavor of caring. The primary mechanism of the No Child Left Behind Act has been annual standardized tests of reading and math for all children in grades 3-8, followed by punishments for the schools that cannot rapidly reach ever increasing test score production targets. We worry that our society has come to view what is good as what can be measured and compared. The relentless focus on testing basic skills has diminished our attention to the humanities, the social studies, the arts, and child and adolescent development. As people of faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings, created in the image of God, to be nurtured and educated.
I want to point out that although comes from a perspective of faith, the values espoused are also in the humanist tradition.
A side trip away from education to note that the White House and the Democratic leadership choose to court Scott Brown (R. MA) and other Republicans by making the financial regulation bill more Wall Street friendly and rejected Russ Feingold’s (D. WI) efforts enact legislation that the banks and the hedge fund managers didn’t like, losing his vote. This same “leadership” has failed to enact an extension of unemployment benefits.
The links between Wall Street and Education DINOS are many. Kenneth Libby has started a new site — Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) Watch — to document these and other aspects of the deform effort. Some of this has to do with an elitist, technocratic, market based worldview, a desire to tear down a non-market based system of public education that works very well for most American students and communities, destroy organized labor and a related desire to inculcate students with these values. Some of it also has to do with the profit motive. As Juan Gonzalez has reported, the semi-privatization of education via Charters and Vouchers offers wealthy donors significant tax credits (leading to further starvation of the public sector). Here is a clip from his appearance on Democracy Now explaining how it works.
I can’t leave this topic without checking in again on my favorite Education DINO poster boy, Whitney Tilson. He’s a DFER leader who also manages investment funds. The fees from this “work” support a lavish lifestyle, generous political contributions and his extensive education policy advocacy. Unfortunately for his investors, his funds lose money. Let’s go to the charts:
Since inception, the Tilson Dividend fund has done slightly better than the NASDAQ and the Tilson Focus fund slightly worse; both have lost money. After taxes and fees are accounted for, investors are out even more. As I said before, you would have done better stashing your money in an old sock than giving it to Whitney Tilson to invest. As I asked at the same time, why would anyone trust our education system and our children’s futures to the people responsible for the economic disaster, people who have wrought havoc on our society and can’t even show a profit for their clients in the free market they love so well? I don’t have an answer, but like so much else that is wrong with politics it might have something to do with those campaign donations.
I’ll close by noting that closer to home Tom Barrett — the leading Democratic Candidate for Governor — has expressed has more concern for property taxpayers than enthusiasm for fixing Wisconsin’s broken school funding system.
Thomas J. Mertz