You can track the changes in the way the Democratic Party views school reform and the role poverty plays in student achievement by looking at the education sections of party platforms in previous election years and comparing it to the one that was approved Tuesday.

Read the 2012 education section here, and then earlier platforms to find differences among them. For example:

* On teacher evaluation

In 2008: To reward our teachers, we will follow the lead of school districts and educators that have pioneered innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.

In 2012: We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom.

What’s missing now is the part about imposing these systems on teachers. Also note the differences in the references to poverty.

Here are the education portions of the Democratic Party platforms from 2008, 1992 and 1972 (and again you can read the ed section from the 2012 platform here).

From the 2008 Democratic platform:


When Bobby Kennedy saw the shacks and poverty along the Mississippi Delta, he asked, “How can a country like this allow it?” Forty years later, we’re still asking that question. The most American answer we can give is: “We won’t allow it.” One in eight Americans lives in poverty today all across our country, in our cities, in our suburbs, and in our rural communities. Most of these people work but still can’t pay the bills. Nearly thirteen million of the poor are children. We can’t allow this kind of suffering and hopelessness to exist in our country. It’s not who we are. Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college. We will develop innovative transitional job programs that place unemployed people into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones. To help workers share in our country’s productivity, we’ll expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation. The majority of adults in poverty are women, and to combat poverty we must work for fair pay, support for mothers, and policies that promote responsible fatherhood. We’ll start letting our unions do what they do best again—organize and lift up our workers. We’ll make sure that every American has affordable health care that stays with them no matter what happens. We will assist American Indian communities, since 10 of the 20 poorest counties in the United States are on Indian lands. We’ll bring businesses back to our inner-cities, increase the supply of affordable housing, and establish “promise neighborhoods” that provide comprehensive services in areas of concentrated poverty. These will be based on proven models, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, which seeks to engage all residents with tangible goals such as attendance at parenting schools, retention of meaningful employment, college for every participating student, and strong physical and mental health outcomes for children. The Democratic Party believes that the fight against poverty must be national priority. Eradicating poverty will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States, and we believe that the White House must offer leadership and resources to advance this agenda.

A World Class Education for Every Child

In the 21st century, where the most valuable skill is knowledge, countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. In the platform hearings, Americans made it clear that it is morally and economically unacceptable that our high-schoolers continue to score lower on math and science tests than most other students in the world and continue to drop-out at higher rates than their peers in other industrialized nations. We cannot accept the persistent achievement gap between minority and white students or the harmful disparities that exist between different schools within a state or even a district. Americans know we can and should do better.

The Democratic Party firmly believes that graduation from a quality public school and the opportunity to succeed in college must be the birthright of every child–not the privilege of the few. We must prepare all our students with the 21st century skills they need to succeed by progressing to a new era of mutual responsibility in education. We must set high standards for our children, but we must also hold ourselves accountable–our schools, our teachers, our parents, business leaders, our community and our elected leaders. And we must come together, form partnerships, and commit to providing the resources and reforms necessary to help every child reach their full potential.

Early Childhood

We will make quality, affordable early childhood care and education available to every American child from the day he or she is born. Our Children’s First Agenda, including increases in Head Start and Early Head Start, and investments in high-quality Pre-K, will improve quality and provide learning and support to families with children ages zero to five. Our Presidential Early Learning Council will coordinate these efforts.


We must ensure that every student has a high-quality teacher and an effective principal. That starts with recruiting a new generation of teachers and principals by making this pledge–if you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education. We’ll provide better preparation, mentoring and career ladders. Where there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they’re still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way—consistent with due process—to put another teacher in that classroom.

To reward our teachers, we will follow the lead of school districts and educators that have pioneered innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. We will make an unprecedented national investment to provide teachers with better pay and better support to improve their skills, and their students’ learning. We’ll reward effective teachers who teach in underserved areas, take on added responsibilities like mentoring new teachers, or consistently excel in the classroom.

We will fix the failures and broken promises of No Child Left Behind–while holding to the goal of providing every child access to a world-class education, raising standards, and ensuring accountability for closing the achievement gap. We will end the practice of labeling a school and its students as failures and then throwing our hands up and walking away from them without having provided the resources and supports these students need. But this alone is not an education policy. It’s just a starting point. We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.

We will promote innovation within our public schools–because research shows that resources alone will not create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach.

We will also meet our commitment to special education and to students who are English Language Learners. We support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

We also support transitional bilingual education and will help Limited English Proficient students get ahead by supporting and funding English Language Learner classes. We support teaching students second languages, as well as contributing through education to the revitalization of American Indian languages.

We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children’s education from day one–who make sure their children are in school on time, help them with their homework, and attend those parent-teacher conferences; who are willing to turn off the TV once in a while, put away the video games, and read to their children.

Responsibility for our children’s education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them, and spend time with them, and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

Higher Education

We believe that our universities, community colleges, and other institutions of higher learning must foster among their graduates the skills needed to enhance economic competitiveness. We will work with institutions of higher learning to produce highly skilled graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines who will become innovative workers prepared for the 21st century economy.

At community colleges and training programs across the country, we will invest in short-term accelerated training and technical certifications for the unemployed and under-employed to speed their transition to careers in high-demand occupations and emerging industries. We will reward successful community colleges with grants so they can continue their good work. We support education delivery that makes it possible for non-traditional students to receive support and encouragement to obtain a college education, including Internet, distance education, and night and weekend programs.

We must also invest in training and education to prepare incumbent job-holders with skills to meet the rigors of the new economic environment and provide them access to the broad knowledge and concrete tools offered by apprenticeships, internships, and postsecondary education. We need to fully fund joint labor-management apprenticeship programs and reinvigorate our industrial crafts programs to train the next generation of skilled American craft workers.

We recognize the special value and importance of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority serving institutions in meeting the needs of our increasingly diverse society and will work to ensure their viability and growth.

We will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. In exchange for the credit, students will be expected to perform community service.

We will continue to support programs, especially the Pell Grant program, that open the doors of college opportunity to low-income Americans. We will enable families to apply for financial aid simply by checking a box on their tax form.
Our institutions of higher education are also the economic engines of today and tomorrow. We will partner with them to translate new ideas into innovative products, processes and services.


From the 1992 Democratic platform...

Lifelong Learning

A competitive American economy requires the global market’s best educated, best trained, most flexible workforce. It’s not enough to spend more on our schools; we must insist on results. We oppose the Bush Administration’s efforts to bankrupt the public school system -- the bedrock of democracy -- through private school vouchers. To help children reach school ready to learn, we will expand child health and nutrition programs and extend Head Start to all eligible children, and guarantee all children access to quality, affordable child care. We deplore the savage inequalities among public schools across the land, and believe every child deserves an equal chance to a world class education. Reallocating resources toward this goal must be a priority. We support education reforms such as site-based decision-making and public school choice, with strong protections against discrimination. We support the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate, and programs to end dropouts. We will invest in educational technology, and establish world-class standards in math, science and other core subjects and support effective tests of progress to meet them. In areas where there are no registered apprenticeship programs, we will adopt a national apprenticeship-style program to ease the transition from school to work for non-college bound students so they can acquire skills that lead to high-wage jobs. In the new economy, opportunity will depend on lifelong learning. We will support the goal of literacy for all Americans. We will ask firms to invest in the training of all workers, not just corporate management.


From the 1972 Democratic Party platform:

Rights of Children

One measure of a nation’s greatness is the care it manifests for all of its children. The Nixon Administration has demonstrated a callous attitude toward children repeatedly through veto and administrative decisions. We, therefore, call for a reordering of priorities at all levels of American society so that children, our most precious resource, and families come first. To that end, we call for:

The federal government to fund comprehensive development child care programs that will be family centered, locally controlled and universally available. These programs should provide for active participation of all family members in the development and implementation of the program. Health, social service and early childhood education should be part of these programs, as well as a variety of options most appropriate to their needs. Child care is a supplement, not a substitute, for the family;

The establishment of a strong child advocacy program, financed by the federal government and other sources, with full ethnic, cultural, racial and sexual representation;

First priority for the needs of children, as we move toward a National Health Insurance Program;

The first step should be immediate implementation of the federal law passed in the 1967 Social Security Amendments providing for “early and periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment” of children’s health problems;

Legislation and administrative decisions to drastically reduce childhood injuries—prenatal, traffic, poisoning, burns, malnutrition, rat bites and to provide health and safety education.

Full funding of legislation designed to meet the needs of children with special needs: The retarded, the physically and mentally handicapped, and those whose environment produces abuse and neglect and directs the child to anti-social conduct;

Reaffirmation of the rights of bilingual, handicapped or slow-learning children to education in the public schools, instead of being wrongly classified as retarded or uneducable and dismissed;

Revision of the juvenile court system; dependency and neglect cases must be removed from the corrections system, and clear distinctions must be drawn between petty childhood offenses and the more serious crimes;

Allocation of funds to the states to provide counsel to children in juvenile proceedings, legal or administrative; and Creation by Congress of permanent standing committees on Children and Youth.

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