By Anthony Cody.

This morning I opened my email to find a message from “Bold Progressives,” who exist to rally support for Democratic Party candidates willing to fight for real change. The message was a survey from the “Progressive Change Campaign Committee,” asking if I thought Hillary Clinton should face a primary challenge. The second question is this:

Would you help press all Democratic candidates for president to run on bold progressive ideas?

I clicked “yes,” and the following option appeared:

Check this box to sign the pledge to urge candidates to campaign on bold progressive ideas.

We want the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee to campaign on big, bold, economic-populist ideas that tangibly improve the lives of millions of Americans.

We urge all candidates for president to campaign on big, bold ideas — such as establishing a national goal of debt-free college at all public colleges and universities, expanding Social Security benefits instead of cutting them, creating millions of clean-energy jobs, reducing big money influence in politics, breaking up the “too-big-to-fail” Wall Street banks that crashed our economy, and ensuring that working families share in the economic growth they help create.

Notice anything missing from this bold agenda?

There is no mention of K12 education. No mention of the issues confronting public schools, the attempts to privatize, voucherize and charterize our schools. No mention of school closures in African American and Latino neighborhoods. No mention of assaults on teacher unions and due process rights. No mention of the test obsession destroying the quality of education in our schools, leading students to walk out by the thousands.

Will we go through another election where Republicans rail at the “public school monopoly,” and Democrats say virtually nothing? Will the next administration continue the policies advanced by the Obama/Duncan administration, requiring the use of test scores in teacher evaluation, and promoting the expansion of charter schools and Teach for America? Will we continue to have an administration  that promotes an “accountability” system centered on high stakes tests, and promotes school closures and other disruptions to public schools?

Will groups like “Democrats for Education Reform” continue to funnel buckets of hedge fund cash to candidates willing to support charter schools and Teach For America?

Organizations such as the “Bold Progressives” — and potential candidates for office —  need to wake up to the movement of teachers, parents and students that is taking shape across the country. I, for one, am unwilling to support candidates who refuse to go on record in support of public schools.

In advance of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election bid, the National Education Association made its endorsement more than a year ahead of the election. Teacher unions were “all in,” in their early public support of Obama, in spite of Race to the Top and other disastrous policies. I am not sure what we got for that support. Obama’s second term has brought more of the same. I hope our unions take a very different approach this time around, and demand that any candidate that receive our support reject high stakes testing and the use of tests in teacher evaluations, and truly support democratically controlled public schools.

The election race between Chuy Garcia and Rahm Emanuel is a bit of a preview of this, and could send a shock wave to Democrats who have gotten accustomed to ignoring their constituencies. Education is a huge issue in Chicago, and if Garcia wins on April 7, it will be because he had the full throated support of teachers — and the Chicago Teachers Union, out in the streets. Garcia has paid attention to education issues, and would not have teachers support without taking a clear stand. Progressives from around the country have rallied to Garcia’s side. Will this trend continue?

Remember, public school teachers are more than five million in number. The membership in the NEA and AFT combined is more than four million. That is the largest organized bloc of voters in the nation. If we act together, and communicate effectively with parents and students about these issues, we could be a determining factor in many races.

I sent a message to the “Bold Progressives” at the email they provide:  Here is what I wrote to them:

I just reviewed your latest survey, which lays out your progressive agenda.

The only mention of education is debt free college.

As you must surely know, K12 public education is under a frontal assault by corporate interests who are seeking to privatize our schools. This assault is being aided by the Obama administration and Democrats like Andrew Cuomo.

If you, as “bold progressives,” do not include this issue in your agenda, you will not have my support.

I think we need to send this message as clearly as possible to every organization or candidate that asks for a penny of our money, or a moment of our time. If they refuse to even mention our schools now, when they need our support, we will continue to have our schools neglected or undermined once they are elected.

Update, Mar. 24, 2015: I reached out to the Bold Progressives after posting this, and their representative has responded positively. I invited them to send a representative to the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago in April. There is a lot of common ground to build upon.

What do you think? How should we get “progressives” to pay attention to education issues?  


Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody worked in the high poverty schools of Oakland, California, for 24 years, 18 of them as a middle school science teacher. He was one of the organizers of the Save Our Schools March in Washington, DC in 2011 and he is a founding member of The Network for Public Education. A graduate of UC Berkeley and San Jose State University, he now lives in Mendocino County, California.


  1. Lloyd Lofthouse    

    I will only vote for candidates who clearly come out in the open in support of public education. If that means, I don’t vote for the first time in decades, then so be it.

  2. Arthur Camins    

    We will not be successful without an independent strategic, values-driven, public communications campaign to support the struggle for respectful, equitable, democratic education. Without a public movement, even the most courageous politicians cannot make a difference.
    Here are some ideas about how to frame such a movement:

    1. dhfabian    

      What blocks us is that we can’t discuss the highly negative impact our poverty policies have had on a generation of young people. America has a poverty crisis, and we chose to ignore what had already been learned about the impact (on students and the country) of unrelieved poverty.

  3. MomOfMany    

    At the local level, in my home state of Missouri, there are Republicans that are supporting public education in many ways — for example, leading the charge to end support of Common Core, leading the charge to end high-stakes testing and against SBAC, leading the charge to force our state education bureaucrats to stop judging schools on nothing but standardized tests. In November, the voters of this state rejected a ballot initiative that would judge teachers on mostly standardized test scores — said rejection was 73% against. And yet, still, Democrats are not listening at all. Accordingly, I am no longer a Democrat. I may have to sit out the next national election (meaning at least not voting in those races), but at least here at home, the Republicans are actually providing some good for education. Democrats ? I can’t hear or see them doing one thing.

    1. dhfabian    

      Any actual Democrats in Congress have been pushed into the background by the (Clinton) New Democrat Party (Google it.) This is too complex of an issue for a simple post, but we see the work of the neoliberal New Democrat Party in a range of issues, including education. They are also currently working to do to Social Security what they did to our former welfare programs, dismantling it the same way — one cut, on part, at a time (in this case, continuing B. Clinton’s agenda against the disabled/seriously ill.) What we can say: Republicans targeted al Qaiddah. The New Democrats targeted babies, the disabled, the elderly.

      If there are any actual progressive Democrats in Congress today, the need to finally speak up.

  4. Ray Brown    

    Anthony, I totally agree with you!! These “progressives” will miss the boat if they do not eliminate high stakes testing and not mentioning Title 1 schools that I worked in all my life until I retired in June of 2014. I was totally disgusted when NEA bragged about being the first union to vote for Obama the second time without getting anything changed in education. I can say, the second time around I did not vote for him, but I voted Green Party for the first time in my life. I was always a Democrat until this last election. For me to go back to the Democratic Party they need to change CC’s high stakes testing and stop all the increase in charter schools. As a teacher, I vote and I will not vote for Hillary Clinton, more wars, and nothing for us teachers. If the so called “progressives” don’t follow the correct plan for us, then they will not get anything from me.

  5. szemelman    

    I don’t expect anything for education but more of the same, from Hillary. But here’s a theory: As we are finding out, applications to education schools & departments are plummeting (over 50% in CA). So in a couple of years, there will be a teacher shortage. When that happens in a marketplace, things change — rules get bypassed. Pay goes up. It won’t be pretty, but there will indeed be consequences to all this trashing of public education.

    Meanwhile, I try the best I can to help give teachers a voice. One way is the series of teacher essays being published by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper — just do a search for “Chicago Sun Times Teacher Essays” to see some of them. Also we created two videos of teachers stating their core teaching beliefs on YouTube — go there and search “Teachers doing great things for kids”.

  6. Ray Brown    

    Yes, in my state, California, there is a 50% drop in people going into education, but the big muckety mucks, may like this. They have plenty of Teach for America people, who will come and go. My teacher friend from Alabama told me today he heard on the radio that now they want instructional aides to take over from big university’s and they could get their loans cut by coming in as IA ‘s. Maybe this is pie in the sky, but with all the unemployed and underemployed, maybe they can keep the assembly line of inexperienced people just coming and coming , and leaving, for years and years. NAFTA put lots of people out of work and now they want ITP, which is NAFTA on steroids. It’s a rich mans way of keeping us constantly down. I hope I am wrong or just terribly pessimistic, but I would not put anything passed the Obamas and Duncans of this world!

    1. dhfabian    

      The media marketed to liberals (there is little actual progressive media) avoid noting that Bill Clinton signed the NAFTA agreement. If confronted, they fall back on the, “He had no choice” excuse. Currently, the media is in overdrive to push VP Joe Biden out, replacing him in 2016 with (neoliberal) Hillary Clinton. How strange. While railing against the TPP, they promote H. Clinton, who had worked long and hard promoting the TPP You are not wrong regarding the overall agenda, but this agenda has been driven by the (Clinton) New Democrat Party in Congress, which largely replaced the Democratic Party.

      As a result of years of right wing interference with education, US students have fallen far behind those of the more advanced nations, leaving the US far less able to compete in the modern world market, at the very least.

      1. Ray Brown    

        You are right. I am so sick of the media saying the economy was so good under the Clinton administration. One has to look at the whole picture. He signed NAFTA which ended so many jobs. The idea that “I had no choice” is a preposterous assumption. We all have a choice. I am sick of my former party, the party of my parents too. Republicans and Democrats are all phoney balonies in my book. We need a viable party, not the same old same all.

  7. VanessaVaile    

    Good thing “progressive” is in quotation marks here. Increasingly, “Progressive Democrats” is an oxymoron. Try “Corporatist Democrats” and look at their donor lists.

    1. dhfabian    

      Exactly. This is simply the label applied to the Reagan Democrats. The only difference is that by now, they more aggressively push right wing ideology.

  8. Sergio Flores    

    Arguably, the Democratic Party, including the self-proclaimed progressives, has already taken the resolute position of letting the institution of public education be dismantled and privatized. The free-market ideological frame that the corporate reformers created and have sustained unchallenged with ample bipartisan support, has for decades already systematically and efficiently demonized and debased public schools, teachers, and everything that relates to democratic principles, civic values, or the common good. Thus, the absence of public school issues in the democrats’ agenda should not be surprising. Who has the moral fortitude to ask Democrats to include public education in their plans for the future? On what grounds? and to what end? I would argue that Democrats ignoring the agonizing state of our public education system has a logical cause: it has to do chiefly with teachers association leaders deserting or betraying it in the NCLB era. In this century we have not seen NEA or AFT leaders showing any meaningful pragmatic defense, courageous position, or rightful fight for public education. Tragically, these stakeholders, who were supposed to be most invested, loyal, and grateful, to the institution of public education, have refused to stand for it. I am neither surprised, disappointed, nor angry at the Democratic Party for showing no interest on a public school system that no one cares about. I reserve those emotions for those in charge who rather than protecting public education from unfair and arbitrary criticism, unconscionably abandoned it!

    1. dhfabian    

      The Democratic Party itself was largely replaced in Congress by what Bill Clinton proudly called, “The New Democrat Party.” (Google it.) This is a purely neoliberal branch of government, as the policies of Clinton and current New Democrats in Congress shows. The meaning of “progressive” has been “disappeared,” and it is now used merely as a marketing term for certain Democrats. We even see H. Clinton, with her long record of support for the right wing agenda, described as “progressive” in her fund-raising literature. Much of the media marketed to progressives and liberals proudly exploit that word while continuing to implicitly support the right wing agenda.

  9. Ray Brown    

    Sergio, you are right on with your statements. We have been abandoned by our unions in this age, starting atleast with NCLB and now with CC.. Still, I am very disappointed and angry. You however, are right on in your statements.

    1. dhfabian    

      Actual unions are owned and managed by the members. What we’ve seen since the 1980s has been something that can be summed up as, US unions being taken over and controlled by corporate interests. As long as union members tolerate it, don’t expect legitimate unions.

  10. dhfabian    

    Actually, there has been quite a lot of discussion about these issues among progressives. But the fact is, actual progressives don’t have the public microphone, which is currently under the control of the two parties.

  11. 2xnoe    

    Even in the world of privately owned ‘learning centers’, being a fully certified and experienced teacher is no longer regarded as a positive since they can employ those still ‘in college’ as teachers/tutors and pay them a whole lot less. I have been the victim of this kind of discrimination–I once worked a minimum of a 20 hour week; now I’m lucky if I work 5 hours a week because they don’t want to pay me for my time and my expertise. This is corporate America at its best–training and experience mean nothing if they can find a ‘body’ that will save them money. I still remember what a college prof once told me–that as long as this is seen as a ‘woman’s job’, as a ‘supplement’ to family income, pay will always be an issue. It is indeed discouraging that in the 50 years I have been involved in education that this attitude has continued. The other issue is how the public misunderstands the teaching profession, especially as it relates to how they ‘only work’ 9 months yet get paid for 12 , and puts the full responsibility of ‘teaching’ their children solely on the backs of teachers–despite the fact that parents are their first teachers! Teachers are under assault with more duties added to their already heavy teaching loads, yet the days are not getting longer and there is no extra help or pay given to them. It is no wonder teachers are burning out within 5 years and switch careers or go to private schools where the pressures are less. Other countries treat their teachers with greater respect, pay them a living wage, and let them teach–when are we going to follow their lead?

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