Observations: Of Republicans, Democrats, and education ‘reform’

by Jim Lang

Sometimes writing is a little like talking to a therapist…some of us have to write to sort out our thoughts and express them before we transform into a slobbering lunatic.

Or, so I’m told.

So much is happening in Indiana education, much of it caused by the fact that our education policy continues to be developed by big government edu-crats who value profit and power over transparency, dialogue, and true learning in our classrooms.

And, no, that’s not slobbering lunacy; it is, sadly, fact.

So, here are my thoughts on a variety of educational matters, in no particular order. My hope is to convince voters that we need a drastic change and to offer some insight into education policy.

Observation #1: Glenda Ritz is absolutely right.

There is simply no justification for the recent actions of Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana Board of Education against Ritz, an elected official who received more votes than Pence did in last year’s election. None. If you support small, transparent, moral government, you have to support Ritz in this fight.

I won’t summarize the facts. Karen Francisco of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette does so well in her column here.

There are rarely such vivid examples of “right” and “wrong” in politics, but this is one. True conservatives and citizens who truly value integrity in government simply cannot support Pence and the Board of Education in this battle, and if they do, they are hypocrites.

Observation #2: This president does not value or respect public education.

Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election last year, many of my conservative friends have decried the evils of big, intrusive government.

And often, I agree with them, especially when it comes to education policy.

This president and his colleagues have been no friends to public education. Obama’s Race to the Top education policy is an even more radical, big government extension to George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (which conservatives supported despite its significant expansion of federal intrusion into education).

Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been a leader of the corporate  takeover of public education. It is no coincidence that the CEO of the nation’s leading promoter of charter schools, Ted Mitchell, may soon be second-in-command at the federal Department of Education,

And don’t even get me started on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s disgraceful closing of 50 schools in that city, a prime example of the corporate takeover of education in our country. If you want to learn about this privatization movement, which Indiana Republicans have also signed on to, read this article.

It is time for educators and teachers to wake up and realize that this president is no more supportive of schools or public education than George W. Bush or Indiana Republicans have been.

However, when it comes to Indiana education…

Observation #3: The GOP is the king of big government and corporate education “reform.”

That’s right, Republicans. Please stop hypocritically decrying the evils of big government on a federal level when supporting exactly the same big government policies on a state level.

For example, Indiana Republicans and the Board of Education signed on to and still support the nationalized Common Core Standards despite the fact that Indiana already had one of the strongest sets of academic standards in the nation. This is one of the reasons why so many Tea Party Republicans voted for Glenda Ritz for Superintendent of Public Instruction last year.

Spend five minutes conducting Internet research on the corporate powers behind Common Core Standards. If you don’t want to, here’s one solid analysis of the big money behind Common Core Standards.

Recently, some in the GOP have backed away from the Common Core Standards, probably because they finally realize the hypocrisy of “conservatives” supporting a nationalized set of academic standards that is also backed by President Obama and the federal Department of Education.

Further, the privatization plans for Chicago schools described in Steve Horn’s column above are exactly the same corporate “reform” schemes supported by the Indiana GOP. When it comes to education “reform,” Indiana Republicans have been among the most ardent supporters of the Obama agenda. In fact, the truth is that the Indiana GOP was taking us all down this road of “corporate reform” of education long before Obama was elected president.

Yes, Republicans are now criticizing this president for embracing their ideas.

Still not convinced?

How about Governor Mike Pence’s recent creation of the Center for Education and Career Education, a government agency that, in Pence’s words, “will strive to improve coordination between pertinent agency partners and industry voices to ensure a world-class education for students and to better prepare adults to be successful in their chosen career pathway that also meets industry demands”?

In other words, Pence has created yet another government agency designed to do what over 1, 300,000 Hoosiers already elected Glenda Ritz to do. And please notice in the above story that it was Indiana Democrats calling for fiscal sanity and restraint.

Need more?

How about the fact that Indiana now has the most expansive government-sponsored school voucher program in the nation?

Republicans, of course, argue that the voucher program is needed to infuse “choice” and “competition” into our schools.

First, parents already had school choice. They always have. They can choose to send their children to a public school, or they can choose to home school or pay for a private school. It is time we stop creating more government programs that offer financial incentives (i.e. handouts) for our choices.

True conservatives would have spent their time helping private schools and their supporters raise money to create and enhance need-based scholarship programs to assist families rather than rely on yet another government-sponsored program that strips money from public schools.

Secondly, of all of the Republican talking points, the idea of basing education decisions on more “competition” has to be among the most pathetic.

Meaningful education does not occur in an environment that emphasizes competition over real learning. It is this spirit of competition that has moved Indiana schools further down the road of more standardized testing to prove we’re being competitive, another legacy of our Republican leadership.

True conservatives understand that an expansive, government-sponsored voucher program that strips money from our constitutional mandate to provide free public schools for all is not morally or fiscally conservative at all.

But these days, we have very few true conservatives in Indiana government. When it comes to big government in education, the GOP is king.

Observation #4: We need to read and learn more about education.

Truthfully, neither political party has developed a quality vision for education in quite a while. However, voters are woefully misinformed and uneducated about the issue as well, so we are unable to hold our elected officials accountable.

Is it any wonder that far too many elected officials primarily serve their wealthiest donors when so many citizens fail to understand the issue?

So, we need to read and learn more about the issue of education in America. We need to be more informed than we are now to initiate the needed change in Indiana and beyond.

Because take it from a classroom teacher and devoted educator, we desperately need significant change. The education policies enacted in Indiana in the last five years are disastrous. When it comes to education policy, our lawmakers have accomplished virtually nothing because they do not understood the issues.

In fact, they have inflicted great damage.

And we let them do it because we chose to believe in the same corporate catch-phrases, half-truths, and outright lies that they embraced.

It’s time we begin educating ourselves about the issue of education. We need to discover the truth for ourselves, because we are certainly not getting it from those we have elected to serve our interests.

Let’s start with a reading list. If you want to begin understanding the issue of education in America, these books are a great place to begin:

  • Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools by Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
  • Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch
  • The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Jonathan Kozol
  • Or, for that matter, any book by Jonathan Kozol.

I just began Ravitch’s Reign of Error but find it as compelling and interesting as The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

And, although it does not address American schools, Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? offers distinct alternatives to the current education “reform” movement in America that, frankly, hasn’t enhanced anything except the pocketbooks of those who seek to profit from our schools.

Observation #5: Democracy depends on an educated electorate.

We live in a time when our elected officials at a state-wide and national level simply do not represent our best interests.

This is true of so many issues, including education.

To hold them accountable and to initiate much-needed change, we need to understand the issues, then vote for people who will serve our interests.

We need to do a much better job of this in Indiana.

And we must begin now.



  1. Heather Bryan says

    Well said, Jim. As a fiscally conservative/socially liberal Republican, I have been appalled at education policy, both in Indiana and nationally. I voted for Glenda Ritz and did not vote for Mike Pence, actually. As far as the national issues, the Constitution gives the federal government no power over education; that right belongs to the states. I’d go so far as to say we do not need a federal Dept of Ed—did you know they have a police force? I wish I was kidding. I’ll stop now before I get on a roll. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s