Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at an event on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk on July 6. (Mel Evans/AP)

In an unexpected move, Democrats have revised the K-12 education section of their party’s 2016 platform in important ways, backing the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests, qualifying support for charter schools, and opposing using test scores for high-stakes purposes to evaluate teachers and students.

Some of the changes are being welcomed by public school advocates who have been fighting corporate school reform, which includes standardized test-based accountability systems and the expansion of charter schools. Many of these activists have been worried that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, would back corporate reform, just as the Obama administration has. While it isn’t clear exactly what she will do if she becomes president — as platform language does not necessarily translate into policy — supporters of those reforms are furious at the changes, highlighting a rift in the party over how to improve K-12 education.

One of them, Shavar Jeffries, president of the Democrats for Education Reform, an influential political action committee supported heavily by hedge fund managers favoring charter schools, merit-pay tied to test scores and related reforms, issued a statement that went so far as to say that the original draft on education was “progressive and balanced” but that the new language “threatens to roll back” President Obama’s education legacy. (See full statement below.)

Negotiators on the platform committee met this past weekend in Orlando (you can watch here, starting at the 31st minute) and changed an earlier draft of the K-12 education plank (one of five education sections) that had drawn criticism from activists who wanted the Democrats to take a stand against some of the key elements of corporate reform, including on charter schools and test-based accountability. Clinton got booed recently when she appeared at the National Education Association’s convention and touted charter schools (though most of her speech was met with approval).

The first released draft said this:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools and we will help them to disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. At the same time, we oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. Democrats also support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Critics pounced. Veteran educator Peter Greene, for example, said the Democrats needed to understand that charters now operate at the expense of traditional public schools. Education historian and activist Diane Ravitch said that language was unacceptable and that, among other things, the Democrats needed to make a statement opposing corporate replacements for neighborhood public schools.

Democratic negotiators led by Troy LaRaviere, an outspoken Chicago educator who was pushed out of his job as principal of an elementary school by the school district leadership; Chuck Pascal, a Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania; and Christine Kramar, a Nevada delegate, worked to win agreement on key changes to the original language. They got help from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has been a longtime supporter of Clinton’s, and some of their changes were adopted with little dissent.

Here’s the new charter language:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Among the changes is the phrase “democratically governed” in reference to traditional public schools and public charter schools. The two words actually mean a lot in the charter world, given that charter schools are beholden to the boards that grant them charters to operate, not the general public, and that they are not required to reveal key information about their finances and governance to the public.

The new language also says that charters should not “replace or destabilize traditional public schools.” During the discussion of the vote, Weingarten said, “We can’t have what is happening in Detroit right now, where entities like the DeVos family and the Koch brothers are trying to use charters to kill off public schools.”

There were important changes to the test-based accountability language. The new language comes out in favor of allowing parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests — a big move by the Democrats, given efforts by the Obama administration to stop the opt-out movement — and it opposes using scores from these tests for high-stakes evaluation purposes.

The old language said this:

Democrats believe that all students should be taught to high academic standards. Schools should receive adequate resources and support. We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students — particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities. We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction.

The new language says this:

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards for reliability and validity. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.

The opt-out movement has been growing across the country in recent years, with a growing number of parents deciding that they don’t want their children to take standardized tests whose scores are used for purposes they don’t think are valid. The U.S. Education Department has been for some time pushing states to penalize schools where more than 5 percent of students don’t take the required tests.

The American Statistical Association — the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals — that blasted the high-stakes “value-added method” (VAM) of evaluating teachers that has been increasingly embraced in states as part of school-reform efforts. VAM purports to be able to take student standardized test scores and measure the “value” a teacher adds to student learning through complicated formulas that can supposedly factor out all of the other influences — including how violence affects students — and emerge with a valid assessment of how effective a particular teacher has been.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest (a nonpartisan 501c3 organization not aligned with any political party or candidate), said that the statements supporting opt-outs and opposing the use of student test scores to evaluate students and teachers are “particularly strong.” He said the Democrats did not take other important steps, such as calling for the banning of all high-stakes uses of standardized tests and a reduction in government-mandated testing.

“As someone who has attended three national party conventions (and countless statewide gatherings), I recognize that platform language rarely has a significant impact on policy,” he said. “So, even if the rhetoric sounds considerably better, the proof is in the doing!”

The changes around accountability and charter schools infuriated Jeffries, of the Democrats for Education Reform. He issued a statement Tuesday blasting the changes, saying the new platform language “stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups.” It is worth noting that other civil rights groups oppose the coalition’s views.

Here’s his full statement:

“After putting forward a progressive and balanced education agenda in the initial draft of the 2016 Democratic Platform, this weekend the Platform Drafting Committee inexplicably allowed the process to be hijacked at the last minute. This unfortunate departure from President Obama’s historic education legacy threatens to roll back progress we’ve made in advancing better outcomes for all kids, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The platform stands in stark contrast to the positions of a broad coalition of civil rights groups which have made clear that those encouraging testing opt-outs are harming the prospects of low-income and minority children and that having clear academic performance benchmarks tied to school turnaround efforts is necessary to promote a more equitable education system.

“What happened in Orlando is little more than a bait and switch, one we are eager to fix, and which we hope is unreflective of Hillary Clinton’s priorities, as she has repeatedly supported standards and accountability and high-performing charter schools. President Obama has made clear that the best way to strengthen our system is not just with more resources, but reforms that ensure our children are progressing. Our party’s platform should build upon that legacy.”

Another interesting change involved the paragraph that said this in the first draft:

We will invest in high-quality STEM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand linked learning models and career pathways. We will end the school-to-prison pipeline. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.

The new language goes into more detail, calling specifically for changes in tough disciplinary policies at schools that disproportionately affect blacks, Latinos, students with disabilities and LGBT students. Also, the “A,” for arts, was added to STEM to make it STEAM:

We will invest in high quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school to prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities, and by supporting the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds. We will encourage restorative justice and reform overly punitive disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact African Americans and Latinos, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT.

Here’s most of the new language on the K-12 education plank:

Guaranteeing Universal Preschool and Good Schools in Every Zip Code

Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and workforce in the world. That means making early childhood education a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact life-long success. Democrats will invest in early childhood programs like Early Head Start and provide every family in America with access to high-quality childcare and high-quality pre-K programs.

We will ensure there are great Pre-K-12 schools for every child. Democrats are committed to the federal government continuing to play a critical role in working towards an America where a world-class education is available to every child. Democrats believe that a strong public education system is an anchor of our democracy, a propeller of the economy, and the vehicle through which we help all children achieve their dreams. Public education must engage students to be critical thinkers and civic participants while addressing the wellbeing of the whole child. ..

Democrats believe that all students should be taught to high academic standards. Schools should have adequate resources to provide programs and support to help meet the needs of every child.. We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association standards for reliability and validity. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners as failing, the use of standardized test scores as basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools, and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or their school.

To close the opportunity gap, we also must find ways to encourage mentoring programs that support students in reaching their full potential. Mentoring is a strategy to ensure that children living in poverty have the encouragement and support to aim high and enter the middle class. We will focus on group mentoring, which is a low-cost, high-yield investment that offers the benefit of building a supportive network of peers who push one another towards success…..

We know that good teachers are essential to improving student learning and helping all students to meet high academic standards. Democrats will launch a national campaign to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, and we will ensure that teachers receive the tools and ongoing professional development they need to succeed in the classroom and provide our children with a world-class education. We also must lift up and trust our educators, continually build their capacity, and ensure that our schools are safe, welcoming, collaborative, and well-resourced places for our students, educators, and communities.

We will invest in high quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand link learning models and career pathways. We will end the school to prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities, and by supporting the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds. We will encourage restorative justice and reform overly punitive disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact African Americans and Latinos, students with disabilities, and youth who identify as LGBT.

The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps–particularly those that lead to students from low income communities arriving to school on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers from higher income communities.  The means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children.  This means being committed to increasing the average income in households in poor communities. It means ensuring these children have health care, stable housing free of contaminants, and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming that increases the likelihood that poor children will arrive to kindergarten with the foundations for meeting the expectations we have for them in the areas of literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence.  It means we support what it takes to compel states to fund public education equitably and adequately, as well as expand support provided by the Title I formula for schools that serve a large number or high concentration of children in poverty. It means that we support ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps.

We are also committed to ensuring that schools that educate kids in poverty are not unfairly treated for taking on the challenge of serving those kids.  This means an end to the test-and-punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the academic gaps created before they reach school.  We support policies that motivate our educators instead of demoralizing them.

No school system in the world has ever achieved successful whole-system reform by leading with punitive accountability.  We must replace this strategy with one that will actually motivate educators and improve their training and professional development in order to get results for all students–with an emphasis on equitable results for students of color, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities, and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English Language Learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

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