However, a closer look at the issues he addresses and the policies he supports reveals a very different picture than the one he paints.
The reason Howard Dean considers Teach For America and Education Reform a noble endeavor is at least partially because his son and daughter-in-law are Teach for America alums now involved in becoming charter school entrepreneurs. And, regardless of Mr. Dean's assertion that 1 in three entering TFAers are 1st generation college grads, his family are much closer to the 2 out of 3 TFA profile.
Dean's son Paul and his wife are summa cum laude graduates of Yale, son of a Presidential candidate/former head of the National Democratic Party, and daughter of a Vice President over the Credit Card division at JP Morgan/Chase. They are the privileged children of the nouveau-aristocracy -- exactly the type of ivy league graduates TFA sets out to recruit and give a leg up into the halls of power they were destined for to begin with.
Also, contrary to Mr. Dean's characterization of TFA as a benevolent endeavor meant to increase the number of lifetime teachers and serve poor children with no connection to corporate takeover of the public schools, Wendy Kopp, the founder, has stated that she came up with the idea after reading an article in Forbes discussing corporations as ready to enter into school reform. In interviews, she has openly said from her 33rd floor Radio City office that she completely envisioned things as they currently are. One must assume that includes visioning her $416,000 salary and access to the highest halls of political power. One must also wonder if her imaginings went as far as the constant disruption of student's lives due to revolving door charters, her designed 2 year teacher turnover, and the substantial loss of jobs for teachers of color that her noble cause would create.
As for progressives' confusion, which he attributes to the oppositionals, he might look more closely to home within the Democratic party for the source of discontent among public school supporters who have traditionally been progressive themselves. Using verifiably bogus data as an excuse, Democratic officials across the nation have waged openly destructive battles against their own public schools and local districts.
In New York, Andrew Cuomo has openly declared war on teachers and public schools. With John King (who is now going to Washington), he created a test meant to fail students and then created arbitrary cut scores that would make it appear 70% of New York students had failed the state test. Dean might look to Secretary Arne Duncan who, when confronted with the backlash, declared suburban moms to be delusional about the intellect of their children.
In Chicago Rahm Emanuel has closed 60 schools and laid off thousands of public school employees while selling off public school property to real estate friends, funding sports stadiums with the surplus taken, and increasing the TFA contract to $1.6 million in order to replace minority teachers.
Arne Duncan has punished states and localities that refused constant testing, and worked hand in glove with Bill Gates, who it is well-documented funded reform and compares students to shipping containers and electrical outlets, in order to implement destructive school reform policies.
Democratic governors have been just as adamant in implementing the poorly constructed and badly executed Common Core standards as have Republican ones, avidly punishing districts which refused to comply and appointing pro-privatization education officials.
The Democratic party has long taken teachers, public school employees, and public school supporters for granted because though teachers have never had the money to buy candidates, they have been a golden goose for local, state, and national elections as boots on the ground, and a source of high voter turnout.
Before this last election, the Democratic party had numerous warning signs that teacher allegiance, both individually and organizationally, was no longer a given. The party's support of high stakes testing, school closures and take overs, punitive and invalid evaluation systems, and privatization had driven many away. The Democratic party did not heed the warning signs.
Dean is right that this is an issue that will harden across the Presidential election if something does not change. It will harden even more if the Democratic party continues to alienate its traditional constituencies by holding to policies that are destroying what may well be the nation's greatest institution. They have almost choked the golden goose until it can no longer lay the golden eggs the party depended on.
Dean is right that it does not have to be either/or choices. Rank and file teachers went along with the changes, year after year until the changes became so destructive to their students that they could no longer acquiesce. Teachers and pro-public school voters have been forced into a no-win situation by the Democratic party itself. They have no desire to vote for various anti-poor, anti-healthcare, anti-women, anti-local business Republican policies, but neither can they feel comfortable voting for current Democratic educational policies which they feel are bad for the children of America.
The way out of the electoral disaster that looms is for the Democratic party to acknowledge its mistakes, mend its ways, and change the policies that have created the current problem.
And in the process, they should apologize to the hard working teachers, students, and parents
- who have created a public school system that when adjusted for poverty scores among the highest in the world. (Not that standardized tests actually measure much other than poverty),
- and who have contributed substantially to enabling the US to become the greatest nation in the history of the world.
He and the Democratic party owe them one.