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Ed Reform Movement

LA School Board President Steve Zimmer

Want to make a Democrat furious when arguing a point on Civil Rights?

Have a Republican claim that it was their party that was against slavery and cared the most about African Americans.

Any intelligent high school sophomore would know how to refute that specious claim by pointing to a well-documented reversal of history over the years.

When it comes to Education Reform (as it is “practiced” in California), there is another calculated, but equally jarring point of attack being waged.

The Ed Reform Movement is attempting to co-opt the term “Progressive” and wrap their agenda up in its fabled glory.

The Ed Reform Movement is attempting to co-opt the term “Progressive” and wrap their agenda up in its fabled glory. Katie Braude is the executive director of LA’s “Speak Up United Parents,” a group that claims to be some scrappy, DIY, scotch-tape-and-construction-paper, grassroots concerned parents’ organization.

Last week, Braude penned a scathing attack on LAUSD School Board President Steve Zimmer who is running for re-election in District 4. In a piece entitled “Scapegoating”, Braude writes:

“Speak UP, a grassroots parent organization that I helped launch last year, strongly opposes the policies of President Donald Trump and his vision of school choice, which involves funneling public money to unaccountable and inequitable private schools through vouchers.

Many Speak UP members marched on Washington, Los Angeles and the Bay Area last month wearing pink hats and waving Speak UP signs. And we recently called on LAUSD School Board President Steve Zimmer to follow our lead in standing with civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)because we have serious questions about Trump’s legitimacy – a step Zimmer still has not taken.

However, our opposition to Trump goes far beyond issues, ideology or even questions of legitimacy. It is about Trump’s penchant for pitting groups of people against each other for his own political gain. It is about scapegoating, which has led to violence against targeted minority groups.

Sadly, we see Trump-like scapegoating, the same type of distortions and divisive rhetoric being employed by Zimmer and his adult special interest campaign donors against Los Angeles children who attend charter schools.

Where to begin?

Besides the ridiculous hyperbole and faux outrage, it takes a lot of nerve for Braude to flip the narrative on who exactly she represents in the Education wars, where she shares a particular kinship with Trump’s Right Wing who back many of her particular causes in Education.

This is not an article to defend Steve Zimmer, but to defend Progressive Education. The line in Braude’s over-the-top rant that was particularly galling were these directed not only at Zimmer, but to Teachers and Educators opposed to Braude’s education philosophy:

“Stop equating charter schools with private school vouchers and lumping them in with the Trump agenda. Charter schools were created by Democrats and strongly supported by former presidents Obama and Clinton.”

It is here where the Democrats are owed an honest debate on who exactly supports the sort of Education Reform. This is an essential distinction that has to be clearly and loudly made over what the word “Progressive” means when talking about Policy and Pedagogy in regard to American Public Schools.

The Charter school movement might have started as a progressive laboratory to incubate new ideas, but, today has become a corporate industry that Big Business stands to make fortunes through. Also, Democrats do not equal Progressive here. Braude is actually using Trump as a scapegoat to mask the scapegoating rhetoric of attacking public education. This is a clear attempt by “education reform” to rebrand itself as Progressive, and separate itself from Trump and DeVos. But a closer examination reveals Braude and her supporters transparent and desperate attempt to disguise the moneyed, corporate backing of the Charter Industry.

Again, follow the money. Follow the money. Follow the money.

What segments of society are bankrolling the charter movement? It is America’s Super Rich industrialists and plutocrats that create the illusion of the phony populism that Braude’s group exemplifies. Yes, that is exactly something that Donald Trump’s machine would understand. They travel in the same circles and made their money through rapacious capitalism. Where was Eli Broad, Sam Walton and Bill Gates during the Trump campaign and the protesters against Trump.

Nowhere. Absolute silence on all these Charter Indutry titans. Trump was not their concern.

To Braude, this is a fact: The corporate and billionaire-backed Education Reform movement is supported by virtually ALL Republicans. Yet Braude resorts to Ed Reforms corporate backed Neo Liberal to boast her “liberal” credentials.

Unfortunately, President Obama was one of these Democrats. Obama was an excellent President in many ways, but there are many, many areas that actual Progressives tore their hair out with frustration over his policies and missed opportunities. For Progressives, Obama’s adherence to George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policies coupled with his sad Race to the Top initiatives, were nadirs in his record.

There are signs that Obama might agree: in a recent brag sheet of the 50 top achievements of his administration that Obama sought to highlight upon his exit, he conspicuously excluded any Education accomplishment.

When Trump nominated billionaire Betsy DeVos to become the nation’s Education Secretary, millions were appalled. Democrats decried the obvious incompetence and insult of the choice.

Yet many of these self-proclaimed Democrats bear part of the blame for the rise of DeVos and her ilk. The Washington Post’s Valerie Straus called them out in a brutal column headlined: DEMOCRATS REJECT HER, BUT THEY HELPED PAVE THE ROAD TO EDUCATION NOMINEE DEVOS

Strauss writes:

But the record shows that Democrats can’t just blame Republicans for her ascension. It was actually Democrats who helped pave the road for DeVos to take the helm of the Education Department. Democrats have in recent years sounded — and acted — a lot like Republicans in advancing corporate education reform, which seeks to operate public schools as if they were businesses, not civic institutions. (This dynamic isn’t limited to education, but this post is.) By embracing many of the tenets of corporate reform — including the notion of “school choice” and the targeting of teachers and their unions as being blind to the needs of children — they helped make DeVos’s education views, once seen as extreme, seem less so. 

Braude and her compatriots are EXACTLY the corporate Democrats Strauss excoriates.

Emily Gold is the Chair of Start Up and is credited as being a parent organizer with the California Charter School Association—the hugely funded power player in California politics who in November wrote this fawning welcome to Betsy DeVos: “We congratulate Betsy DeVos, a longtime supporter of charter schools, on her appointment as Secretary of Education. Mrs. DeVos has long demonstrated a commitment to providing families with improved public school options and we look forward to working with the administration on proposals allowing all students in California to access their right to a high quality public education."

The Republican perversion of the political finance process through the Supreme Court Citizens’ United decision allowing corporations and wealthy individuals to filter unlimited cash into their pet causes has led the Ed Reform movement to become awash with this dark money.

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Last week, when Eli Broad who had been silent for months on DeVos defected, it was an act of desperate self-preservation.

EVERYTHING that Broad and the Ed Reform has built in California depends upon the perception that he and the Ed Reform movement is “sensible.” Betsy DeVos is the antithesis to that narrative in the Golden State. Trump is obviously toxic in California. Everything he touches is radioactive and there is now no defending anything.

In her writing, Braude congratulates herself over her selfless display of bravery where she publicly admits to stand for women, gay and immigrant rights during the Women’s Day March. One is touched how Braude risked everything to take these principled stands, even finding the courage to go out on the limb to support John Lewis. These amazing and heroic acts of Progressive sacrifice moves me to tears and nominate her for a Nobel Prize of, um, obnoxious nobility.

Jeez Louise. All those causes are no brainers for all Democrats.

But does Braude really believe that champion Progressives like Michael Moore, Russ Feingold, Noam Chomsky or Cornel West would stand shoulder to shoulder with her, Eli Broad and Dick Riordan on their definition of Ed Reform?

No, of course not. Her “Progressive” allies are viewed by others who more accurately deserve that title.

Who does stand shoulder to shoulder with Braude on MOST issues? Jeb Bush. Mike Pence. Rick Scott. Scott Walker. The Plutocrat class that includes Eli Broad, Sam Walton, Richard Riordan and Bill Gates. And yes, sadly, The Neo-Liberal Members of Democrats for Education Reform: Rahm Emanuel. Arne Duncan. Michelle Rhee. Cory Booker. Eva Moskowitz. These are the Big Money corporate Democrats.

In analyzing what constitutes Progressivism in terms of Education, we should all examine WHO exactly supports WHOM and where else that support goes across the country.

Here in California, it is corporate big money that sides with Braude’s SpeakUp. It is folly to say that the California Charter School Association, Caprice Young, LA SCHOOL REPORT (and its owner THE 74 MILLION whose major sponsor is…Betsy DeVos!!!!) are not vested in large parts of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’s vision for Education.

They clearly are.

If you were to put up a Venn Diagram of the agenda of Braude, CCSA, Eli Broad, the Ed Reform movement against Betsy DeVos’s agenda, then it’s worthy to examine just how much common ground connects these groups as opposed to a different Diagram that displays the overlap of Progressive Teachers and Educators with DeVos.

There is virtually NONE. NADA. ZIP.

I would defy Braude to find a Leftist journal or magazines on the subject of Public Education that would be her “Progressive” ally for her agenda. For those of us in these Ed battles, the Left understand that no one can be blind to what organizations support the true meaning of Public Education and view the Charters and Ed Reform as a major threat to Democracy, despite how much the Charters wrap themselves up in the flag of Civil Rights.

Ask the NAACP what they think of Charters

Or give Braude a subscription to the most famous Left publications in the country and see what they say about the Education that Braude and “Speak Up” represent.

From the NEW REPUBLIC

From the PROGRESSIVE MAGAZINE

From MOTHER JONES

From THE NATIONand this also from a recent NATION article

From SALON Magazine

THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY writes specifically on the public education menace of Katie Braude’s KIPP Academy, where she worked as Director of Advancement for five years.

Braude will claim that vouchers are the major distinction between the GOP agenda and hers. As all of us know, vouchers are a complete non-starter in California. Also, vouchers have a direct financial impact on charter schools’ viability which is why charter organization are saying that charters and public schools have common ground on this particular issue.

Furthermore, it is vital to note that every Progressive Left journal and magazines on Education are against the agenda of the Ed Reform movement. Authentic progressive education groups support true Public Education. These groups loudly and vociferously proclaim that charters and corporate education reform are a major threat to democracy--despite how much charter school advocates defensively wrap themselves up in the flag of Civil Rights.

In California, the most important thing we can highlight is how much the Ed Reform Movement here STILL depends on a Republican Education agenda. The Right Wing Education supporters who give to the Charter movement here in California and their parent organizations also give to support anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and VERY Pro Donald Trump causes.

Sorry Katie Braude, Eli Broad and CCSA. You can bail out on Betsy DeVos, but if there is a new Trump Education appointee, and if he or she isn’t such a complete nut job, you will probably find some way to “like” her because she will provide your causes backing.

Katie Braude’s former employer, The Education Post, funded not coincidentally by Eli Broad, hosts a Who’s Who of Neo-liberal Democrats on its staff (including LAUSD school board memmber Ref Rodriguez). That publication has now gone so far as to use this hypocritical term: “Progressive Education Reform.” This rebranding is essential for urban districts and states like California that would never support a Trump social agenda on any other policy—except education.

Again, Braude’s lifeline is corporate money. Her animosity towards Zimmer is backed by former Mayor Richard Riordan’s $1 million effort to unseat him. Riordan’s group is eye-rolling-ly called ““LA Students for Change, Opposing Steve Zimmer for School Board 2017” is just as Grandma’s home-made soup authentic as Braude’s “Speak Up”.

It would be an essential public service to the Democrat community to debate Katie Braude on her views and hold her accountable for all the Right Wing Education supporters who give her and Charter organizations their funding. These dollars that she gets to support her also goes to support right wing economic policies, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and VERY Pro Donald Trump causes.

Sorry. You can't separate the causes by saying that you gallantly oppose all those other ghastly issues that Republicans support but on this ONE specific issue of Ed Reform and Charters, the Right Wing are the Martin Luther Kings of Education.

On the contrary, these particular Democrats’ view of Public Education, along with the rest of their dark and dangerous agenda of America’s Right, is anathema to anyone who would call themselves "Progressive."

joshua leibner

Joshua Leibner