How Hillary Clinton Just Changed The Dialogue on Public Education With Sen. Tim Kaine’s Selection As VEEP

The announcement that Hillary Clinton today selected Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate brought public education into the forefront of the presidential election even more.

Donald Trump’s recent selection of Gov. Mike Pence solidified his stance that “choice” is the solution for what ails public education. Gov. Pence has been very much in favor of the “reform” movement in public education. His championing of charter schools and vouchers makes North Carolina look like a novice with its own unregulated charter industry and Opportunity Grants.

It is no secret that I am not in favor of unregulated charter growth and use of vouchers to fund tuition costs at religious private schools.

Take a look at a report done by NPR (yes, I am an avid NPR listener) entitled “What Did Mike Pence Do For Indiana Schools As Governor? Here’s a Look” (http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/07/20/486654015/what-did-pence-do-for-schools-as-governor-heres-a-look).

Breaking down his actions on Common Core, school choice, pre-k, and statewide testing, the article by NPR’s Eric Weddle breaks down Pence’s resume on public education.

Add that history to what Donald Trump Jr. so uneloquently said in his RNC address about public schools. This excerpt came from Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post education blog, “The Answer Sheet” in a post entitled “Donald Trump Jr. trashes U.S. public schools (though he didn’t attend one).” It can be found here – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/07/20/donald-trump-jr-trashes-u-s-public-schools-though-he-didnt-attend-one/.

Trump, Jr. said,

“The other party gave us public schools that far too often fail our students, especially those who have no options. Growing up, my siblings and I we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students. You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school.

That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears.

They fear it because they’re more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.

They want to run everything top-down from Washington. They tell us they’re the experts and they know what’s best.”

If you read the entire post, Strauss actually debunks those claims made by Trump, Jr. and even brings in a quote from Trump, Sr. himself that shows how uneducated he really is about public education. She states,

“What does Donald Trump, the candidate, think? Education wasn’t high on the list of discussion topics during the primary season, but he has long been a supporter of school choice and a critic of traditional public schools. In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” he wrote:

“We’re doing worse than treading water; we’re going under.” According to school-testing experts’ rule of thumb, the average child’s achievement score declinesabout 1 percent for each year they’re in school. That gives the expression ‘dumbing down’ a whole new meaning. Schools may be hazardous to your child’s intellectual health.”

Wow! Like son, like father.

Then here comes Tim Kaine, former governor of a swing state and current senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia. My venerable friend from my native Georgia, Bertis Downs, sent me a link to an op-ed written by Sen. Kaine. Maybe Bertis remembered I was a parent of public schools kids. Maybe he remembered I am the parent of a special needs child with an IEP thicker than some novels I teach, but made in cooperation with caring teachers and administrators at my child’s public school. Maybe he sent it to me to solidify that there are many who believe in our public schools to a degree that I can respect. I know he sent it to me because we share a passion for advocating for public schools in all states.

And this is what Bertis sent me – “Tim Kaine: Lessons from 40 years as a Richmond Public Schools parent”. Here is a link  – http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/article_704c7708-041b-545b-921d-42fcb36e96cc.html.

And here is the content of what The Richmond Times – Dispatch used.

“Anne and I are now empty-nesters. Combined, our three kids spent 40 school years in the Richmond Public Schools. While we both interact with the school system in our professional lives, we’ve learned even more from back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, attending school events and pulling crumpled notes to parents out of our kids’ backpacks. The lessons learned as parents have made me think about what works and what doesn’t work in Pre-K-12 education. Here are seven changes I’d like to see:

It’s about the individual!

Most policy debate these days seems to be about charter schools or high-stakes testing. But I’m convinced that the most important reform has been under our noses since 1975, when legislation was passed to guarantee children with diagnosed disabilities receive individualized learning plans tailored to meet their specific needs.

Each child brings a mix of strengths and challenges to the classroom. Let’s use the insight gained through advances in educating kids with disabilities to leverage new technologies and teaching methods that can individualize learning for each child.

Early childhood education works

My daughter was able to attend a year of high-quality pre-K in our city schools. This experience made me a believer, and it’s one of the reasons why I greatly expanded pre-K for at-risk 4 year olds when I was governor.

The research is powerful — if you invest in high-quality programs that coordinate with K-12 curricula and have mandatory teacher standards, the gains from early education are lasting. It’s also important that we focus on coordinating investments made in early childhood programs — such as Head Start — to ensure we are effectively using our funding, eliminating any waste and bolstering the structure of our education system.

Simplify elementary education

By the time Virginians graduate from high school, they have taken at least 35 state-mandated tests in addition to all the classroom testing that good teachers require.

This over-testing phenomenon is particularly acute at the elementary level. Borrowing a phrase from Singapore’s educational reform efforts, I’d “teach less and learn more” at the elementary level by focusing the early grades on English and math fluency.

Use social studies and science material to stimulate curiosity about the world while building reading mastery and making basic math concepts more concrete. Save the state testing of science and social studies for later grades. If the early years are intensely focused on language and math, our students will perform better in all areas down the road.

Middle school as career exploration

I’d reconceive middle school as fundamentally about career exploration. What do kids know about the work world beyond what their parents do? We can make middle school more exciting if we use all parts of the curriculum to expose students to the wide range of available career choices so that, by the time they enter high school, they will be more able to choose the right direction for themselves.

Different paths to high school success

As governor, I created Governor’s Career and Technical Academies to promote the notion that technical education is as important as college preparatory courses. Virginia now offers three diploma types — standard, modified standard and advanced. Coupled with an increasing variety of other options — Advanced Placement courses, career certification exams, community college joint enrollment programs, verified online courses — a high school transcript is now a highly personalized learning résumé. Gone are the days when kids are “tracked” into a two-tier system of college prep or vocational education. When students are given exposure to all options, they can build their own high school path to the future they want.

Value the unvalued

While RPS is an urban system with fiscal challenges, it has resisted pressure to devalue arts education. These experiences enhanced my children’s creativity, confidence, communication skills and teamwork — all greatly in demand in the adult world. And it’s not just arts. Trained computer professionals are in high demand, yet most states still treat computer science courses as an elective, not allowing them to be used to meet math or science requirements. Many of the things that promote life and career success don’t fit neatly into today’s curricular requirements. Let’s create space for this kind of personal development in our schools.

Keeping good teachers

Finally, a note of gratitude. Our kids were blessed to have many wonderful teachers. There were some weak ones, but RPS teachers were mostly solid, some spectacular and a few life-changing for our children. As I listen to public debate, it often sounds like our main issue is how to get rid of bad teachers. But this problem pales beside the larger issue of how to keep good teachers.

Too many great prospective teachers never enter the profession and too many great teachers leave too early over low salaries, high-stakes testing pressure, discipline challenges and an overall belief that society doesn’t value the profession. We need a robust debate about how to value and attract good teachers.”

Tim Kaine represents Virginia in the United States Senate. This column is adapted from a longer article published by Education Week.

If I was a single issue voter as some might be and chose public education as the issue that swayed my vote – it just got swayed.

But I am not just a voter. I am a parent. I am an involved parent. I am a public school teacher. I am an advocate for public schools. I am a tax-payer. I favor the use of the arts in education. And I stay up at night reading articles and op-eds about public education. I want to know what these candidates think. Then I write about it in those very nights I stay up when my wife texts me from the other room to tell me to go to bed for God’s sake.

I distinctly remember when Chris Rock was asked by Larry King if he was going to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 for president because he was a minority. Rock said (and I paraphrase) that he would not. He was going to vote for the guy who only had one house to lose, not many houses.

Maybe, I might listen a little more to what Sen. Kaine says about public schools. Why? That’s where he sent his kids.

Me too.

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