There has been much debate in the last week about whether the Democratic Party is signaling a change in education policy, and this weekend’s Convention Platform meeting provides the best measure.

Earlier in the week, Hillary Clinton spoke to the National Education Association and was well received, except for a comment distinguishing for-profit charters from nonprofit, as if there is a way to qualify the threat charters pose to public schools. Dana Goldstein wrote in Slate that “Hillary Clinton is changing the Democratic Party’s relationship with the school-reform movement.” But education advocates are not so sure.

Blogger Peter Greene is not believing it, saying Clinton is just parsing words. He has the best line ever written on the topic:  "...a modern non-profit charter school is just a for-profit school with a good money-laundering plan."  Jeff Bryant says, maybe and Diane Ravitch says, “time will tell,” advising, “we should all give Hillary Clinton a chance to change direction.” All that is speculation based on interpretation. Advocates are petitioning Clinton to meet with Ravitch for more assurance. The Network for Public Education made headlines for helping advocates with a grassroots push to influence the platform.

Yesterday’s amendments to the Democratic Party’s education platform are the first indication of anything concrete. Much of what was found in the amendments are also recommended by the Network for Public Education.

Of course, bloggers and activists will continue to debate. To help that discussion along, here is the text of the amendments and some of the remarks made during the Committee’s consideration. (Quotation marks indicate direct quotes. Full remarks can be heard on the C-SPAN link, which is indexed and easy to navigate.)

The session started with higher education topics including eliminating college debt and increasing access to college. K-12 amendments were introduced by Chuck Pascal, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania, and AFT President Randi Weingarten, a Hillary Clinton supporter.

AMENDMENT 76 – Testing – passed unanimously

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs but does not drive instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment and we believe that standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association Standards for reliability and validity. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as a basis of refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or the school.

Chuck Pascal: We should only be using standardized tests that are statistically valid. The current standardized testing only indicates that a student is in poverty...We oppose the toxic test and punish culture that allows these invalid test scores to be allowed to use to close schools, be used to punish schools, be used to defund schools and to demonize teachers. We would ask that Randi Weingarten be able to speak.

Randi Weingarten: …Schools become places of joy for children again where we engage kids and we care about their wellbeing.

Amendment #77 – A comprehensive curriculum - passed unanimously

We will invest in high quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand linked learning models and career pathways. We will end the school to prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities and by supporting the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.

Chuck Pascal: Recognition that arts are important, too. Of course we support a well rounded education that also includes social sciences and humanities. The amendment importantly talks about discipline policies. 

A secondary amendment also passed unanimously. It was introduced by Troy LaRaviere, a Chicago Public Schools principal and President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. If Pascal and Weingarten’s unity says something bigger about Clinton and Sanders—and it does—LaRaviere’s presence says something bigger about the Democratic Party. He has famously tangled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the neoliberal Democrat who represents what some progressive education advocates believe has been the Party’s worst self.

The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps, particularly those that lead students from low income communities to arrive to school on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers from higher income communities.

That means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children. This means being committed to increasing the average income in households in poor communities. It means ensuring these children have healthcare, stable housing free of contaminants and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming that increases the likelihood that poor children will arrive to kindergarten with the foundations for the expectations that we have for them in the areas of literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence. It means that we support what it takes to compel states to fund public education equitably and adequately as well as expand support provided by the Title I formula for schools that serve a large number and high concentration of children in poverty.

It means that we support ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps. We’re also committed to ensuring that schools who educate kids in poverty are not unfairly treated for taking on the challenge of serving those kids.

This means an end to the test and punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the academic gaps created before they reach school.

We support policies that motivate our educators instead of demoralizing them. No school system in the world has ever achieved successful whole system reform by leading with punitive accountability.

We must replace this strategy with one that will actually motivate educators and improve their training and professional development in order to get results for all students with an emphasis on equitable results for students of color, low income students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

Amendment #38 - Restorative Justice - Passed

We will encourage restorative justice and reform overly punitive disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect African Americans, Latinos and students who identify as LGBTQ.

Roberta Achtenberg said, During the 2011-2012 school year, about 3.5 million students were suspended, 260,000 were referred to law enforcement and 92,000 were arrested either in school or through school activities. Rather than improving the quality of our schools, overly punitive disciplinary policies make matters worse. They fuel mass incarceration epidemics. These policies have a discriminatory bent. We need to change our approach to school discipline. 

Amendment #65 – Charters – Passed

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high quality public school options and expanding these options for low income use. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools. And we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools, focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Randi Weingarten said, “We started the education section with a unity amendment and we are ending the education section with a unity amendment because Democrats should be foursquare for high quality public schools for all children regardless of zip code, regardless of race, regardless of economic status.

“So we have called for a commitment to democratically governed public schools. We’ve said in this amendment that there is a place for charter schools--public charter schools--but we have also said that we can’t have what is happening in Detroit right now where entities like the DeVos Family and the Koch Brothers are trying to use charters to kill off public schools. We need to make sure that we level the playing field for all kids and ensure that all kids have the right, the opportunity to learn and that all public schools are schools where parents want to send their kids, where educators want to work and most importantly where children are engaged and have the opportunity to learn. That is why together we submit this new amendment.”

Chuck Pascal said, “Just to wind up here, this amendment talks about democratically governed public schools, and what that means is we support schools being accountable to their communities through having an elected school as opposed to an appointed board that’s accountable to no one in the community.

“We also want to make it clear that, while we understand that charters’ original purpose was to be innovative and experimental—and small, what we have now is not that. What we have is a dual system that is purporting to be equal, but in reality, it is perpetuating a segregation, a segregation by race, a segregation by income and a segregation by opportunity. That has to stop.

“I want to thank Randi Weingarten for working with me over the last day to get these unity amendments, and to get agreement on language, from those of us in the activist education, and activist community and to the unions and to the Clinton Campaign, I want to thank you for that. “

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