School Talk

Kamala Harris Comes Out Swinging on Education and She Picks the Unions Over Students and Parents

Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris must have been one of the people AFT president Randi Weingarten was referring to when she said on C-Span, in the context of the 2020 hopefuls being “eager for the teachers’ backing”, that her “phone had rung a lot” because Harris has quickly morphed into a union mouthpiece. The language is so familiar it reads like the same old script. Students are nowhere to be found in her comments, parents are absent from her tweets and learning outcomes don’t even get a single mention.

Harris had decided to focus on the need pay teachers more, respect teachers more, and support one delivery system of education—the public one. She makes no mention of teacher quality, student learning, or parent choice. One does wonder if she has even looked at the numbers of children all over this nation who do not read at grade level36 percent of 4th graders read at or above grade level, 36 percent of 8th graders read at or above grade level, and 37 percent of 12th graders read at or above grade level.

If we look at and disaggregate by race, here are the percentages of students in America who read at (or above) grade level:

White students: 45 % 

Black students: 18%

Hispanic students: 23%

American Indian/Alaskan native: 22%

Asian: 57%

82 percent of Black students, 77 percent of Hispanic students, 78 percent of Native Americans in the 8th grade do not read at grade level and Kamala Harris doesn’t even believe it worthy of a mention. More than half of white students can’t read at grade level either— but she has made the calculated choice not to make her education agenda student centered or parent centered.

Now let’s look at 8th grade math disaggregated by race: 

White students: 44%

Black students: 13%

Hispanic students: 20%

American Indian/Alaskan native: 18%

Asian: 64%

87 percent of Black students, 80 percent of Hispanic students, and 82% of Native Amercian students cannot do math at grade level. More than half of white students can’t either.

But she has come out of the gate attacking privatization—which is kind of strange since she doesn’t define it but seems to be fine with public dollars funding private universities and faith based pre-schools. While it is refreshing to see at least one candidate come out decisively on an education, Harris has made the calculated decision to put her stake in the ground on the side of those whose mission is fight against the overwhelming demand from parents—especially parents of color— for more educational freedom for their children.

And on substance, this whole teacher salary thing is ridiculous in the context of 50 states and over 13,000 school districts. The average teacher salary in Boston, for example, is $99,368. Are we supposed to put on red t-shirts and clamor for federal raises there? Meanwhile, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma has to teach for 13 years just to earn $38,400.  But Harris has decided that union support and money are more important than student learning and student outcomes and, ahem, students themselves. She avoids even talking about them.

Randi is ecstatic.

Lily at least mentions student success but then throws in her usual lazy plug for “neighborhood schools.” She must really hate magnet schools and exam schools.

Kamala Harris graduated from school reading at grade level. She went on to a highly accomplished future. I find it hard to believe that she doesn’t believe that all the students in this nation, that she wants to lead, don’t deserve the same. Too bad that principled belief isn’t strong enough to stand up to the powerful interests whose job is to put adult interests before what children need and deserve.


What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Kamala Harris Comes Out Swinging on Education and She Picks the Unions Over Students and Parents

  1. Shocking a Democrat with Presidential ambitions in a crowded field opts to woo the union.

    Of course, “federal” money to fix pay gap – umm, except for DoD or other Federal schools, teacher pay is almost exclusively local, maybe state set so all Federal dollars can do is juice up on a temporary basis. Does the Senator mean the gap between entry and experienced teachers or between OK and NY?

    This is the typical Federal grant modus operandi – give some dollars to start something and leave the state/local to keep funding – only then to have the program get cut.

    ARRA funds in 2009/10 a great example – went to ‘save teachers’ and created structural issues in schools since enrollment declines (at least locally) meant those positions would be among the first to go when the funds dried up – or in reality, the “new” hires would go so the gap between step 1 and step XX grows.

    Would love more if she said a federal program to get new teachers – second career professionals for example (like the Troops to Teacher) – especially men and men of color – into the classroom.

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