Guest blog: Idealogy trumps opportunity

This post was written by Lisa Macfarlane the state director of Democrats for Education Reform and co-founder of LEV. The post originally appeared on the DFER blog

Last week in Seattle, Robin Lake and Alison Krupnick both expressed the need for civil discourse around the issue of education reform.

Sarajane Siegfriedt, the newly minted Democratic Party nominee for the 46th district open legislative seat in Seattle, gave this response last week when asked about education reform. It provides a clear example of the type of cutting remarks we need to move away from in order to see real improvement in WA’s education system.

“Education reform’ should be in quotes. It is a right-wing corporate business agenda being foisted on parents…”

It is disheartening to hear such unconstructive language from someone who chairs the platform committee of the King County Democrats.

And, she is not the only one with resistance to change. The Chair of our state Democratic Party, Dwight Pelz, recently told the Seattle Times, “Ed reform is like weather. If you hang around long enough, it will change.”

New flash: We reformers are here to stay.

Unfortunately, some of our Democratic Party leaders in WA have missed the memo that improving public education is the civil rights issue of our time. Our Democratic leaders should be embracing education reform as an economic development strategy.

After all, the Democratic Party platform is undergirded by a commitment to a healthy and growing middle class. This is reason enough to put ideology aside and look for ways to improve our schools. Employers of every size have precious few job-ready Washingtonians to choose from. Many have had to resort to importing talent from other states and other countries.

Democratic Party leaders and candidates need to start acknowledging the obvious – we must do better by the kids who are growing up here. We do not have to agree on all the solutions to acknowledge that improving the quality of our public schools is an economic, civic, and moral imperative.

There is plenty of outrage when one of our own dares to stray from the party platform (which is interesting considering that our state platform on education strays from the national one), or votes in a way that irritates the teacher’s union.

But there is precious little outrage over how poorly thousands of low income and minority children are faring in our public schools. How can Democrats defend the status quo and eschew education reform when African American students in South Seattle have a:

  • 1 in 2 chance of passing 3rd grade reading standards;
  • 1 in 5 chance of passing 4th grade math standards; and a,
  • 1 in 10 chance of passing 5th grade science standards.

While other states and cities are fighting to close their achievement gaps, we act like ours don’t matter. We make excuses.

Our public schools can and should be engines of opportunity. But first we need to set aside the ideology and muster more political will for education reform. Obama is leading. Other states are following. Will Washington catch up?

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  1. Jim Capatelli April 29, 2012

    First, if someone is writing about education, and wants to be taken seriously, they might begin by knowing the correct spelling of “Idealogy” (SIC) (It’s actually spelled “ideology”. If you’re going to vilify and mock teachers, good spelling is usually essential to establish your credibility.)

    But here’s the main question: Does Lisa Macfarlane really believe what she’s written here, or is she only saying these things because she is being paid to do so?

    Now, in all sincerity, I do not mean to attack Ms. Macfarlane personally, nor do I intend any insult. But I would like to know who is funding her organization? Why is Ms. Macfarlane almost exclusively focused on blaming teachers and their unions for virtually everything they define as a “problem” in our public schools?

    How much is Ms. Macfarlane being paid by DFER? Does her pay come directly from one of the billionaires, or is it sent to her indirectly, through other channels? (I have the same questions about LEV, incidentally.)

    I wonder why Ms. Macfarlane won’t directly answer the question posed by so many of us: Is “education reform” an attempt by right-wing ideologues and private, for-profit “educational” companies—who pose as “schools”—to privatize the ownership and management of our schools?

    Is a major segment of the Education “Reform” movement using this “liberal” sounding idea to eventually do to our schools what they did to Wall Street and the economy as a whole in 2008?

    What is most disturbing about Ms. Macfarlane’s column is her implicit claim that her backer’s version of “Educational Reform” will somehow improve the plight of our state’s poorest children, particularly those from black and Latino families. Where is her proof for this highly dubious assumption? Can she cite something other than the spurious claims made by the increasingly discredited “Waiting for Superman”?

    Ms. Macfarlane’s faux outrage at the courageous people who can’t be seduced by billionaire payoffs…oh, I mean “contributions”—how silly of me—is very revealing. She speaks as if absolutely everyone knows, and agrees, that the Bloomberg-Gates-Broad-Walton (Walmart)—Rhee—Duncan agenda is “proven” and “shared” by “anyone who REALLY cares about the kids in bad schools.”

    Nonsense. There is absolutely no credible study anywhere which demonstrates that private, for-profit companies, with low-paid, poorly educated “teachers” will improve the schools and the life prospects of indigent children. It’s outrageous for you to assume that A) The Corporate “Reform” Agenda will make schools better and B) That anyone who opposes it is hypocritical or uncaring.

    Quite the contrary, Ms. Macfarlane. Those of us who are parents—I’m one of them—are starting to focus on this issue. And we don’t like what we see.

    And no, I’ve never seen “the memo that improving public education is the civil rights issue of our time.” Who wrote this “memo” anyway? However, comparing the corporate agenda for taking over our schools to the “Civil Rights struggle” of the 1960’s is highly insulting. And absolutely Orwellian.

    Do our state’s Democrats care about ALL of our state’s children, and the education they’re receiving? Absolutely. We just strongly disagree that the “answer” is this false panacea deceptively called “Education Reform”. Handing over our tax dollars to “educational” testing or management companies will not help anyone—except for the executives and investors of these firms who have done so much harm to our schools already. (Did you know that the “market” for “educational testing and management” companies has exploded since George W. Bush’s odious “No Child Left Behind” in 2001? Is that because Bush’s cousin runs one of these companies?

    Don’t assume we’re apathetic or “uncivil” if we speak or act against this corporate takeover of our schools, Ms. Macfarlane. We’ve seen what happens when the minority community is exploited and used by privatizers. It’s ugly and vicious.

    If you think we parents are going to sit back and allow some shill to decimate our schools like Michelle Rhee did in DC, you’ve got another thing coming. Again, no personal rancor intended, but you’ll have to hire a “Privatized Police Force” with their own fire hoses and vicious dogs, before we parents will allow you to close down our schools in the name of “reform” or replace our teachers with poorly paid and educated “test supervisors” with all the job security of McDonald’s wage slaves.

    Our kids deserve better than this. And I’m deeply disappointed that you would join in this charade, simply for the money.

  2. Charlie Mas April 30, 2012

    Thank you, League of Education Voters, for providing an opportunity to comment on Ms McFarlane’s article here. She does not allow comments on the Democrats for Education Reform blog where the article first appeared.

    Whether I agree or disagree with an article or the comments that follow, I cannot agree with Ms McFarlane’s strict policy of not allowing comments.

  3. Charlie Mas May 1, 2012

    It is sad that Ms McFarlane so completely failed to understand what both Robin Lake and Alison Krupnick wrote. She demonstrates her misunderstanding by intentionally mis-characterizing people who do not agree with her vision of education reform as resist to change. There is no one who supports the status quo, but that doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with your vision for change. Why is that so hard to understand?


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