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Est. April 5, 2002
March 02, 2017 - Issue 688

Suggested Responses
to the
Trump-DeVos Education Agenda

"There is an increasing racial and cultural disconnect
between those who fund public education and those
who consume it.  An emerging view is that publicly-funded
corporate-led school choice will meet the needs of
non-minority students, allowing for profits to be made,
while a selective population of students of color will be
added to make it look like America."

Unions and other public education supporters need to take stock of how they will react to President Trump’s and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s all-out school choice agenda. Although former President Obama and his Education Secretaries, Arne Duncan and John King, facilitated a major mugging of the nation’s system of public education, teacher unions and the general citizenry willingly signed on. Even when Duncan stated in 2010 that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans," which allowed him to essentially turn the New Orleans school district over to the private sector, only union dissidents voiced full-throated condemnation of his statement and privatization initiatives. During the remainder of their tenures, Duncan and King moved billions of federal dollars to the corporate education reform Cartel and set forth guidelines to close thousands of public schools and place them in private hands.

Thus, Trump and DeVos are simply continuing to carry out the privatization schemes of the Obama administration (with the addition of school vouchers). The difference is that Trump and DeVos are loudly trumpeting their intentions while Obama and Duncan proceeded down the same corporate road, hugging and kissing teacher unions and members of the Democratic base that ensured Obama’s elections in 2008 and 2012.  During his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, Trump launched an assault on public education.  Meanwhile, his school choice pit bull, Betsy DeVos, chews harder on teachers, public school students, and unions as if they are rag dolls. Below are suggestions for unions and backers of public education to consider utilizing during the Tump-DeVos era.

First, teacher unions and public education stakeholders must acknowledge the fact that there have been massive demographic changes in the student racial composition in K-12 public schools during the past generation. The late Harold Hodgkinson informed citizens, teachers, and the general public of these shifting student characteristics in hundreds of articles, presentations, and several books, and he noted their implications for the K-12 classroom. However, few educators addressed these realities in any meaningful way. As of the fall of 2016, more than 51 percent of all students enrolled in the nation’s public schools were either of African American, Native American, Asian, or Hispanic descent. This reality exists in school districts in every state, especially in urban areas.

In addition, a majority of these students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch and live in neighborhoods that are entangled in concentrated poverty, crime and violence, and high rates of adult and youth unemployment. But what is most disconcerting is the fact that local, state, and federal governments have systematically stepped away from these new student populations. There is an increasing racial and cultural disconnect between those who fund public education and those who consume it. An emerging view is that publicly-funded corporate-led school choice will meet the needs of non-minority students, allowing for profits to be made, while a selective population of students of color will be added to make it look like America. It could prove useful for supporters of public education to point this out more vigorously to teachers and the broader public.

Next, unions need to make the case more aggressively that public schools are significantly under-funded and that voucher and charter schools do not perform any better than public schools. Moreover, students with disabilities are routinely screened out of the aforementioned schools, and then the Cartel commissions its own researchers to counter these truths. Furthermore, it has the connections to have these fake findings widely heralded in both liberal and conservative print and broadcast media. The Cartel and its followers have out-marketed teacher unions and their allies in getting its message out, and it has been consistently able to obscure its profit motive while launching vicious allegations that students are being victimized by the public education monopoly whose only interest are higher salaries and shorter work hours.

Last Monday, President Trump signed an executive order for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), placed the HBCU initiative in the White House, giving it a higher profile, and promised support from his cabinet departments. At the same time, Trump’s outreach staff is asking HBCUs to establish corporate charter schools on their respective campuses, an example of a quid pro quo and strategic marketing. However, Secretary DeVos quickly walked on Trump’s marketing ploy by ignorantly stating that “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality.” She attempted to clean up her remarks at a luncheon on Tuesday after being apprised of her faux pas.

Lastly, unions and other public-sector advocates need to get back to the nitty gritty basics of organizing. In recent years, they have, sometimes inadvertently, neglected to meaningfully involve their members in the organizing process. Too often, so-called organizing is defined as the leadership developing and distributing TV and radio ads criticizing union opponents, email blasts conjured up by a communications staff that is detached from the rank and file, and negotiations with Cartel members and politicians unbeknownst to the membership. This was blatantly revealed in the 2016 presidential election where more than 35 percent of union households voted for Donald Trump and Republicans down ticket, despite their unions’ early endorsement of and millions of dollars in expenditures on Hillary Clinton.

This wholesale break with management’s endorsement reached into reliably blue states—Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—that Democrats had carried since Reagan in the 1980s, costing Hillary the election. As the long-term union activist, Janet McAlevey, notes in her recent book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, “Most unions and social change groups will say they are organizing. I’m arguing that most are not—which is part of why we are losing.” It is imperative that a wide-ranging cross-section of workers’ voices and views be incorporated into whatever actions unions decide to pursue in the future—endorsements, rallies, phone banks, get-out-the-vote efforts, etc. What is abundantly clear is that pursuing approaches that have already failed is not the answer to unions’ contemporary woes.

links to all 20 parts of the opening series Columnist, Dr. Walter C. Farrell, Jr., PhD, MSPH, is a Fellow of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and has written widely on vouchers, charter schools, and public school privatization. He has served as Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as Professor of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Contact Dr. Farrell. 




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David A. Love, JD
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