State Democrats decide who’s a REAL Democrat

Former state Sen. Gloria Romero, now California director of Democrats for Education Reform.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Real Democrats don’t back school reform, apparently. Or maybe the message is that Democrats don’t let Democrats shake up the school scene. In any case, real Democrats clearly aren’t allowed to disagree with the California Teachers Assn.

It’s more than a little disturbing to read that the California Democratic Party voted to condemn groups that lobby for major change in the schools, such as Democrats for Education Reform, and called them fronts for Republicans.

I’m a frequent critic of what I see as excesses of the reform movement — its failure to demand as much of charter schools as it does of public schools, or to keep them from “counseling out” students who don’t make their numbers look good. Its relentless focus on test results and tendency to want them to be a huge factor in teacher evaluations even though that’s not borne out by any evidence. Its apparent desire to make firing teachers as easy as stepping on ants.

But let’s get it straight — even though there is a definite push within the movement to squash unions, there’s also a sincere desire to help children, especially low-income students of color. And yes, much of the money backing the reform movement and thus the many reform nonprofits comes from corporations, but who else was willing to put some financial backing into opposing the very well-heeled unions, which until recently were the only moneyed force in town? In this case, the unions that are in danger of being squashed are also the unions that have bucked any changes that might make schools more accountable.

For all the talk by the California Teachers Assn. and its political allies, how well were disadvantaged students doing before reform? What was the CTA doing for them? Yes, it lobbied for more money, and schools do need more money; unfortunately, it didn’t lobby for that money to be spent in effective ways that would have to prove their educational worth.


Then there was Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson — a Democrat in a supposedly nonpartisan position who received heavy campaign support from the CTA -- taking on Democrats for Education Reform and implying that such people don’t deserve to describe themselves as Democrats. “In my book, you’re not a reformer, you’re not helping education and you’re sure not much of a Democrat,” he said, according to the Sacramento Bee.

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Have we really reached the point where the Democratic Party in this state censures Democrats for honest disagreement about how schools should be run?

Of course the reform movement goes to extremes at times, and that includes President Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but sometimes it takes some extreme pushing to get the center to move over a little bit. For two years we had bills to “reform” the firing of some teachers — those accused of abusing students — by taking away all due process for teachers to appeal. That’s not sensible reform, that’s just an attack, a power grab by school districts that don’t want to have to show they’ve built a valid case against a teacher.

Neither bill went anywhere, but it was the insistent drumbeat of displeasure over how impossible it is to fire really bad teachers — the kind of teachers parents go to bed praying their kids won’t be assigned to in the fall — that led to a much more balanced bill to streamline the firing process for all teachers found to be sorely lacking. The new bill — carried by a Democrat — has CTA support, which would have been unthinkable a decade ago. The entire bill would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Remember the ad-campaign beating former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took several years back for daring to suggest that tenure rules be softened?


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