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Column: It’s time for my party to stand up for students instead of stepping on them


Did you read the headline? Then you are probably already reading this story with a formed opinion, right? You have already said “This guy is wrong! He’s a traitor! He’s not a real Democrat!”

Martin Casas
Martin Casas

I’m right aren’t I, that is what you are thinking.

Well, I’ve been a Democrat my entire career. I was the Executive Director for American for Democratic Action in Washington, DC; regional organizer for 5 states for; staffer at the Democratic National Committee; field organizer in New Hampshire for Howard Dean in 2003; regional field director for AFL-CIO in 2006; president of the St. Louis Young Democrats for over 4 years; deputy field director for Congressman Chris Van Hollen (former head of the DCCC and current ranking member on the House Budget Committee); and perhaps more importantly, an early supporter of President Barack Obama.

If after a career like that, you still want to contend that I’m not a “real” Democrat, then you can probably just stop reading.

However, just because I’m a Democrat doesn’t mean I don’t see some flaws in many of my fellow Dem’s voting records/beliefs. For example, I share President Obama’s frustration over the Democrats failure to alter their stance on education reform.

My wife comes from a family of educators, both her mother and aunts have degrees in education and worked in rural Illinois as educators for over 30 years, her brother is in administration in Rockwood, and she taught in Saint Louis Public Schools for three years. While we lived in Washington DC, she worked at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. We moved to St. Louis so she could pursue her dreams of teaching. After three years, she realized that her real passion was in policy change and she left the classroom to work at Urban Strategies, a community develop nonprofit where she did education and youth policy and programming. When given the opportunity she joined a group of dissatisfied young St. Louisans as the State Director of Policy for the Children’s’ Education Alliance of Missouri.

I watched as Katie and her friends in Saint Louis classrooms struggled with the archaic and broken system. I took her dinner at 8:30pm when she was still in her classroom, I took her students to the museums and zoo on the weekends, and I supported her when she got a second job so she could buy school supplies for the students in her classroom. However, I also watched as the system failed the students that she and her colleagues were literally working day and night to save. It was in those long days and nights helping her and her students that I realized the majority of my party was on the wrong side of the education debate.

I realize the problem for many Democrats is that the right side of the education debate is in space that has been occupied primarily by Republicans for many years.

However, for Democrats to be the party putting politics above children is an uncomfortable space for me. How can Democrats be the party against treating teachers like professionals and evaluating them based on student performance, increasing access to high quality school options; raising our expectations and standards through the implementation of the common core?

Democrats will argue that the real problem with education is parent involvement, poverty, and lack of resources. While these are all three things that matter and effect students outcomes many of my Democratic friends are setting up a false choice between reforming the system and addressing poverty, funding, and parental support.

Instead of waiting to end poverty in order to teach children we should be teaching children so that we can end poverty. Schools need to be designed from the ground up, making sure the needs of the student are being met, once those needs are assessed the teachers needs to figure out how to meet those needs, the administration of that school then needs to make sure the needs of the teachers are being met and the district needs to make sure that each of their schools needs are being met.

We know, like it or not, that in the next 30 years children from poor families are going to walk into our schools- just as they have 30 years before, and 30 years before that. We have failed our children by forcing them to meet the needs of the school rather the meeting the needs of the student.

Current education policy is like an office Christmas party, everyone is on the same team but they keep re-gifting the same present year after year. After a couple of years the wrapping paper is tattered and torn, but no one knows what else to give so they keep passing it around. After a while, even the fruit cake inside has mold and smells but no one can get up the courage to buy something new.

It is time for the Democratic party to look at itself again, to decide if it really wants to be the party that tells children we can’t teach them because they happened to be born into a family with a low income. I’m sure this piece won’t win me any blue friends, but I don’t care to make any red ones- I’m not in the business of making friends. If I can use this piece and the next couple on ed reform to make my party leaders and electeds think about their position, I’ll have achieved my goal.

— Martin Casas (@MARTIN_CASAS on Twitter)