Examining the Republican Platform Part VII: “Education Means a More Competitive America”

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Republican Platform. If you saw Sports Watcher Friday after I reposted it, you know I made a big understatement there.

We move on to Part VII, “Education Means a More Competitive America”, and what funny buzzwords the Republicans have for bilingual students that can measure up to “English Language Learners”! “Maintaining America’s preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. That requires considerable improvement over our current 70 percent high school graduation rate and six-year graduation rate of only 57 percent for colleges.” That certainly sounds bad and needing improvement. That’s a C (maybe D) and an F respectively. But as with the Democrats, let’s make sure we’re not using grade inflation to improve them.

Education is essential to competitiveness, but it is more than just training for the work force of the future. It is through education that we ensure the transmission of a culture, a set of values we hold in common. It has prepared generations for responsible citizenship in a free society, and it must continue to do so. Our party is committed to restoring the civic mission of schools envisioned by the founders of the American public school system. Civic education, both in the classroom and through service learning, should be a cornerstone of American public education and should be central to future school reform efforts.

This is almost a bizarre paragraph for the admissions it makes. Education is responsible for the transmission of “a set of values”? The family has nothing to do with it? The meat of the paragraph – about preparing people to be good citizens – is pretty much all stuff you can say “hear, hear!” to, it’s just, I don’t know what the stuff about “values” is about.

“Principles for Elementary and Secondary Education”:

All children should have access to an excellent education that empowers them to secure their own freedom and contribute to the betterment of our society. We reaffirm the principles that have been the foundation of the nation’s educational progress toward that goal: accountability for student academic achievement; periodic testing on the fundamentals of learning, especially math and reading, history and geography; transparency, so parents and the general public know which schools best serve their students; and flexibility and freedom to innovate so schools and districts can best meet the needs of their students.

Odd to see some of those things called the “foundation” of the education system, but okay. These things sound like good principles, but it’d be nice to see how they come forth in practice, especially the one about testing.

We advocate policies and methods that are proven and effective: building on the basics, especially phonics; ending social promotion; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals. We reject a one-size-fits-all approach and support parental options, including home schooling, and local innovations such as schools or classes for boys only or for girls only and alternative and innovative school schedules.

What the heck is “social promotion”? Most of these seem to be good approaches, pending whatever “social promotion” is. Do any of these give any unfair advantages to the rich over the poor? It sounds like home schooling does. One-gender education sounds risky. “[A]lternative and innovative school schedules” seem worth trying though. “We recognize and appreciate the importance of innovative education environments, particularly homeschooling, for stimulating academic achievement.” Wow, it seems so odd to see the Republicans so high on homeschooling, dropping it twice in as many sentences. It’s damn near impossible for the poor to implement, so do you have any help for them there? Would any help even be possible? “We oppose over-reaching judicial decisions which deny children access to such environments.” Well, that helps explain the emphasis on homeschooling. I’d like to know what these “over-reaching judicial decisions” were and what the grounds for them were.

“We support state efforts to build coordination between elementary and secondary education and higher education such as K-16 councils and dual credit programs.” Sounds good. “To ensure that all students will have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ future potential. All students must be literate in English, our common language, to participate in the promise of America.” The Democrats never directly say they would keep us from turning into Quebec, but at least nominally, their early-stage second language program is intended to raise students’ future potential and allow them to compete in the global economy. So Democrats support teaching kids second languages but neglect to reassure us sufficiently they will protect English as the primary language, while the Republicans reject such programs altogether as “divisive” (a valid point, maybe not necessarily sound, but valid) and don’t suggest they would do anything to help Americans compete in the global economy like kids in Europe learn English.

“Early Childhood Education”:

The family is the most powerful influence on a child’s ability to succeed. As such, parents are our children’s first and foremost teachers. We support family literacy, which improves the literacy, language, and life skills of both parents and children along with the continued improvement of early childhood programs, such as Head Start, from low-income families. We reaffirm our support for the child care tax credit that helps parents choose the care best for their family.

Not sure what “family literacy” means in this sense. Democrats proposed their “Children’s First Agenda” to boost Head Start and invest in Pre-K, among other things – it was short on specifics and long on buzzwords. Democrats want “quality, affordable early childhood care and education” but don’t say much about how, other than the above, and the Republicans back the existing “child care tax credit”. Neither party seems to make this much of a priority, to say the least.

“Giving Students the Best Teachers”:

For students to meet world class standards, they must have access to world class teachers, whether in person or through virtual public schools that can bring high-quality instruction into the classroom. School districts must have the authority to recruit, reward, and retain the best and brightest teachers, and principals must have the authority to select and assign teachers without regard to collective bargaining agreements.

These are all valid points. We need to be able to keep the best teachers and not keep bad ones just because the union would complain. The Democrats also recognized this need, but would fix it by providing more support and training, and even where there are lost causes “find a quick and fair way—consistent with due process—to put another teacher in that classroom.”

“Because qualified teachers are often not available through traditional routes, we support local efforts to create an adjunct teacher corps of experts from higher education, business, and the military to fill in when needed.” Well, that’s a bizarre idea. “Kids, we couldn’t find enough teachers to staff the school today. Here’s a college professor who knows so much he’d probably die if he had to bring himself to your level! Or, here’s a businessperson who wants to get back to the office and has no teaching experience whatsoever! Or, here’s a soldier! Don’t you love getting the same educational experience as a third world country?” Wouldn’t encouraging more people to become teachers like the Democrats propose be a better approach in the long term? (Although that might create a bunch of crap teachers… and the Democrats did want to “streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach”, which I was concerned about causing more wannabe teachers slipping through the cracks and coming out crap.)

BAM BAM BAM! You know what that sound means! Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Take A Shot At Trial Lawyers Time! “Teachers must be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom.” As always, what about legit lawsuits? “We encourage the private-public partnerships and mentoring that can make classroom time more meaningful to students by integrating it with learning beyond school walls. These efforts are crucial to lowering the drop-out rate and helping at-risk students realize their potential.” Privatize! Privatize! Privatize! Actually this is all pretty much agreeable and arguably important, and the Democrats want to “address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools”, once again ignoring the line about how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (I don’t see the word “tutor” in either party’s discussion of education.)

“We encourage state efforts to ensure that personnel who interact with children pass thorough background checks and are held to the highest standards of conduct.” Well, that’s just common sense.

Partnerships between schools and businesses can be especially important in STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. The need to improve secondary education in those fields can be measured by the number of remedial courses now offered at the college level. Our country’s reliance upon foreign talent in those areas begins with insufficient emphasis upon them in the high school years. We applaud those who are changing that situation by giving young people real-world experience in the private sector and by providing students with rigorous technical and academic courses that give students the skills and knowledge necessary to be productive members in a competitive American workforce.

The first half of this paragraph makes some very good points and pretty much convinces me of more investment here. Not sure if we need to go all the way to “real-world experience in the private sector” and other things that seem to have college more in mind, especially when you consider the “remedial” courses which suggests bringing our secondary-school courses back to “normal” would be a more important first step. Does someone who’s going to become a journalist need to go through “rigorous technical and academic courses” in high school? Or are you only addressing ways to fix the problem in college? Because it seems like from your own assessment of the problem, let’s see what happens when we fix secondary teaching of these subjects first. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t really touch on this at all. The Democrats don’t touch on most of these things, in fact. On the other hand, the Republicans aren’t as concerned at creating more “best and brightest” teachers, or about making sure the poor have the best teachers they can. Bringing up the poor, after all, is part of the point of the public school system.

“Asserting Family Rights in Schooling”: “Parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child. We support choice in education for all families, especially those with children trapped in dangerous and failing schools, whether through charter schools, vouchers or tax credits for attending faith-based or other non-public schools, or the option of home schooling.” Harping on home schooling again. It certainly sounds like a worthy goal to get kids out of “dangerous and failing schools” whenever possible, even though it sounds like you would abandon them instead of trying to reform them; I said in my Democratic platform examination (Part II) that “[p]unishing a school for failure only perpetuates and deepens the divide between rich and poor schools”, but it sounds like you may have something in mind to get around that problem. But I’ve heard there’s some debate on the topic of vouchers, and you’re getting into dodgy territory if you’re helping people get into “faith-based” schools, both on First Amendment grounds and on whether “faith-based” schools are really the best education. But charter schools sound good – and were proposed by the Democrats as well.

“We call for the vigilant enforcement of laws designed to protect family rights and privacy in education.” Sounds good; if you’re not going to enforce them, change them. “We will energetically assert the right of students to engage in voluntary prayer in schools and to have equal access to school facilities for religious purposes.” As long as that prayer is voluntary and respected yet not overly supported, and as long as it respects Muslim prayer to the same extent as Christian prayer (to the same extent as atheist non-prayer).

We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with increased funding for abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception.

If only abstinence education, you know, worked. Turns out teens don’t stop being horny just because they’re told not to. It’s understandable that you would oppose offering abortion services, but at least tell kids “if you do give in to temptation, at least have a condom handy”. “Schools should not ask children to answer offensive or intrusive personal non-academic questionnaires without parental consent.” Sounds like a good stance to take, but what are these “offensive or intrusive…questionnaires” actually asking? “It is not the role of the teacher or school administration to recommend or require the use of psychotropic medications that must be prescribed by a physician.” Again, sounds reasonable.

“Reviewing the Federal Role in Primary and Secondary Education”:

Although the Constitution assigns the federal government no role in local education, Washington’s authority over the nation’s schools has increased dramatically. In less than a decade, annual federal funding has shot up 41 percent to almost $25 billion, while the regulatory burden on state and local governments has risen by about 6.7 million hours – and added $141 million in costs – during that time. We call for a review of Department of Education programs and administration to identify and eliminate ineffective programs, to respect the role of states, and to better meet state needs. To get our schools back to the basics of learning, we support initiatives to block-grant more Department of Education funding to the states, with requirements for state-level standards, assessments, and public reporting to ensure transparency.

This goes along with all the Republicans’ emphasis on curbing government waste. Also pushing a “states’ rights” tack. This all seems reasonable as stated, although “block-grant”? And more pushing for “standards” and “assessments” that have been pushed for years. “Local educators must be free to end ineffective programs and reallocate resources where they are most needed.” Hopefully they would also be free to fix those ineffective programs if they’re fixable.

“Maintaining Our Commitment to IDEA”: “Because a federal mandate on the states must include the promised federal funding, we will fulfill the promise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to cover 40 percent of the costs incurred because of that legislation. We urge preventive efforts in early childhood, especially assistance in gaining pre-reading skills, to help many youngsters move beyond the need for IDEA’s protections.” The Democrats also “support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” and I’m not sure the Republicans are pushing “full funding” here. So either the Republicans aren’t giving enough support to “individuals with disabilities” or the Democrats are throwing more money away. I hope the Republicans aren’t brushing off learning disabilities in that last sentence.

And why are Republicans seemingly completely unconcerned about bridging the gap for minority and poor students? The Democrats also gave more emphasis to special education (beyond IDEA) and those “English Language Learners” – other than that bit of “learn English” at the start, which was aimed for native-born Americans, the Republicans never mentioned bilingual students at all. On the flip side, the GOP vowed to allow teachers to maintain order without threat of frivolous lawsuit, help students see the things they’re learning in action, make sure we’re not hiring sex offenders as teachers, and make us more competitive in our math and science education. The Democrats also don’t address prayer in schools, sex education, or (so far) cutting Department of Education waste. Republicans also refrain from trying to “hold [parents] accountable”, as the Democrats did, but other than their fixation on home schooling, neither do they take the opposite tack and say what would have been an easy line: “we do not believe government should tell parents how to raise their kids” or “government should not interfere in parenting”.

Had I included this section in Part VI it would have been around 6,000 words.

“Higher Education”: The GOP praises higher education of all stripes “for its excellence, its diversity, and its accessibility. …Post-secondary education not only increases the earnings of individuals but advances economic development. Our colleges and universities drive much of the research that keeps America competitive. We must ensure that our higher education system meet the needs of the 21st century student and economy and remain innovative and accessible.” Certainly important points and good sentiments.

“Meeting College Costs”: College costs are outpacing inflation, and seem immune to normal market forces (something I’d like to see explored further if true). “We commend those institutions which are directing a greater proportion of their endowment revenues toward tuition relief.”

The Republican vision for expanding access to higher education has led to two major advances, Education Savings Accounts and Section 529 accounts, by which millions of families now save for college. While federal student loans and grants have opened doors to learning for untold numbers of low- and middle-income students, the overall financial aid system, with its daunting forms and confused rationales, is nothing less than Byzantine. It must be simplified. We call for a presidential commission to undertake that task and to review the role of government regulations and policies in the tuition spiral. We affirm our support for the public-private partnership that now offers students and their families a vibrant marketplace in selecting their student loan provider.

Here’s an idea for a drinking game. Start from Part I of this examination and continue going through part by part, or just read the platform itself. Drink once every time the Republicans take a shot at trial lawyers and “frivolous lawsuits”, once every time the Republicans propose privatizing something, and twice for any permutation of the exact phrase “public-private partnership” (or “private-public partnership”). You’ll be stoned in no time. Throw in a drink for any permutation of the phrase “___ Savings Accounts” for good measure. Throw in a drink for any time the Republicans complain something has gotten too complex and wasteful and must be “simplified” or otherwise reformed.

The only policy position listed is this “presidential commission” to review the financial aid process; the rest is affirming policies and practices that already exist. The Democrats wanted to create a gimmicky “American Opportunity Tax Credit” of $4,000, with the “expectation” of community service attached (Republicans may have taken a shot at this requirement much earlier in the platform, and they see the GOP’s “presidential commission” and raise them a checkbox on the tax form. I had doubts about the checkbox at the time, but now it just sounds like actually doing something about a problem instead of talking about it like the GOP wants to do. Think about that as you look back on previous parts and previous “studies” and “commissions”.

“Innovation Will Lead to Lifelong Learning”:

The challenge to American higher education is to make sure students can access education in whatever forms they want. As mobility increases in all aspects of American life, student mobility, from school to school and from campus to campus, will require new approaches to admissions, evaluations, and credentialing. Distance learning propelled by an expanding telecommunications sector and especially broadband, is certain to grow in importance – whether through public or private institutions – and federal law should not discriminate against the latter. Lifelong learning will continue to transform the demographics of higher education, bringing older students and real-world experience to campus.

To truly assess any of this we need to compare it to Democratic positions. The Democrats “support education delivery that makes it possible for non-traditional students to receive support and encouragement to obtain a college education, including Internet, distance education, and night and weekend programs.” The Republicans don’t really mention the first and last on that list. The Democrats don’t address student mobility, though, and sort of talk around the idea of “lifelong learning” in two sentences: “we will invest in short-term accelerated training and technical certifications for the unemployed and under-employed to speed their transition to careers in high-demand occupations and emerging industries” and a call to “invest in training and education to prepare incumbent job-holders with skills to meet the rigors of the new economic environment and provide them access to the broad knowledge and concrete tools offered by apprenticeships, internships, and postsecondary education.”

“Community Colleges Continue to Play a Crucial Role”: (Who says political parties are shy to adopt literary conventions like alliteration?) This is really just a shout-out to community colleges, not stipulating any policy positions whatsoever. The Republicans praise community colleges’ role as a “bridge[] between the world of work and the classroom”, a place for veterans to gain needed skills to transition to civilian life, and in a weird analogy (especially considering the relatively recent vintage of the key phrase), “[a]s the first responders to economic development and retraining of workers”. But unlike the Democrats, they don’t “reward successful community colleges with grants so they can continue their good work”. Of course, that might be considered throwing money away.

“Special Challenges in Higher Education”: “Free speech on college campuses is to be celebrated, but there should be no place in academia for anti-Semitism or racism of any kind.” What “anti-Semitism” is this referring to? Are Republicans concerned about professors being critical of Israel? Is “racism” referring to affirmative action, or “whitey sucks”? Do Republicans want institutions of higher education to say Israel and white people can do no wrong, or do they just want to kick out the “death to Israel” and “whitey sucks” people?

We oppose the hiring, firing, tenure, and promotion practices at universities that discriminate on the basis of political or ideological belief. When federal taxes are used to support such practices, it is inexcusable. We affirm the right of students and faculty to express their views in the face of the leftist dogmatism that dominates many institutions. To preserve the integrity and independence of the nation’s colleges, we will continue to ensure alternatives to ideological accrediting systems.

This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what about universities that kick out any professors who espouse any “political or ideological belief”, on the grounds that they’re “indoctrinating their students”? The “affirm[ation]” of “the right of students and faculty to express their views” suggests the Republicans would indeed protect those people, at least if they’re on the right. What “alternatives to ideological accrediting systems” do you propose/want to sustain? Regardless, the Democrats haven’t touched on this issue at all.

Because some of the nation’s leading universities create or tolerate a hostile atmosphere toward the ROTC, we will rigorously enforce the provision of law, unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court, which denies those institutions federal research grants unless their military students have the full rights and privileges of other students. That must include the right to engage in ROTC activities on their own campus, rather than being segregated elsewhere.

For the most part, this sounds good, but what are “ROTC activities”, trying to recruit other students? The Republicans didn’t really pledge their support for colleges’ and universities’ research role here either.

This is another short part, but because of going longer than anticipated. The discussion of education passed 3,000 words all on its own, and I made special emphasis to look at the Democratic plan in order to stretch it out, which was good for making it longer than the last part on health care. This last paragraph is carrying us past 4,000. We keep pressing on towards the end of the Republican platform – only two more parts to go! (A note on the Democratic platform series: I may wait to post the last two parts until I have both done…)

Examining the Democratic Platform Part II: “Empowering Families for a New Era”, plus Energy and Education

This is continued from Part I of my examination of the Democratic Platform, which included the part of “Empowering Families for a New Era” that dealt with health care.
“Retirement and Social Security”: Skip the opening sentences of this subsection, which includes a call to “preserve and protect existing public and private pension plans”, and get into the actual changes. Very briefly, about “We will automatically enroll every worker in a workplace pension plan that can be carried from job to job and we will match savings for working families who need the help.” Would this be a government-managed pension plan? Would you require employers to provide some sort of pension plan in addition to health care? How does this affect small businesses and the self-employed?

We will make sure that CEOs can’t dump workers’ pensions with one hand while they line their own pockets with the other. At platform hearings, Americans made it clear they feel that’s an outrage, and it’s time we had leaders who treat it as an outrage. We will ensure all employees who have company pensions receive annual disclosures about their pension fund’s investments, including full details about which projects have been invested in, the performance of those investments and appropriate details about probable future investments strategies. We also will reform corporate bankruptcy laws so that workers’ retirements are a priority for funding and workers are not left with worthless IOU’s after years of service.

And no one will pay any attention to those disclosures, but it’s a nice idea. Of course that means more bureaucracy to enforce the law. And where, exactly, would the increased funding for retirement accounts come from? Wouldn’t this just be throwing more stuff on the heap of stuff reaching for a limited pot? I think insuring retirement accounts somehow would be a better idea, like we insure our savings accounts.
“Finally, we will eliminate all federal income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000 per year. Lower- and middle-income seniors already have to worry about high health care and energy costs; they should not have to worry about tax burdens as well.” More money growing on trees; this threatens a drastic reduction in tax revenue. But I’m of the belief that the original point of income taxes is lost when the dirt poor have to pay them, so why stop at seniors making less than 50 grand? Even a hard cutoff of 10-25 grand would work. Of course you’d have to increase other taxes to compensate.
“We reject the notion of the presumptive Republican nominee that Social Security is a disgrace; we believe that it is indispensable. We will fulfill our obligation to strengthen Social Security and to make sure that it provides guaranteed benefits Americans can count on, now and in future generations. We will not privatize it.” Now, now, I don’t think McCain was saying Social Security itself was a disgrace and should be thrown out, only that it’s a disgrace as presently constituted. Notice that the Democrats spend all of two paragraphs on retirement, one of which is very short and non-substantial. They’re treating retirement and social security much as they treated the current economic crisis. Translation: They really care about health care.
“Good Jobs with Good Pay”:

In the platform hearings, Americans expressed dismay that people who are willing to study and work cannot get a job that pays enough to live on in the current economy. Democrats are committed to an economic policy that produces good jobs with good pay and benefits. That is why we support the right to organize. We know that when unions are allowed to do their job of making sure that workers get their fair share, they pull people out of poverty and create a stronger middle class.

That all sounds reasonable enough. But “We will strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions and fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act”? Stop right there! From what I’ve heard and read, the EFCA would take away secret ballot elections for union formation, which could cause as many problems as it solves. You can “strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions” without throwing out the secret ballot, or at least I would hope so.

“We will restore pro-worker voices to the National Labor Relations Board and the National Mediation Board and we support overturning the NLRB’s and NMB’s many harmful decisions that undermine the collective bargaining rights of millions of workers.” Not knowing what these decisions are or what the boards actually look like, this sounds okay, and an example of “strengthen[ing] the ability of workers to organize unions” under the secret ballot model.

“We will ensure that federal employees, including public safety officers who put their lives on the line every day, have the right to bargain collectively, and we will fix the broken bargaining process at the Federal Aviation Administration. We will fight to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so that workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods.” Again, I see nothing wrong with any of this, so I’ll omit some sentences for the rest of the paragraph.

“We will continue to vigorously oppose “Right-to-Work” Laws and “paycheck protection” efforts whenever they are proposed.” Wait, those both sound nice, so what’s wrong with them? “We will stop the abuse of privatization of government jobs.” Doesn’t privatization save money? How is abuse, as implied here, inherent in privatization?

“Our Department of Labor will restore and expand overtime rights for millions of Americans, and will actively enforce wage and hour laws.” Sounds nice. “Our Occupational Safety and Health Administration will adopt and enforce comprehensive safety standards.” Again, sounds nice; the main reason these two things were broken into their own paragraph was to take a shot at Bush.

In America, if someone is willing to work, he or she should be able to make ends meet and have the opportunity to prosper. To that end, we will raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation, and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit so that workers can support themselves and their families. We will modernize the unemployment insurance program to close gaps and extend benefits to the workers who now fall outside it.

Indexing the minimum wage to inflation just makes head-slapping sense. Not sure about the EITC. Hopefully when modernizing the unemployment insurance program you don’t remove any incentive to work.

“Work and Family”: “Over the last few decades, fundamental changes in the way we work and live have trapped too many American families between an economy that’s gone global and a government that’s gone AWOL. It’s time we stop just talking about family values, and start pursuing policies that truly value families.” This little elision of the term “family values” suggests that Democrats see “family values” as little more than a Republican buzzword that’s not worth talking about, ignoring that the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats lost in 2004 because of family values concerns. Still, the sentiment is agreeable.

“We will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to reach millions more workers than are currently covered, and we will enable workers to take leave to care for an elderly parent, address domestic violence and sexual assault, or attend a parent-teacher conference.” Attend a parent-teacher conference?!? Workers better be able to take leave to vote as well or this will just turn the FMLA into an economy-slowing farce.

“Today 78 percent of the workers who are eligible for leave cannot take it because it’s unpaid, so we will work with states and make leave paid. We will also ensure that every American worker is able earn up to seven paid sick days to care for themselves or an ill family member. And we will encourage employers to provide flexible work arrangements—with the federal government leading by example.” I’m tempted to say this is all in the name of making sure no one has to work, but really a lot of this makes sense. Why should your ability to have time off for illness depend on what job you have? This might even motivate employers to create cleaner workplace conditions.

“We will expand the childcare tax credit, provide every child access to quality, affordable early childhood education, and double funding for afterschool and summer learning opportunities for children.” More money growing on trees, although there is something to be said for lowering the burden of a child. There’s those “quality” and “affordable” buzzwords again. Are they just sliding past education after all the time they spent on health? No, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding education centering on No Child Left Behind, they’ve got to come back to it later. And more money growing on trees later the same paragraph. Aren’t most afterschool and summer learning opportunities kind of gimmicky?

“We will provide assistance to those who need long-term care and to the working men and women of this country who do the heroic job of providing care for their aging relatives. All Americans who are working hard and taking responsibility deserve the chance to do right by their loved ones. That’s the America we believe in.” Again, all that sounds nice.

“Poverty”: “Working together, we can cut poverty in half within ten years. We will provide all our children a world-class education, from early childhood through college.” You’ve mentioned this twice, and neither in the actual context of education. Something tells me you could have stuck your education discussion sooner. “We will develop innovative transitional job programs that place unemployed people into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones.” A great idea, but is there the money? “To help workers share in our country’s productivity, we’ll expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, and raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.” You mentioned that already – could you have merged this with the previous heading?

“The majority of adults in poverty are women, and to combat poverty we must work for fair pay, support for mothers, and policies that promote responsible fatherhood.” The first two few would argue with, and I know I wouldn’t (though some would wonder if support for mothers is really necessary and wouldn’t slow down the economy, but those people probably don’t understand the issue), but I’d like to know what “policies” you would enact that would “promote responsible fatherhood”.

“We’ll start letting our unions do what they do best again—organize and lift up our workers. We’ll make sure that every American has affordable health care that stays with them no matter what happens.” Two things referring to previous headings. “We will assist American Indian communities, since 10 of the 20 poorest counties in the United States are on Indian lands.” Specifics: Why do you think that is? What would you do with Native Americans that you wouldn’t do with/aren’t applicable to others?

We’ll bring businesses back to our inner-cities, increase the supply of affordable housing, and establish “promise neighborhoods” that provide comprehensive services in areas of concentrated poverty. These will be based on proven models, such as the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, which seeks to engage all residents with tangible goals such as attendance at parenting schools, retention of meaningful employment, college for every participating student, and strong physical and mental health outcomes for children.

I’m wondering how you intend to entice businesses to return to inner cities or how you intend to create more “affordable housing”, especially the latter, which can be difficult to handle without disrupting the larger housing market. The “promise neighborhood” concept sounds good but do we really want government establishing them? Certainly government should encourage such things and provide support to them, I just want to make sure we’re not talking about yet another government program.

“The Democratic Party believes that the fight against poverty must be national priority. Eradicating poverty will require the sustained commitment of the President of the United States, and we believe that the White House must offer leadership and resources to advance this agenda.” Evidently not enough of a “national priority” that you would give it the kind of time you gave health care. I have two concerns about this whole section actually. One is that most of these things can’t have a quantifiable impact, especially before they’re implemented, so saying “we can cut poverty in half within ten years” is meaningless. The other is a sad commentary on Americans, and the Bobby Kennedy quote at the top of the section: the fact is that most people can live their lives without worrying too much about the poor, and are worried that lifting up poor people will result in less wealth for them. I’d like to hear more about how poverty affects middle- and upper-class Americans. (Of course no one’s going to say they won’t vote for someone because they do too much to combat poverty, but I’d like to see studies of a subconscious effect.)

“Opportunity for Women”: “We have produced the first woman Secretary of State, the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, and, in 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first woman in American history to win presidential primaries in our nation. We believe that our daughters should have the same opportunities as our sons; our party is proud that we have put eighteen million cracks in the highest glass ceiling.” Hmm. I think Clinton herself had a hand in the composition of this section.

“When women still earn 76 cents for every dollar that a man earns, it doesn’t just hurt women; it hurts families and children. We will pass the “Lilly Ledbetter” Act, which will make it easier to combat pay discrimination; we will pass the Fair Pay Act; and we will modernize the Equal Pay Act.” The advent of women in the workforce had the unintended effect of forcing many families to have both parents work. When it became possible, it became necessary. To ensure equal pay for equal work sounds like – and is – a laudable goal, but it might either increase inflation or lower male earnings, probably both to some extent or another, and both will force even more families into two-worker situations. I hope the Democrats are prepared for that possibility.

“We will invest in women-owned small businesses and remove the capital gains tax on startup small businesses.” Hopefully not just women-owned small businesses. I’m not sure what the “capital gains tax on startup small businesses” is. I thought the capital gains tax had something to do with stock. In any case, it’s not specific to the case for women. “We will support women in math and science, increasing American competitiveness by retaining the best workers in these fields, regardless of gender.” Sounds like common sense. The next two sentences might as well read “See previous section”. I’m not entirely sure you need to reassure people “We will work to combat violence against women”, but whatever.

“We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters, and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.” This sentence sounds completely laudable but it’s just weird and vague enough that it leaves open the possibility of using the hammer of political correctness to be overzealous about it.

“Investing in American Competitiveness”:

At a critical moment of transition like this one, Americans understand that, more than anything else, success will depend on the dynamism, determination, and innovation of the American people. But success also depends on national leadership that can move this country forward with confidence and a common purpose. In platform hearings, Americans called on their government to “invest back” in them and their country. That’s what Lincoln did when he pushed for a transcontinental railroad, incorporated our National Academy of Sciences, passed the Homestead Act and created the land grant colleges. That’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in creating the Tennessee Valley Authority, electrifying rural America and investing in an Arsenal of Democracy. That’s the kind of leadership we intend to provide.

Once again the Democrats try and reassure people that it’s the people that matter, but we’re still going to go whole hog on the government route. And of course citing Lincoln and FDR makes this concept sound nice. Actually infrastructure investment is important in an economic downturn, so it’s not just blowing smoke and it helps prepare us for the economic downturns of the future.

“New American Energy”: Big Important Alert! Perhaps nothing else in this platform will affect my vote more than the Democrats’ stance on our energy policy.

In the local platform hearings, Americans talked about the importance of energy to the economy, to national security, and to the health of our planet. Speaking loud and clear, they said that America needs a new bold and sustainable energy policy to meet the challenges of our time. In the past, America has been stirred to action when faced with new threats to our national security, or new competitive conditions that undercut our economic leadership. The energy threat we face today may be less immediate than threats from dictators, but it is as real and as dangerous. The dangers are eclipsed only by the opportunities that would come with change. We know that the jobs of the 21st century will be created in developing new energy solutions. The question is whether these jobs will be created in America, or abroad. We should use government procurement policies to incentivize domestic production of clean and renewable energy. Already, we’ve seen countries like Germany, Spain and Brazil reap the benefits of economic growth from clean energy. But we are decades behind in confronting this challenge.

Wait a minute! “Government procurement policies”? Sounds kinda scary. But other than that I pretty much agree with all of this.

“For the sake of our security–and for every American family that is paying the price at the pump–we will break our addiction to foreign oil.” I’m concerned about mixing up goals again… “In platform hearings around the country, Americans called for a Manhattan or Apollo Project-level commitment to achieve energy independence. We hear that call and we Democrats commit to fast-track investment of billions of dollars over the next ten years to establish a green energy sector that will create up to five million jobs.” If the Dems are even paying lip service to that level of commitment I’m on board! I’m willing to forgive the throwing away of money because of the importance of the issue. “Good jobs, like those in Pennsylvania where workers manufacture wind turbines, the ones in the factory in Nevada producing components for solar energy generation plants, or the jobs that will be created when plug-in hybrids start rolling off the assembly line in Michigan” – all things I’ve supported in previous posts. I’m a little more concerned about this: “This transition to a clean-energy industry will also benefit low-income communities: we’ll create an energy-focused youth job program to give disadvantaged youth job skills for this emerging industry.” So we’re only dragging poor people out of poverty by putting them in the green industry?

It will not be easy, but neither was getting to the moon. We know we can’t drill our way to energy independence and so we must summon all of our ingenuity and legendary hard work and we must invest in research and development, and deployment of renewable energy technologies—such as solar, wind, geothermal, as well as technologies to store energy through advanced batteries and clean up our coal plants. And we will call on businesses, government, and the American people to make America 50 percent more energy efficient by 2030, because we know that the most energy efficient economy will also gain the competitive edge for new manufacturing and jobs that stay here at home. We will help pay for all of it by dedicating a portion of the revenues generated by an economy-wide cap and trade program- a step that will also dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and jumpstart billions in private capital investment in a new energy economy.

I’m a little suspicious of geothermal and the “clean coal” scam, and I notice that my big non-wind-or-solar energy source, wave or tidal power, isn’t mentioned (but I don’t know a lot about it or how much energy it would generate). But the most troublesome part of this paragraph is the “cap and trade” program, which I’m deeply suspicious of. “You can only emit this much CO2, but we’ll let you emit more if you give us some money or invest in some cockamamie ‘offset’.” Anything to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, I guess, but why only a “portion” of the revenues? If we’re engaging in a cap and trade program shouldn’t all the revenues from it go towards building our green economy? If people are getting off emitting more greenhouse gases by funding miscellaneous government operations it’s an outrage.

“We’ll dramatically increase the fuel efficiency of automobiles, and we’ll help auto manufacturers and parts suppliers convert to build the cars and trucks of the future and their key components in the United States.” Nice, but what about weaning us off cars entirely? “And we will help workers learn the skills they need to compete in the green economy.” Sounds good if the premise is true. “We are committed to getting at least 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025.” Only a quarter in 17 years?!? We need to have declining greenhouse gas emissions within 10 at most; this just won’t cut it!

“Building on the innovative efforts of the private sector, states, cities, and tribes across the country, we will create new federal-local partnerships to scale the success and deployment of new energy solutions, install a smarter grid, build more efficient buildings, and use the power of federal and military purchasing programs to jumpstart promising new markets and technologies.” All good, good, good. But “We’ll invest in advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol which will provide American-grown fuel and help free us from the tyranny of oil”? Not so good, good, good. From what I’ve read cellulosic ethanol is still using up land that would be better used for other purposes. Then it’s back to the good stuff: “We will use innovative measures to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of buildings.” Their heart is in the right place but every so often they drop in something that very greatly concerns me. Still nothing about transit, by the way.

The first part of the next paragraph is about cracking down on speculation, which is a tangential point, but “we will help those who are hit hardest by high energy prices by increasing funding for low-income heating assistance and weatherization programs, and by providing energy assistance to help middle-class families make ends meet in this time of inflated energy prices.” Good on the first part, but what is this “energy assistance” you speak of? And the last paragraph sums up the subsection – nothing about getting us out of our cars in the whole thing. It all looks very good – they’ve clearly made this a priority – but a concerning amount of outdated thinking is prevalent here.

“A World-Class Education for Every Child”: Finally, we’ll find out what the Democrats mean by a “quality”, “affordable”, “world-class” education!

In the 21st century, where the most valuable skill is knowledge, countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. In the platform hearings, Americans made it clear that it is morally and economically unacceptable that our high-schoolers continue to score lower on math and science tests than most other students in the world and continue to drop-out at higher rates than their peers in other industrialized nations. We cannot accept the persistent achievement gap between minority and white students or the harmful disparities that exist between different schools within a state or even a district. Americans know we can and should do better.

All this makes a lot of sense. We’re talking about making sure the engine that is the American economy keeps grinding along and continues being at least something approaching a world leader.
“The Democratic Party firmly believes that graduation from a quality public school and the opportunity to succeed in college must be the birthright of every child–not the privilege of the few.” Graduation is meaningless if it occurred as a result of grade inflation; it’s arguably worse than people not graduating at all because it lulls us into thinking there are more quality high school graduates than there really are, and creates people “passing off” as real high school graduates. Hopefully the Dems are talking about actual achievement, not just empty graduation rates. But I agree with what they’re trying to say: The rich often have an unfair advantage in education, and if we want a true meritocracy, we need to make up for those advantages. Not sure what to think about the “new era of mutual responsibility in education”, but I am heartened by this: “We must set high standards for our children, but we must also hold ourselves accountable–our schools, our teachers, our parents, business leaders, our community and our elected leaders. And we must come together, form partnerships, and commit to providing the resources and reforms necessary to help every child reach their full potential.”

Early Childhood
We will make quality, affordable early childhood care and education available to every American child from the day he or she is born. Our Children’s First Agenda, including increases in Head Start and Early Head Start, and investments in high-quality Pre-K, will improve quality and provide learning and support to families with children ages zero to five. Our Presidential Early Learning Council will coordinate these efforts.

Yeppers, that’s the entire paragraph on early childhood education. Remember that all three of the above adjectives were used to describe “early childhood” education, and it’s called “quality” and “affordable” again here, with “early childhood care” also thrown in under those words. Yet these moves are arguably empty: boost Head Start, “investments in high-quality Pre-K”, and something called the Presidential Early Learning Council. The “Children’s First Agenda” implies something more, but why isn’t that in the platform?

We must ensure that every student has a high-quality teacher and an effective principal. That starts with recruiting a new generation of teachers and principals by making this pledge–if you commit your life to teaching, America will commit to paying for your college education. We’ll provide better preparation, mentoring and career ladders. Where there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they’re still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way—consistent with due process—to put another teacher in that classroom.

A high quality teacher? Okay, I initially misread “student” as “school”, but still, when I went to middle and high school I had more than one teacher a day; are the Dems going to scrimp on the other teachers? In all seriousness, this makes a lot of sense if you’re going to put this high a priority on teaching. It sounds like the Dems aren’t in hock to the teachers unions, because they do want to replace underperforming teachers, but look at the caveats: “provide them with individual help and support” first, and then there needs to be a “quick and fair way – consistent with due process” to replace them.
“To reward our teachers, we will follow the lead of school districts and educators that have pioneered innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.” Increases in teacher pay are “imposed” on them? I’d love to have a raise “imposed” on me! “We will make an unprecedented national investment to provide teachers with better pay and better support to improve their skills, and their students’ learning. We’ll reward effective teachers who teach in underserved areas, take on added responsibilities like mentoring new teachers, or consistently excel in the classroom.” Hear, hear at that last sentence. Although I don’t like the implied message that “it’s okay not to go into the poor communities or mentor tomorrow’s teachers if you’re the sort of teacher we most need to do either of those things.”

We will fix the failures and broken promises of No Child Left Behind–while holding to the goal of providing every child access to a world-class education, raising standards, and ensuring accountability for closing the achievement gap. We will end the practice of labeling a school and its students as failures and then throwing our hands up and walking away from them without having provided the resources and supports these students need.

Of course. Punishing a school for failure only perpetuates and deepens the divide between rich and poor schools. At the same time, you don’t want to reward a school for being crap. Presumably that’s what “raising standards[] and ensuring accountability for closing the achievement gap” means.

But this alone is not an education policy. It’s just a starting point. We will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that will improve student learning and success in school districts all across America by including the kinds of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills that our children will need. We will address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools and we will invest in after-school programs, summer school, alternative education programs, and youth jobs.

Nothing on how you’re going to enforce the standards, at least yet, only a note that you presumably won’t include just rote learning in the ubiquitous standardized tests… although I may well be missing something! Combatting dropouts is of course a noble goal, but…

We will promote innovation within our public schools–because research shows that resources alone will not create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We need to adapt curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; reform the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; promote public charter schools that are accountable; and streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach.

“Adapt… the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century”? How, exactly, do you propose changing the school calendar? Let’s see, fix teaching schools, promote charter schools but hold them accountable for results, sounding good – “streamline the certification process for those… who want to shift careers and teach”? A, we need to make sure they actually have the needed skills, and B, we need to make sure they know how to teach. Hopefully you don’t streamline it too much. Still not much on how you’ll hold schools accountable and really fix NCLB.

We will also meet our commitment to special education and to students who are English Language Learners. We support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. We also support transitional bilingual education and will help Limited English Proficient students get ahead by supporting and funding English Language Learner classes. We support teaching students second languages, as well as contributing through education to the revitalization of American Indian languages.

“English Language Learners”. You can just feel the political correctness seeping through that phrase. And “Limited English Proficient”. I think competing in a global economy requires that we teach our kids second languages (though the most I know any living language is some really basic Spanish) and that the best time to teach such languages is when kids are young (not mentioned here) but you ARE going to maintain English’s status as the primary language and not turn us into Quebec, right? You are funding those “English Language Learner” classes, so I would think so.

We know that there is no program and no policy that can substitute for parents who are involved in their children’s education from day one–who make sure their children are in school on time, help them with their homework, and attend those parent-teacher conferences; who are willing to turn off the TV once in a while, put away the video games, and read to their children. Responsibility for our children’s education has to start at home. We have to set high standards for them, and spend time with them, and love them. We have to hold ourselves accountable.

You definitely can’t mistake Democrats for being the “do-whatever-you-want” party. You want to hold ordinary, private parents “accountable”? How the hell do you intend to do that? That’s a really concerning phrase.
“Higher Education”: (This really belongs as a sub-heading of the prior subsection, not as a separate subsection in its own right, so I’m plowing on even though I’m over 5,000 words again.) This section starts out with a basic statement few would really argue with – colleges and universities are important for our country’s success. “At community colleges and training programs across the country, we will invest in short-term accelerated training and technical certifications for the unemployed and under-employed to speed their transition to careers in high-demand occupations and emerging industries.” Hopefully not at the expense of their quality, but otherwise a noble goal. “We will reward successful community colleges with grants so they can continue their good work” – another laudable goal, but how do we know it’s not NCLB II, and how do we recognize the successful community colleges? Also, throwing money away again. “We support education delivery that makes it possible for non-traditional students to receive support and encouragement to obtain a college education, including Internet, distance education, and night and weekend programs.” Again, sounds good but only if it’s as effective.

We must also invest in training and education to prepare incumbent job-holders with skills to meet the rigors of the new economic environment and provide them access to the broad knowledge and concrete tools offered by apprenticeships, internships, and postsecondary education. We need to fully fund joint labor-management apprenticeship programs and reinvigorate our industrial crafts programs to train the next generation of skilled American craft workers.

(Eyes glaze over.) The first sentence sounds good as long as we’re not losing skills that may not pay well but are nonetheless valuable in the process. The second sentence also sounds good but might be throwing money away again.
“We recognize the special value and importance of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority serving institutions in meeting the needs of our increasingly diverse society and will work to ensure their viability and growth.” Every college needs to be supported but shouldn’t we be getting minorities into the same colleges as everyone else?

We will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit to ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. In exchange for the credit, students will be expected to perform community service. We will continue to support programs, especially the Pell Grant program, that open the doors of college opportunity to low-income Americans. We will enable families to apply for financial aid simply by checking a box on their tax form.

Sounds like a terrific idea – promote more community service and create more smart college graduates. But “will be expected to” do service, not “required”? And applying for financial aid by checking a box… actually has the chance of reducing fraud on financial aid forms by rolling it up in tax fraud. But it poses a problem when I would prefer if poor people were exempt from the income tax, and it makes me really wonder what the new process would be.
“Our institutions of higher education are also the economic engines of today and tomorrow. We will partner with them to translate new ideas into innovative products, processes and services.” Again, really obvious. Why would anyone oppose a lot of this?
Not all. There is plenty to argue with in the platform so far. I’ve now found out the Democrats’ plan for combating global warming, or at least changing our energy economy, and while there’s a lot that’s laudable in it there are a few flaws – some minor, some possibly telling – that could now open things up for another party to jump in. There are a few points of argument elsewhere in the Democratic platform as well, and I’m finding I’m not being able to properly judge the Democratic platform without having something to compare it to. I think I’m about ready to begin my look at the Republican platform and where it compares and contrasts with the Democratic plan. I’m not giving up on the Democrats, just running both simultaneously. And it may be a problem that we may be slowing down in our progress and I may have to go to more parts than originally planned…