The Democratic platform on education: digging into the details

Close the school achievement gap. Make college affordable. Lift up and trust teachers.

These are some recurring themes in the Democratic Party platform, adopted this week during the party’s national convention in Philadelphia.

DemocraticLogoPredictably enough, there are significant differences between the Democratic platform and the Republican Party platform adopted last week. Here’s a closer look at the education topics the Democrats addressed — and omitted:

Teachers. Democrats pledged a national campaign to recruit and retain quality teachers, but the platform contained no details. Democrats sided with teachers’ unions on a sensitive topic, opposing the use of student test scores for teacher and principal evaluations.

“We support policies that motivate rather than demoralize our educators. We are committed to ensuring that schools that educate children in poverty are not treated unfairly, which is why we will end the test-and-punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the many opportunity gaps facing students from low-income communities.”

Student testing. The platform encourages states to adopt a “multiple measures approach” to testing. The platform opposes high-stakes testing, and says parents should be able to opt out of standardized tests at no penalty to students or their school.

Academic standards. The Democratic platform endorses strong academic standards — but makes no reference to the Common Core standards the GOP opposed. Here again, the Democrats push for closing the achievement gap. “We will hold schools, districts, communities, and states accountable for raising achievement levels for all students—particularly low-income students, students of color, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.”

Early education. While Republicans made no reference to this topic, Democrats endorsed universal access to high-quality preschool. “Democrats believe we must have the best-educated population and work force in the world. That means making early childhood education and universal preschool a priority, especially in light of new research showing how much early learning can impact lifelong success.”

College access. The Democratic platform focuses on affordability issues, advocating for free community college, debt-free college and refinancing of outstanding student loans. The document also contains a veiled reference to Trump University, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s foray into the higher education market. “We will continue to crack down on for-profit schools that take millions in federal financial aid — often as their principal source of revenue — and then exploit students and burden them with debt rather than educating them.”

Charter schools. The platform attempts to walk a fine line, and not just by simultaneously voicing support for “democratically governed, great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools.” The platform calls for increased charter school accountability, improved student diversity in charter schools and condemns for-profit charter schools.

“We believe that high-quality public charter schools should provide options for parents, but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools.”

The charter school issue is a sensitive one for Democrats. Speaking to the National Education Association earlier this month, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was booed when she voiced support for charter schools.

Transgender student issues. The platform doesn’t directly reference the Obama administration’s guidelines on transgender student access to school facilities, but does advocate for improving the school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The Republican platform blasts the Obama administration guidelines.

The Bible. The Democratic platform does not address the use of the Bible in schools, endorsed in the GOP platform.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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