Ed. This of us who fought this fight for Torlakson and against the neoliberals, know this. But, here is a national view of issue. Thank you for your votes,
by Jeff Bryant
The other notable constituent for education reform – business interests and wealthy private foundations – also clashes with a cause that claims to have roots in underserved communities.
That contradiction was most glaringly revealed in the race for state superintendent of schools in California, where incumbent and former teacher Tom Torlakson squared off against Marshall Tuck, a charter school administrator with a background in finance.
The contest was cast as a clash over “education reform,” and the candidates, both Democrats, indeed presented strong contrasts, with Torlakson being supportive of public schools and classroom teachers and Tuck advocating the need to “disrupt” education with more charter schools and stricter, managerial oversight of educators and school performance.
In a race that cost over $30 million, $25 million from outside groups, Torlakson was backed by labor unions and progressive activists while Tuck got the support of establishment newspapers and, according to one source, “30 donors who gave on average $267,000 each, including real estate developer William Bloomfield, Jr., Broad Foundation founder Eli Broad, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Emerson Collective Chair Laurene Powell Jobs.”
In California – a state generally supportive of traditionally Democratic values represented by unions, conservation groups, and organizations supportive of diversity and women’s rights – having a spokesperson for education reform so closely aligned to wealthy interests did not bode well for a candidacy like Tuck’s, and Torlakson prevailed.
The result of the Torlaskon-Tuck contest is yet another sign that strongly Democratic constituencies are increasingly uncomfortable in supporting education reform, and reformers will have to rely more on Republicans to carry their water.
Indeed the “bipartisan” aura of education reform seems to be waning in general. As yet another right wing education operative Andy Smarick surmised, there doesn’t appear to be “a credible, ed reform-oriented” voice in the Democratic Party. And offers of reform coming from Democrats are increasingly unlikely to woo Republican votes. In fact, in midterm elections in Colorado, when the group Democrats for Education Reform – an advocacy group of Republican money masquerading as centrist Democrats – made a high-spending bid to grab control of the state education board, their slate lost.
One Thing That’s Clear
While education reformers continue to present a coalition built on contradiction, those who oppose their agenda have yet to build a strong coalition of their own.
That was blatantly evident in the drubbing that the teachers’ unions took in the midterm, particularly in Wisconsin and Florida, where unions spent heavily and their candidates were soundly defeated.
Were the election to draw an electorate more traditionally aligned to the Democratic Party – with higher participation from the African American and Latino community and more support from younger voters and single mothers – the results may have been different but not assured.
Unfortunately, too often Democrats, as Harold Myerson explained for the American Prospect, find themselves stuck in an “intellectual and ideological” vacuum, where they have little to offer to voters angered about seeing their lot in lives continually worsened. The party’s problems with winning elections, as Ezra Klein noted in his analysis, aren’t with demographics, a structural disadvantage, or holding incumbency. They simply lack messages that resonate enough to draw out their reliable base and tap more Independent voters.
There’s evidence that Democrats can get their house in order when they adopt more populist messages that align with coalitions that advocate for economic fairness and social equity. Advocates for public schools won’t reliably win elections until that they embrace that coalition and successfully push the party that direction.
For more on the analysis by ally Harold Meyerson of the American Prospect see