by Karen R. Effrem, MD
On July 5th, ten of the current twenty major Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Houston for the 2019 annual convention of the National Education Association (NEA) to discuss their education platforms before members of the nation’s largest teachers’ union. Present at this forum were: former Vice President Joe Biden, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, California Senator Kamala Harris, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The answers to the questions and the basic beliefs were quite similar between all of the candidates who attended. So, rather than recapping what each one said, below are some takeaways regarding the main issues covered.
This was probably the most bi-partisan and praiseworthy issue discussed at the event. These federally mandated state tests should absolutely be eliminated for many reasons, including because they aren’t really used to help children academically, they are aligned to Common Core, they were never really well-validated, and they collect a large amount of data, including psychological data, on both students and teachers that is used for non-educational purposes and often without consent.
This is another education issue on which Democrats agree with parents and others at various points on the political spectrum. The record of charter schools — with rare exceptions like the classical charter schools promoted by Hillsdale College — are fraught with problems, including low academic quality, a lack of financial accountability (often leaving taxpayers footing the bill when they close), corporate boards that are far removed from the families attending the schools, and foreign influence.
As has been discussed here many times — especially regarding the federal education budget, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), social emotional learning (SEL), and federal pre-K programs — the federal role in education is already unconstitutionally and oppressively large. Talk by Joe Biden of tripling the Title I budget with its myriad mandates, including statewide standards and tests that are now Common Core aligned and many other problems, is really frightening. This is especially true when the evidence shows that after more than 50 years, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently ESSA) has been an utter failure and that Common Core has been a disaster for academic achievement.
Several candidates seemed very interested in having the federal government take over teacher pay issues and infrastructure issues. Expanding federal bureaucracy and control over what are supposed to be state and local issues would be an extremely unwelcome development.
Several candidates mistakenly proclaimed that the research was incontrovertible regarding the effectiveness of preschool as a government “investment” and promoted universal preschool. Yet, as has been extensively documented in this space and many others (even by preschool advocates), preschool is at best ineffective and at worst academically and emotional harmful for children as well as harmful to parental autonomy via controversial standards and to privacy via extensive data collection. Various candidates have also supported the idea of universal government-funded childcare, especially Elizabeth Warren.
Multiple candidates are enamored with the idea of expanding SEL mental health programs in the nation’s schools as a prominent means of preventing school violence. The ineffectiveness of these approaches has also been extensively discussed here, here, and here. Sadly, no one is willing to discuss the dangers of psychiatric medications themselves in causing suicidal thoughts and homicidal rages. There is also the issue of the government setting norms for the attitudes, values, and beliefs of our children with regard to freedom of conscience and parental autonomy, as well as the issue of data privacy with sensitive information being entered in a student’s longitudinal data dossier with potentially life-altering effects.
The candidates were also asked questions about issues not directly related to education but still considered important by the NEA. Whether it was problems regarding immigration, health care, housing, or any other issue, Democrats answered that it is the government, not families, that should fix it so that children can grow to their full potential. And they want the government (i.e. taxpayers) to pay for it all — single-payer government health care, in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants, child care, pre-K, college, etc. The way frequently mentioned to pay for all of this was to reverse the Trump tax cuts. This is despite the fact that if this were done and taxes were drastically increased on the “rich,” there still would not be enough money to pay for all of these schemes, especially given Washington’s more than $20 trillion deficit, much of it expanded by the Obama administration.
Although there is some slight encouragement in these candidates’ opposition to high-stakes testing and corporate charter schools, much of what was discussed at this forum was depressingly big-government in nature. Please stay informed and be ready to vote and discuss with friends and family these critical issues of education freedom, parental autonomy, academic excellence, local control, and student privacy.