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Elizabeth Warren's education plan tackles privatization, segregation, and high-stakes testing

October 21st, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released a K-12 education plan and, like so many of her other policy plans, it fully earns the headline term “sweeping.” Also “bold” and even potentially “inspiring.” In recent weeks Warren has taken some shots from the left for her past education stances, and in response to this plan we’re now going to see who was seriously concerned about education policy and who was just trying to drag her down to benefit their candidate. There’s so much good stuff here—increased funding, fighting privatization, fighting segregation, breaking up the school-to-prison pipeline, civil rights enforcement, supporting teachers, eliminating high-stakes testing—with Warren’s characteristic understanding of the links between racial justice and economic justice and government enforcement and transparency and the influence of money in our institutions.

As with so many of her other plans, Warren takes a racial and economic justice approach to education, writing that “The data show that more school funding significantly improves student achievement, particularly for students from low-income backgrounds. Yet our current approach to school funding at the federal, state, and local level underfunds our schools and results in many students from low-income backgrounds receiving less funding than other students on a per-student basis” and highlighting the racial disparities that result from this system. She calls for quadrupling federal Title I funding to schools with high proportions of students from low-income families, while requiring states to invest in education in order to get that funding, and changing funding formulas to better reach low-income students. Warren would also boost federal funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, create “Excellence Grants” for public schools “to invest in programs and resources that they believe are most important to their students,” promote community schools, and invest in school buildings, which are all too often crumbling.

But while funding is a key part of promoting equality in education, it’s not the only thing, and Warren adds a strong set of civil rights proposals. Funding is important in fighting rising school and residential segregation, the plan notes: “Modern residential segregation is driven at least in part by income inequality and parents seeking out the best possible school districts for their children. By investing more money in our public schools – and helping ensure that every public school is a great one – my plan will address one of the key drivers of residential segregation.” Warren would also strengthen civil rights enforcement in education, including applying it to the recent trend of “breakaway” districts, in which the wealthier, whiter areas of a town break away to form their own school district, leaving lower-income and less white populations in underfunded schools. Warren commits to civil rights enforcement not just for students of color but for students with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, and English Language Learners and other kids from immigrant families. She’d address some of the key policies making schools punitive and stressful for students, pushing back on zero-tolerance discipline policies that contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, canceling school lunch debt and calling for free school breakfasts and lunches, and eliminating high-stakes testing, which has so damaged the educational experience: “Schools have eliminated critical courses that are not subject to federally mandated testing, like social studies and the arts. They can exclude students who don’t perform well on tests. Teachers feel pressured to teach to the test, rather than ensuring that students have a rich learning experience.”

In that call to eliminate high-stakes testing, which is also so much about allowing teachers to make judgments as professionals, and in the final two broad areas of Warren’s plan, she clearly take cues from the teachers’ uprising of recent years. Warren calls for higher pay for teachers, points out that her earlier plan to eliminate student debt would teaching a more sustainable profession, and supports unions as a path to strength for teachers. She also has a slate of plans to diversify the teaching workforce and to expand professional development for teachers—and she would make the government pay for those classroom supplies that teachers all too often pay for out of their own pockets.

Finally, “To keep our traditional public school systems strong, we must resist efforts to divert public funds out of traditional public schools.” She’s not kidding around there. Warren calls for a ban on for-profit charter schools, including ones that are theoretically non-profit but outsource operations to for-profit companies, and to end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools—a key Betsy DeVos priority. Beyond that, she would subject existing charter schools to the same oversight and transparency requirements as public schools, and crack down on rampant fraud. She’d apply lobbying restrictions and disclosure requirements to companies lobbying school systems that get federal money, “Ban the sharing, storing, and sale of student data,” and require high-stakes testing companies that currently sell prior versions of their tests to students who can afford them to release those materials to everyone.

In short, Warren once again does have a plan for that.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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