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Democratic Party Platform: End ‘Test-and-Punish’ for Students of Color, Teachers

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 25, 2016 3 min read
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Children in poverty should be given the same opportunities as others in the educational system, and test-based accountability systems that “falsely and unfairly label students of color,” teachers, and schools must be opposed, according to the official Democratic Party platform released late last week.

The platform reflects several of the top K-12 policy priorities of American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, both of which have backed presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. As we discussed last week, it’s a strong repudiation of groups that favor test-based accountability as a key tool in identifying and addressing the needs of minority students and struggling schools.

There’s a pledge in there as well to end the “test-and-punish version of accountability.” Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, there are still federally required state tests—but states have a lot more freedom in how they use them to judge students, teachers, and schools.

And, as reported last week, the platform also supports parents’ right to opt their children out of standardized exams.

“We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs, but does not drive, instruction,” says the platform. “To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple-measures approach to assessment, and we believe that standardized tests must be reliable and valid.”

Transgender Rights, Lead Poisoning, and DREAMers

Some of the platform’s language mirrors the union’s language almost exactly. For example, the platform states, “We believe a good education is a basic right of all Americans, no matter what ZIP code they live in.” The part about ZIP codes is also a point of emphasis for the NEA.

Charters get a nod in the platform, but only those deemed “high quality.” Clinton has been critical of charters during parts of her campaign, a fact that’s concerned some of her Democratic allies. However, in a speech to the NEA earlier this month, she said charter schools can provide lessons to educators.

And public school choice options are praised by the Democrats, but not those run by for-profit entities.

“We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools,” the platform states.

Parts of the platform, like those noted above around testing, are not particularly kind to pieces of President Barack Obama’s education policy. However, there are other parts of the platform that at least generally match the Obama Education Department’s priorities, such as a stress on school integration, and expanding access to early-childhood education—the platform calls for universal access to preschool.

Here are several other notable provisions of the Democrat’s platform:

  • In a clear contrast with the GOP education platform, the Democratic platform opposes laws like North Carolina’s that do not allow transgender individuals the right to use public facilities, like school restrooms and locker rooms, that match their gender identity and not their one from birth.

    “We will oppose all state efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals, including legislation that restricts the right to access public spaces,” the platform states.

  • The platform says the party will “expand access to English-language education” as part its efforts to uphold Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, and to ensure opportunities for DREAMers. Related note: the Every Student Succeeds Act emphasizes English-language learners as well by requiring states to track them in their accountability systems.
  • “We will end the school-to-prison pipeline and build a cradle-to-college pipeline instead, where every child can live up to his or her God-given potential,” the platform states.
  • In the name of providing a better education, the platform pledges to connect every household in the country to high-speed internet.
  • Democrats say they continue to support arts and music education programs in public schools.
  • The platform says the party will work to eradicate lead poisoning, “which disproportionately impacts low-income children and children of color and can lead to lifelong health and educational challenges.” (Click here for our January story about this issue.)

Read the entire platform below:

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