July 27, 2023

Peter Greene: No Labels Education Platform: Same Old Same Old

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Have you been thinking that the No Labels party sounds like a decent idea. Think again. 

No Labels is supposed to be some sort of centrist break from the raging politics of left and right as a champion of “common sense,” and I’m not going to wander down that political rabbit hole (other than to note that saying you’re all about common sense while seriously considering Joe Manchin as a Presidential candidate plays about like a vegan eating a hamburger).

But they’ve got a platform, and it uses four points to address “America’s Youth” and so education, and that’s our beat here at the Institute, so let’s take a look, shall we?

Idea 11: As a matter of decency, dignity, and morality, no child in America should go to bed or go to school hungry.

The basic idea is solid enough– it’s a bad thing for children to go hungry. Some of the rationale is …odd? …off the point?
Undernourished children “Make smaller gains in math and reading, repeat grades more, and are less likely to graduate from high school, which means they’re more likely to end up in prison.” That’s an interesting chain of causes and effects. Also, they disrupt classrooms more, interfering with other children’s education.
Despite the heading, there’s not a moral argument in sight. And we still have to insert “even though Washington must reduce spending” we wave at some sort of significant expansion of funding or tax credits so children are fed. So nothing systemic about child hunger or poverty, I guess.
Idea 12: Every child in America should have the right to a high-quality education. No child should be forced to go to a failing school.
There is not a molecule of air between these “centrists” and the usual crowd of school privatizers.
Rich kids get great schools and poor kids get terrible ones, so the solution is NOT to fix  or supplement funding, but to push down the pedal on charters and vouchers. Because, hey– America spends “more on education per school-aged child than any country in the world, with worse results.” Let’s also throw in some bogus testing results, and the usual claims about charter school waiting lists.
Because “we like competition too,” their common sense solution is to add 10,000 charter schools in the next ten years, to offer a “lifeline” to some students “trapped in failing traditional public schools.” I’m not going to take the time to argue any of this (just go looking through the posts on this blog). Let’s just note that there’s nothing here that Betsy DeVos or Jeb Bush would object to, other than they’d rather see more vouchers. This is standard rightwing fare.

Idea 13: America should make a national commitment that our students will be number one in reading and math globally within a decade.

You know-number one in the international rankings based on Big Standardized Test results, a position and ranking that the United States has never held ever. And yet somehow, leading nations like Estonia have failed to kick our butt. These guys invoke China’s test results, when even a rudimentary check would let you know that China doesn’t test all of its students.

If America wants to maintain our lead in the technologies of tomorrow, we’d better spend less time on waging culture wars in our schools and more time focusing on promoting, rewarding, and reaching for excellence.

Remember that, so far, we have maintained that lead without improving our test score ranking.
But if excellence in education is the goal, maybe rethink voucher-based subsidies for schools that mostly are religious and teach creationism and reading only “proper” stuff and just generally waging those same culture wars. Or starting up 10,000 charter schools that don’t necessarily do anything better than a public (and who may soon also have the chance to operate in a narrow, myopic, discriminatory religious framework).

Idea 14: Financial literacy is essential for all Americans striving to get ahead

Oh, lordy. Remember all those poor kids in Idea 11? Well, No Labels has an explanation.

Almost six in 10 Americans say they are living paycheck to paycheck. Inflation is arguably the biggest driver of this insecurity, but far too many Americans also lack the knowledge and tools to become financially independent and get ahead.

Inflation and bad accounting. You know what helps people become financially independent? Money.
So let’s have financial literacy classes so people can get better credit scores.
Also, in Idea 22, they want civics education so people will be proud of America. Idea 24– “No American should face discrimination at school or at work because of their political view,” and I’m going to send them right back to their support for vouchers and charters that are working hard to be free to do exactly that.
Look, I feel the frustration over education’s status as a political orphan, an important sector that neither party stands up for. But if you’re looking for someone who understands some of the nuances of education and wants to stand up for the institution of public education, No Labels are not the party, either.
This sounds mostly like right-tilted Chamber of Commerce-style reformsterism  from a decade ago. Even in a world in which both parties have lurched to the right, this is not a centrist approach to education. It’s the same privatizing reformster baloney we’ve been hearing since the Reagan administration drew a target on public education’s back. If you’re looking for the vegan candidate, this burger is not for you.

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