SLOAN | Only in the Democratic primary would education reform carry a stigma

Author: Kelly Sloan - June 25, 2018 - Updated: June 22, 2018

Kelly Sloan

The Democratic primary race for governor of the state of Colorado took on a certain air of the surreal in the waning days of the contest. It began a few weeks back when a group supporting Cary Kennedy ran what one presumes was supposed to be an attack ad against both Jared Polis and Mike Johnston. The elements were all there – the unflattering photos, the cropped headlines, the accusatory voice-over – and yet curiously the message was laudatory, pointing out pro-education positions allegedly taken by both candidates. Specifically, the ad credited Polis for apparently at some point in his life supporting the extension of educational opportunity to all regardless of income in the form of a voucher program, and Johnston for sponsoring a bill to improve teacher performance and accountability.

It was a rather generous move on Kennedy’s part, particularly concerning Polis, whose actual record on the improvement of education is atrocious.

So what happened next is especially peculiar; instead of simply accepting the accolades from camp Kennedy, however strange and backhanded they might have been, Polis unleashed his own ad against his main primary opponent disavowing all the good things her supporters’ TV spot had said about him, correcting the record to say no, hold on, that in fact he had been consistent and vociferous in his opposition to every attempt to repair the education system that came before him in Congress.

To be sure, the pro-Kennedy “attack” ad was somewhat accurate as far as it went; Polis did indeed once, while sitting on the State Board of Education, believe for a moment that access to a quality education should not be limited only to people of his wealth class, and accordingly supported a voucher system of sorts. But he, too, was correct when pointing out in his response that that spark of reason did not last very long.

Had Polis really been the champion of vouchers and educational improvement that he was made out to be in the offending TV spot, he would have deserved the credit the Kennedy-supporting ad bestowed upon him. So, score one for honesty that he decided to step up and admit his shortcomings in his retaliatory salvo.

Had Polis really been the champion of vouchers and educational improvement that he was made out to be in the offending TV spot, he would have deserved the credit the Kennedy-supporting ad bestowed upon him.

And what of the Johnston component of the ads? Well, really, Kennedy is pretty much on the money with that one. Johnston did indeed help sponsor Senate Bill 10-191, a teacher evaluation proposal which included the establishment of professional standards for teachers in the state, tied teacher performance to student outcomes, and enacted probationary measures to encourage the maintenance of effectiveness and adequate performance.

Such oppressive encumbrances were viewed with horror by the teachers’ union, which considered them unconscionable injustices; everyone else – most teachers, parents, and the real world, which one day expected to receive the products of the school system – saw them as obvious and very basic improvements to performance.

It is telling that the Democrat frontrunners and so many of their flock do in fact consider support for school choice and teacher performance evaluation as biting animadversions against the respective candidates. It illustrates the antagonism toward education that springs from the far left and is metastasizing throughout the Democratic Party. One recalls, for instance, the quite public expulsion of the Democrats For Education Reform from the party’s ranks at their state assembly this spring.

Traditionally, Democratic concern for the plight of the working class and minorities could often be counted on to trump strictly ideological considerations, permitting prominent Democrats to lend support for important reforms – such as increased school choice and the growth of charter schools – in light of overwhelming evidence of their efficacy, particularly in poorer areas. But the union-backed left wing of the party, which views education as primarily an employment program for (unionized) teachers and a system for efficiently planting approved axioms, takes great offense to any school reform that may dare view education as primarily a means of passing along knowledge and producing literate citizens.

Union allegiance has been steadily winning the internecine tug-of-war against student and community interests and has been just as steadily contributing to the purge from the Democratic Party’s ranks those whom the left views as apostates. DFER comes to mind.

The barbs traded between Polis and Kennedy reveal that the tentacles of ideological enforcement being imposed by the Bernie Sanders fringe have engulfed the Democrat gubernatorial primary. That support for any plan to improve education is seen as fuel for an attack ad speaks volumes

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.