Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time for teachers to end abusive relationship with the Democratic Party

When will public school teachers and their unions realize they have been sold out and abused by "their" party, the Democrats? There isn't a more loyal constituency of the party, or one that spends more money and time promoting its candidates, yet is repeatedly kicked in its collective teeth.

In the short run a strategy of separation from the Democratic Party might mean more pain, but in the long run it would either force the Democrats to take them seriously, or, more radically, forge new alliances with other political parties, such as the Greens, that would at least have some promise of moral fidelity from those they have given their trust.

Such a strategy might also help destroy the Democratic Party, which has become almost as corporatist and cynical as the Republicans, and open up a space for a truly liberal, progressive party. In any case what do teachers have to lose by changing course? In short order the Democrats have led a campaign that is destroying both their unions and their profession.

The Democratic antagonism to teachers starts at the top with Barack Obama himself. He's such a smart liar that he'd never say he's opposed to teachers' unions, but every action he's taken as president reveals his true attitudes. From choosing corporate whores like Arne Duncan to his cruel and misguided Race To The Top Obama has stuck a knife in the teachers' backs. Race To The Top itself is a staggering anti-union program. To win RTTT grants states must remove all barriers to Charter Schools, which overwhelming replace unionized teachers with non-unionized trainees like those from Teach For America. Obama and Duncan have literally cheered on the destruction of public schools, best exemplified by their applauding the obliteration of the poorest school district in Rhode Island last year.

The administration's embrace of the No Child Left Behind act, which in two short years will declare nearly every public school in America as a failure, is a particular insult. Failure of schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals is to be met by the literal destruction of every school, mandating either the closing of schools or the replacement of at least 50 percent of a school's teachers and their principals, or, alternatively,  the complete replacement of "failing" schools with Charters filled with non-unionized teachers.

Other examples of national Democrats spitting in the faces of teachers abound. Education Secretary Duncan toured the nation touting Obama's Race To The Top with noted education expert Newt Gingrich. Obama himself appeared on stage in Florida with Jeb Bush, praising the Republican's efforts to privatize the state's public education system. Last week's budget deal between Obama and the House Republicans reinstated Washington, D.C.'s controversial and unwanted school voucher program. As Republicans around the nation work to de-certify teachers' unions and eliminate their collective bargaining rights the president has sat on his hands in Washington.

Obviously Obama is happy to receive the teachers' money and foot soldiers, while simultaneously decimating the ranks of those very unions. In the 2010 election cycle teachers' unions contributed over $12 million to federal candidates, parties and outside groups, almost all of which went to Democrats. That was more than any other labor union. If he was a true supporter of teachers and their unions would he work tirelessly to shrink their ranks? Obviously he feels he will get their support no matter how many times he sells them out. If that's what Obama wants then teachers should let him have his way and he can try and get reelected without their support, which he seems to think he is entitled to even as he betrays them at every turn.

Here in Minnesota the betrayals of teachers by the Democratic Party are just as galling. Last month when the state legislature passed the Teach For America Enabling Act 13 House Democrats voted for the bill, along with 11 Senate Democrats. In both the House and the Senate the Democratic votes weren't even needed for passage, demonstrating the Democrat's contempt for the teachers. They could have voted against the bill without consequence, but they apparently believed in the underlying concept that all the schooling that regular teachers undergo is somehow worth nothing more than the five weeks of training provided to Teach For America recruits.

The "liberal" Democratic governor Mark Dayton issued Orwellian statements about how lowering teacher standards will help "close the achievement gap" and "improve standards" as he signed the bill. For the governor the calculation is obvious: He can safely throw teachers under the bus because it doesn't cost him anything either politically or financially, but he comes out looking like a bi-partisan conciliator. Teachers have no where else to go, politically, and going along with the deformers doesn't require any government funding.

In the 2010 election cycle the state's teachers' union, Education Minnesota, spent more than $2.2 million trying to elect Democrats. The teachers' PAC alone spent more than $325,000 to elect Democrat Mark Dayton. Once again, that doesn't include contributions from individual teachers nor their volunteer work for Democratic campaigns.

Meanwhile Democratic politicians groom education deform leaders. The vacuous Vallay Varro, who constantly spews lies about teachers and schools from her perch at MinnCan, funded and founded by plutocrats, honed her deformer cred as education adviser to Democratic St Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. In Minneapolis Democratic City Councilman Don Samuels, a close ally of mayor R.T. Rybak and a legendary teacher hater, once said that he'd like to see Minneapolis North High School burned to the ground. In a newspaper op-ed Samuels accused teachers' unions of creating an "endless cycle of poverty and failure," calling them ""cynical and morally bankrupt." Some Democrat somewhere might have called out Samuels for his hateful speech, but I didn't see it.

Even in liberal south Minneapolis my two representatives - Jeff Hayden in the House and Linda Berglin in the Senate - both voted for the Teach For America enabling act. I fully expect them to vote for future education deform legislation. Predictably neither would respond to email inquiries asking whether they expected support from teachers in their next elections.

Rest assured that as the deformers use the billions of dollars from plutocrats to create ever more reports and policy papers Democrats will either willingly get on board or "compromise" with each new proposal to dismantle education in Minnesota and across the nation. It's well past time for teachers to end this dysfunctional and one way relationship with the Democratic Party and begin to stake out new political ground that at least clarifies what is at stake and build new coalitions to preserve what is left of honest education discourse and policy. Anything less would just be the political equivalent of Battered Person Syndrome.

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The 11 DFL Senators who voted for the Teach for America Enabling Act:

Linda Berglin
Terri Bonoff
Scott Dibble
John Harrington
Linda Higgins
Ron Latz
James Metzen
Larry Pogemiller
Linda Scheid
LeRoy Stumpf
Patricia Torres Ray

And the 13 DFL House members who voted for it:

John Benson
Bobby Joe Champion
Karen Clark
Jim Davnie
Denise Dittrich
Jeff Hayden
Ann Lenczewski
Carlos Mariani
Rena Moran
Joe Mullery
Bev Scalze
Steve Simon
Linda Slocum

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