WASHINGTON—Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on the series of landmark education amendments passed by delegates during the final drafting session for the Democratic Party platform in Orlando, Fla. These amendments represent a shift in our approach to public education.
“Thanks to collaboration between Clinton and Sanders drafters and platform committee members, the public education plank in the Democratic platform represents a refreshing sea change in its approach to public education, to the students we serve, and to the parents and educators who work so hard to give all our children the opportunity they deserve.
“This platform makes it clear that Democrats are committed to ending the failed era of test-and-sanction, and are ready to refocus on strategies that will help each and every child succeed, from early childhood through college and career.
“The platform renews a commitment to the role of parents and teachers, and recommits to the idea that local communities should have democratic voice in their schools. It focuses on strategies to keep kids in school and engaged—from a rich curriculum to restorative justice to wraparound supports—so that every student has a fair shot to reach his or her potential. And it calls for giving educators and school employees the latitude, tools and trust to support students.
“Democrats amended the platform to: support community schools with wraparound services in struggling neighborhoods; implement restorative justice and alternative discipline practices; invest in engaging STEM curricula; explicitly oppose high-stakes testing as a means to close schools or evaluate educators; support a parents’ right to opt their children out of tests; and support and respect all educators and school employees.
“One of the most significant amendments deals with the role of charter schools, and Democrats are in agreement on this. Charters must reflect the neighborhoods they serve and teach all children regardless of disability, special needs or background. We clearly oppose the idea of for-profit charters, and call for full accountability and transparency for all charter schools. This supports the original vision for charter schools: to complement, not to replace or destabilize, traditional public schools.
“In higher education, Democrats passed a unity amendment to provide free tuition for middle-class and working families at public colleges and universities and a debt-free higher education for all Americans. This amendment further calls for year-round Pell Grants, an expansion of debt repayment options, and additional support for historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.
“Democrats’ higher education plank is the most progressive in American history. It matches Hillary Clinton’s New College Compact, a plan that contains the best ideas from leaders in the field including Sens. Warren and Sanders, as well as from the many young people Hillary engaged on the trail.”
Selections from relevant amendments as adopted
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
On supporting teachers:
“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.”