By Fran Eaton -
Words mean things, especially in politics. Take for example, Barack Obama's:
It's time to fundamentally change the way that we do business in Washington. To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative. That will demand new thinking and a new sense of responsibility for every dollar that is spent.
In two short sentences, the President left the undefined terms "fundamentally change," "build a new foundation," "reform our government," "more efficient, more transparent, and more creative," to hearers' imaginations as to what they meant. He started a trend of leaving discerning voters in a quandry: Exactly in which direction do politicians using this type of terminology and speak want to take the world?
Here's another example of new speak: "Education reform." A longtime school choice advocate would likely interpret that term to mean the competition between private and government-funded schooling, home schooling versus traditional schools, or incorporating private school tax credits and vouchers.
But the words "education reform" just don't mean what they used to mean.
"Education reform" and its appealing image in light of a failed public school system has taken on a whole new meaning in Democrat circles. Democrats, who have traditionally defended government-funded schools, teachers and staffs over competitive private and religious schools, are now using the term "education reform" in the titles of new groups geared to fundamentally changing public schools alone. Private, religious, parochial and home schools are not a part of their new reform equation at all.
The seven-year old national "Education Reform Now" advocacy groups boast the work they've been doing among Democrat circles. Education Reform Now was a lead advocate in New Jersey's effort to overhaul the state's teacher tenure law. In the state of Washington, ERN led a coalition to push for one of the nation's strongest public charter school initiatives.
Nowhere does ERN mention pushing for private school alternatives - only for reform within the taxpayer-funded public school system.
So when Education Reform Now sent $3000 to Illinois last week to bolster Democrats for Education Reform in Illinois, the money raised eyebrows among education reform advocates. Which Democrats are for this type of education reform in Illinois, who is funding this effort besides ERN, and, most importantly, exactly what type of "education reform" are these Democrats promoting?
Although the group has yet to write checks to Illinois candidates, they're gathering in funds. Democrats for Education Reform is specific in their goals:
- We support policies which stimulate the creation of new, accountable public schools and which simultaneously close down failing schools
- We support mechanisms that allow parents to select excellent schools for their children, and where education dollars follow each child to their school.
- We support governance structures which hold leaders responsible, while giving them the tools to effectuate change. We believe in empowering mayors to lead urban school districts, so that they can be held accountable by the electorate.
- We support policies that allow school principals and their school communities to select their teams of educators, holding them accountable for student performance but allowing them flexibility to exercise sound, professional judgment.
So are these Democrats for traditional school choice, or school reform just among public schools? Are they anti-teacher union? They say they're for giving mayors more power to lead urban districts and giving school administrators more power to pick their schools' teaching teams - leaving teachers unions weakened and administrators, politicians, parents and voters empowered.
Democrats for Education Reform show more of their goals - involving national - perhaps international - standards, while giving leeway to states and local districts to determine how to reach those expectations:
- We support clearly-articulated national standards and expectations for core subject areas, while allowing states and local districts to determine how best to make sure that all students are reaching those standards.
Parents and activists leading the charge against the Obama Administration's "Common Core" curriculum's national standards should have alarms go off with the last effort. This Democrat-focused group is pulling for education reform that includes national curriculum standards in "core subject areas."
Again, words mean things - and it's crucial to know exactly what type of education reform this group of Democrats is seeking. They clearly want to make schools - and the children within them - tools of politicians and school administrators.
Even more interesting is the persons who jumped into Democrats for Education Reform's efforts immediately. One is especially notable - Chicago's James Crown, who was a integral part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the General Assembly's efforts to tighten Chicago teachers' strike restrictions.
Crown is a generous donor to Illinois' education reform group Stand for Children, which is doling out thousands of dollars to Republican and Democrat Illinois state legislative candidates. Stand for Children's education goals are vague, but they're definitely in line with Democrats to Reform Education and Education Reform Now.
In the video below, Democrat politicians - including President Barack Obama, U.S. Senator Corey Booker, governors and state lawmakers - extol the President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's plan for public "education reform" - including the Obama Administration's "Race to the Top" program and the Common Core curriculum standards.
Last month, when the New York State's Board of Regents voted to delay part of the state's Common Core implementation, Craig Johnson, Democrats for Education Reform NY Board Chair, issued the following statement, mocking the effort: "When you look at all the drama that gets manufactured around issues like this, it is remarkable that anyone gets educated in this state."
The more to be learned about Democrats for Education Reform, its real definition of "education reform" and the persons the group lauds in its efforts, the clearer the vision they hold for public schools.
Focus in on "Barack Obama," "Arne Duncan," "Mayor Rahm Emanuel" and you'll begin to see where all this "reform" is headed. When you hear "education reform" from these groups, think "Obamacare" for America's public school system.
More to come ...