Teachers’ unions may have a formidable foe in the form of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and they’re using every tactic to discredit her including pulling the race card.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, gave a provocative speech to rally the troops against school reformer and new Education Department head Betsy DeVos.
Weingarten used the Biblical analogy of David and Goliath to compare the fight they face against reform efforts. To rile up anger, she called the efforts of DeVos racist, sexist, classist, xenophobic, homophobic, and even public-school denying. Weingarten specifically played the race card to seek sympathy for the failed public school policies that have left so many students behind. She compared school choice reform to segregation and today's school choice reformers to segregationists of the past:
You hear it all the time these days. School “choice.” Betsy DeVos uses it in practically every sentence…
But let me be really serious. Decades ago, the term “choice” was used to cloak overt racism by segregationist politicians like Harry Byrd, who launched the massive opposition to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
After the Brown decision, many school districts, especially in the South, resisted integration. In Virginia, white officials in Prince Edward County closed every public school in the district rather than have white and black children go to school together. They opened private schools where only white parents could choose to send their children. And they did it using public money.
How convenient that she reached back in history to use a term that is used quite differently today.
Weingarten's criticism of school choices policies, such as vouchers, tuition tax credits, and non-public charter schools, is stunning:
Make no mistake: This use of privatization, coupled with disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation. We are in the same fight, against the same forces that are keeping the same children from getting the public education they need and deserve. And what better way to pave the path to privatize education than to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their shortcomings, and let the market handle the rest. All in the name of choice.
As the Wall Street Journal Board astutely notes, DeVos must be doing something right to draw the ire of Weingarten:
What really frosts the AFT president is that she recognizes that the public-school monopoly her union backs is now under siege, morally and politically, for its failure to educate children, especially minority children.
It’s not that there are no excellent public schools. It’s that citizens are beginning to see that the public money the unions increasingly demand is more likely to go into pensions than the classroom. And access to excellent schools increasingly depends on a good zip code.
Most Americans see through the blame and excuses of teachers unions over the performance of the public school system. Furthermore, Americans support and want school choice reforms. According to recent polling, two out of three likely 2018 voters (68 percent) support school choice and among people of color, support for choice skyrockets to seventy-five percent of Latinos and 72 percent of African Americans.
Weingarten and the army of progressive educators are no David. They don’t have a divine-mandate to lead our education system. DeVos and school choice reformers seem to be the underdog,s who face an army of opposition, in an effort to challenge the status quo and free students from the constraints of failing schools.
Speeches like this may rally the base, but are baseless, tasteless and will not stem the coming change of reform. Perhaps instead of “resisting” change, they should embrace putting students ahead of their pensions.