Archives for category: ALEC

Do you happen to know a billionaire? Or maybe someone with lots of millions?

Not just any old billionaire, but one who cares about supporting public education. One who thinks it is wrong to hand out children over to entrepreneurs. One who knows the difference between the free market and the commons.

I ask because of this comment that I received from a teacher in a northeastern state. I have edited it to obscure the identities of all involved, which was the condition for using it:

As part of research for my master’s degree, I interviewed [XX], whom I had gotten to “know” over Facebook. XX leads a local branch of StudentsFirst, funded by David Tepper and Allen Fournier, the billionaire hedge fund boys. By his own admission, XX fell into ed reform when he was unemployed. 
He’s not in this because of any deep abiding conviction to make schools better (though he may have developed an interest). He’s in this because he needed a job, is a private-school educated African American who speaks well and now controls a SuperPAC. It’s a chess game for him, and is quite addictive. He hangs out with Rhee and has addressed ALEC on several occasions.
He said two interesting things to me in our meeting. “I’m here because you’re not.” Translation – if the education establishment had taken on the issues, or at least been less complacent about messaging (the REAL problem in my opinion) there’d be no market for the “reforms.”  The second thing he said was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Reform 1.0 was school choice. Reform 2.0 was tenure (for NJ). Reform 3.0 is we have a SuperPAC – we can elect candidates.

As I said, he’s developed an interest in education but he’s hanging with the wrong guys, and i told him as much. His real interest is in the chess game of politics, which is fascinating, especially when you have the resources to play for real.

Between the AFT and NEA we have millions of people on street level. Save Our Schools has thousands more folks. Where do we find super rich folks who can help us pay for someone like James Carville to craft our multi-level consistent message and actually get it out there? I’m asking you because I’m hoping you’ve run across them in your travels.

I discovered a new blogger who is spot-on: EduShyster

He or she seems to be writing from Massachusetts and has a wicked sense of humor.

This post is called “The Scratch n’ Sniff Guide to Phony Education Reform Groups.”

There are certain tell-tale signs. For example, no one in a leadership role ever went to a public school. Its “experienced” teachers had two years in TFA. Its policy agenda is exactly the same as ALEC.

This post challenges a charter cheerleader to find a single charter school in Massachusetts with the same demographics as Lawrence and a low attrition rate and high scores.

This blogger has wit, style, and knowledge, a powerful combination.

And to show my exquisite sense of political balance, here is a guide to reform groups by the Center for Education Reform, which advocates for vouchers, charters, homeschooling, online for-profit virtual schools–anything but public schools.

Anthony Cody entered into a dialogue with the Gates Foundation about its goals and programs.

He just published a brilliant critique of the foundation’s powerful support for market-based reform of public education. 

Please read it and share it.

Cody describes many of the ways that Gates has supported privatization, despite the lack of any evidence for its strategies.

He reviews the poor results of value-added assessment, pushed hard by the Gates Foundation.

He shows how Gates favors programs where someone will make a profit.

Cody raises significant questions at the end of his part of the dialogue:

In the process by which decisions are being made about our schools, private companies with a vested interest in advancing profitable solutions have become ever more influential. The Gates Foundation has tied the future of American education to the capacity of the marketplace to raise all boats, but the poor are being left in leaky dinghies.

Neither the scourge of high stakes tests nor the false choices offered by charter schools, real or virtual, will serve to improve our schools. Solutions are to be found in rebuilding our local schools, recommitting to the social compact that says, in this community we care for all our children, and we do not leave their fate to chance, to a lottery for scarce slots. We have the wealth in this nation to give every child a high quality education, if that is what we decide to do. With the money we spent on the Bush tax cuts for millionaires in one month we could hire 72,000 more teachers for a year. It is all about our priorities.

So as we bring this dialogue to a close, we come up against some of the hardest questions.

Can we recommit to the democratic ideal of an excellent public school for every child?

Can the Gates Foundation reconsider and reexamine its own underlying assumptions, and change its agenda in response to the consequences we are seeing?

Given the undesirable results that we are seeing from the use of VAM in teacher pay and evaluations, is the Gates Foundation willing to put its influence to work on reversing these policies?

Does the Gates Foundation intend to continue to support the expansion of charter schools and “virtual” schools at the expense of regular public schools?

Must every solution to educational problems be driven by opportunities for profit? Or could the Gates Foundation consider supporting a greater investment in programs that directly respond to the conditions our children find themselves in due to poverty? Things like smaller class size, libraries, health care centers, nutrition programs, (none of which may be profitable ventures.)

How will the Gates Foundation answer? Will they dodge his direct questions in this post as they did his powerful column about the Foundation’s silence on the issue of poverty?

Maine’s State Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen went to San Francisco to hear Jeb Bush tout the glories of for-profit online charter schools. Jeb Bush’s foundation paid for the trip. The commissioner met with Jeb’s chief education aide, Patricia Levesque, whose company lobbies for the online corporations. She promised help.

This is what the Maine Sunday Telegram found after getting access to public records of the correspondence:

Bowen was preparing an aggressive reform drive on initiatives intended to dramatically expand and deregulate online education in Maine, but he felt overwhelmed.

“I have no ‘political’ staff who I can work with to move this stuff through the process,” he emailed her from his office.

Levesque replied not to worry; her staff in Florida would be happy to suggest policies, write laws and gubernatorial decrees, and develop strategies to ensure they were implemented.

“When you suggested there might be a way for us to get some policy help, it was all I could do not to jump for joy,” Bowen wrote Levesque from his office.

“Let us help,” she responded.

So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.

In the months that followed, according to more than 1,000 pages of emails obtained by a public records request, the commissioner would rely on the foundation to provide him with key portions of his education agenda. These included draft laws, the content of the administration’s digital education strategy and the text ofGov. Paul LePage’s Feb. 1 executive order on digital education.

A Maine Sunday Telegram investigation found large portions of Maine’s digital education agenda are being guided behind the scenes by out-of-state companies that stand to capitalize on the changes, especially the nation’s two largest online education providers.

K12 Inc. of Herndon, Va., and Connections Education, the Baltimore-based subsidiary of education publishing giant Pearson, are both seeking to expand online offerings and to open full-time virtual charter schools in Maine, with taxpayers paying the tuition for the students who use the services.

One of the model laws circulated and advocated by the rightwing group ALEC is a voucher program for students with special needs.

ALEC, you may know, represents many of our nation’s major corporations. It has about 2,000 conservative state legislators as members and a few hundred corporate sponsors. ALEC crafted the “Stand Your Ground” law that the shooter invoked when he killed Trayvon Martin last spring in Florida. ALEC also crafted model legislation for voter ID laws that are characterized by its critics as voter suppression laws.

In education, ALEC has written draft legislation for vouchers for all, vouchers for special needs, charters, alternative certification, test-based teacher evaluation, and anything else they could think of to transfer public money to private hands and to undermine the teaching profession.

Ohio recently expanded its statewide voucher program, which was written originally for students with autism; now it is for students with disabilities of other kinds. This is part of the ALEC game plan to erode public support for public education. Read the article from Ohio. It says that the private schools are not accepting the students with the greatest need, and that some students who never attended public schools are now getting public subsidy. All combine to reduce public funding to public schools.

The Florida voucher plan for students with disabilities is called the McKay Scholarship program. It was embroiled in controversy when an investigative reporter discovered that the program was unsupervised, that some participating schools had no curriculum, no educational program and were run by unqualified people. Which raises the question of whether the point of the program is to help the children or to dismantle public education.

New York state has a similar program for pre-K special education students. Although it is not called a voucher program, it is almost completely privatized (and it predates ALEC’s agenda). The New York State Comptroller recently released an audit showing the program to be rife with fraud, inflated enrollments, corruption, etc.  It is also the most expensive program for pre-K special education in the nation.

The private sector does not have all the answers. Neither does the public sector. Any program using public money should be carefully, rigorously supervised and regulated, especially when children are involved.

 

TO:     Interested Parties

From:  AFT President Randi Weingarten

Date:   August 28, 2012

RE:      “Won’t Back Down”

 

 __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

One can’t help but be moved by the characters and story portrayed in Walden Media’s film “Won’t Back Down.” The film is successful in driving home the sense of urgency parents and educators feel to do everything they can to provide the best possible education for their children. That is abundantly evident in this film—it’s what I hear as I visit schools across the country, and it’s what I heard when I sat down with parent and community groups from across the country last week.

We share that pain and frustration. And we firmly believe that every public school should be a school where every parent would want to send his or her child and where every teacher would want to teach. Unfortunately, using the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen—even worse than those in “Waiting for ‘Superman’”—the film affixes blame on the wrong culprit: America’s teachers unions.

As a former public school teacher and president of the American Federation of Teachers, I have spent my entire adult life working on behalf of children and teachers. After viewing this film, I can tell you that if I had taught at that school, and if I were a member of that union, I would have joined the characters played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. I would have led the effort to mobilize parents and teachers to turn around that school myself.

I don’t recognize the teachers portrayed in this movie, and I don’t recognize that union. The teachers I know are women and men who have devoted their lives to helping children learn and grow and reach their full potential. These women and men come in early, stay late to mentor and tutor students, coach sports teams, advise the student council, work through lunch breaks, purchase school supplies using money from their own pockets, and spend their evenings planning lessons, grading papers and talking to parents. Yet their efforts, and the care with which they approach their work, are nowhere to be seen in this film.

This movie could have been a great opportunity to bring parents and teachers together to launch a national movement focused on real teacher and parent collaboration to help all children. Instead, this fictional portrayal, which makes the unions the culprit for all of the problems facing our schools, is divisive and demoralizes millions of great teachers. America’s teachers are already being asked to do more with less—budgets have been slashed, 300,000 teachers have been laid off since the start of the recession, class sizes have spiked, and more and more children are falling into poverty. And teachers are being demonized, marginalized and shamed by politicians and elites who want to undermine and dismiss their reform efforts.

Parent engagement is essential to ensuring children thrive in the classroom. The power of partnerships between parents, teachers and the community is at the heart of school change.

But instead of focusing on real parent empowerment and how communities can come together to help all children succeed, “Won’t Back Down” offers parents a false choice—you’re either for students or for teachers, you can either live with a low-performing school or take dramatic, disruptive action to shut a school down.

Real parent engagement means establishing meaningful ways for parents to be real partners in their children’s public education from the beginning—not just when a school is failing. The goal should be to never let a school get to that point. Parents are actually calling for real investments in their neighborhood public schools and that should be our collective focus. 

Across the country, AFT teachers and leaders are partnering with parents and community groups to create real parent engagement that strengthens schools and neighborhoods:

  • In the South Bronx, the Community Collaborative to Improve District 9 Schools (CC9) partnered with the United Federation of Teachers on a school reform agenda focused on teacher quality, school leadership and family-school partnerships. Through the partnership, teachers participated in neighborhood walks to visit with the families of their students. And they established the lead teacher program, which allowed experienced teachers to provide mentoring and guidance to newer and struggling teachers. CC9 members were involved in hiring the lead teachers.
     
  • In Minnesota, AFT affiliates negotiated the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project into their contract, training teachers to visit their students’ families to establish bonds with parents outside of the school environment and help parents support their children’s learning. And the AFT’s affiliate in St. Paul surveyed parents to get their concerns and thoughts about their schools, and then incorporated the results into their contract negotiations. 
     
  • In Connecticut, the AFT helped create a law that provided an avenue for parents to become involved in their children’s schools. The 2011 law requires that certain low-performing schools create School Governance Councils to develop parental involvement policies and make recommendations on administrator hiring and, ultimately, on the school improvement plan. School councils are composed of parents, teachers and community members, with parents having a majority. This year, Connecticut’s new education reform law requires the creation of such councils in every low-performing school in the state.
     
  • In Cincinnati and elsewhere, AFT locals are working to mitigate the impact that poverty and other out-of-school factors have on students by offering wraparound services, including health and mental health services, meal programs, tutoring, counseling and after-school programs. Many of the services offered in Cincinnati schools were based on survey responses from neighborhood parents on what was needed for children and the neighborhood.
     
  • The AFT is leading a coalition of businesses, community groups, parents and educators to completely transform the educational and economic opportunities available to children and families in McDowell County, W.Va.
     
  • The AFT worked with a British corporation to develop a digital filing cabinet of lesson plans and resources for teachers called Share My Lesson. It’s an online community for teachers to share their best ideas and collaborate with one another.  

Sadly, this film chooses to ignore these success stories and the many others happening across the county. Instead, it promotes the deceptively named “parent trigger” laws, which are marketed as parent-empowerment laws. Actually, these laws deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children, by using parents to give control of our schools over to for-profit corporations. Parent trigger laws are being pushed by organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which Walden Media owner and oil billionaire Philip Anschutz helps fund.

The film advances a policy that in reality limits teacher and parent voices, the very voices that are celebrated and empowered in the movie.
 
In real life, there have been only two attempts to pull the parent trigger. One never made it to the approval process. In Adelanto, Calif., where the trigger petition is still in progress, many parents report feeling deceived by the for-profit charter-backed organizers who came in to gather petitions. They actually sued to take their signatures back when they found out they were being used to give their school away to a charter company.

Confusing the matter even further, those supporting the parent trigger asked the court to rule that once a signature was on a petition, it could not be rescinded. The court ruled in their favor, stating that the parent trigger law did not allow for rescinded signatures. But just this month, the Adelanto school board rejected the parent trigger proponents’ call for a charter operator and instead instituted numerous reforms including the formation of a community advisory council, an extended school day and improved technology, among other reforms. In both situations, the use of the parent trigger law has been disruptive and divided the school community. 
 
That’s one reason why a Florida parent coalition representing half a million parents joined with the Florida PTA and others to oppose parent trigger legislation when the bill was proposed there last year. They knew from the California parents’ experience that it would put all the power in the hands of for-profit companies, not public school parents.

It must be pointed out that the film contains several egregiously misleading scenes with the sole purpose of undermining people’s confidence in public education, public school teachers and teachers unions.
 
The film advances the “bad teacher” narrative through the character of Deborah. This teacher barks at students from her desk, uses her cell phone in class, refuses to let students use the restroom, puts children in a closet as a disciplinary measure and resists all reform efforts, yet miraculously remains employed at the school. She tells parents that she refuses to stay after school hours to help her students, and Davis’ character in the film asserts that union rules prohibit teachers from working past 3 p.m., an egregious lie. I know of no contract or local union that would ever prevent a teacher from remaining after school to help a student or do the work necessary to help children.

Let’s be clear—this teacher, or any teacher who engages in such deplorable actions against children, should be fired for this outrageous behavior.
 
The film features the union leader sharing a quote that anti-public education ideologues and right-wing politicians often attribute to former AFT president Albert Shanker: “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.” Despite the frequency with which corporate interests claim Shanker said this, a review of news reports, speeches, and interviews with Shanker’s aides and biographers, and even an analysis by the Washington Post, failed to find any person or report that could corroborate the statement. 

This is not the only time the movie resorts to falsehoods and anti-union stereotypes. Viola Davis’ character tells other teachers that the new school they create cannot be unionized because the union would restrict their ability to implement reforms that help kids. This is a false—unions are democratic organizations made up of individual educators, and collective bargaining is the process by which individuals come together to make things better. Many examples demonstrate that far from blocking reform efforts, unions fight for the things children need to thrive in school, like safe classrooms and smaller class sizes. And unions empower educators to win the tools and voice they need to help children.

Half of all teachers in the United States do not have collective bargaining contracts. The reality is that the states with the highest union density—states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota—are the states that lead the nation in student achievement. And a recent Education Sector survey of teachers made clear that America’s teachers—both union and nonunion—recognize the importance of unions in strengthening the teaching profession and our public schools.
 
Though deeply unfortunate, it is also unsurprising that “Won’t Back Down” is such a false and misleading depiction of teachers and unions. Anschutz’s business partner is on record saying that he intends to use Walden Media (which also produced the equally misleading “Waiting for ‘Superman’”), as way for him to promote their values.
 
A look at the organizations in which Anschutz invests makes those values crystal clear. He has funded 20 organizations, including ALEC, Americans for Prosperity and the National Right to Work Legal Defense and Education Foundation. All of these groups operate against the public interest in favor of corporate interests, and all of them actively oppose collective bargaining rights and other benefits for workers. Anschutz has also invested millions in anti-gay and extreme religious-right organizations such as the Promise Keepers, whose founder declared that “homosexuality is an abomination against almighty God,” and organizations affiliated with Focus on the Family. 
 
The last thing that the country and the debate over public education reform needs is another movie that maligns teachers, caricatures teachers unions and misleads the American public about what is happening in public education today. Children deserve great schools. That’s how we build great communities. And real public education reform comes from teachers, parents and communities working together to help all kids thrive.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues further. To learn more about what AFT members are doing to help all children succeed, contact Marcus Mrowka at 202-531-0689 or mmrowka@aft.org.

 

Thanks to a reader who forwarded this fascinating and informative article about the situation in Chester Upland, Pennsylvania.

I posted previously about the Governor’s appointment of a “recovery officer” to help the district get back on its feet.

The Governor appointed a prominent advocate for vouchers and charters to a position that puts him in complete control of the district and its future. Ironically, the “recovery officer” has been a consultant to the charter school in the district that takes away 1/3 of the district’s stressed budget. The charter school is owned by the governor’s biggest campaign contributor. The charter school owner collects $16 million each year as a management fee.  So many interesting coincidences!

It seems likely that the district won’t get back on its feet. More likely there won’t be a district in the future.

This “recovery officer” law sounds an awful lot like the law permitting the governor in Michigan to appoint emergency financial managers. These EFMs arrive in financially troubled districts and decide that the cure was to close down public education and to hand the children over to for-profit charter chains. The most amazing one is Muskegon Heights, where the district has a $12 million deficit; the for-profit charter chain plans to extract a profit of $8.75 million to $11 million. And that’s just for starters.

Somehow all this seems to be aligned with the ALEC agenda of dismantling public education by fiat, the sooner the better.

It’s Chester Upland and Muskegon Heights today.

Who’s next?

Here you can see a rare event: a trifecta of school reform rhetoric.

A spokesman for Jeb Bush’s organization writing an article praising the “parent trigger” in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, espousing the principles of the rightwing ALEC.

This is a splendid demonstration of how the rightwing carefully uses progressive terminology to promote its agenda.

And by the way, the 1925 Supreme Court decision that this guy writes about had nothing to do with publicly funded school choice or a parent trigger. It came about because far-right groups in Oregon pushed through a law and a referendum that threatened to close down private and parochial schools. The rhetoric from the far-right then was that all American children should attend public schools, not any others. The law was challenged by the Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, whose school was at risk of closure. The Supreme Court upheld the right of parents to send their children to a nonpublic school. Nothing was said or implied about public funding for nonpublic schools or about the current rightwing assertion that parents should have the right to seize control of their public school and hand it to a private corporation. Connecting this court decision with the parent trigger is a wild stretch.

This teacher (from the west) agrees with a previous post that the real goal of the reform movement is to do away with unions. That would leave them clear sailing to cut budgets even more, lay off teachers, increase class size, encourage for-profit ventures, and privatize at will, with no one powerful enough to stop them. What is sometimes called the “neoliberal” agenda is actually the old rightwing agenda, and it starts with union-busting and concludes with privatization.

I’ve often thought this mess boils down to busting the unions. Once that’s done, it’s smooth sailing for the “reformers.”From where I stand, the union appears to be silent. What gives? I thumbed through a recent national magazine from the NEA. Nothing on what’s currently transpiring. Our local representation is always “looking into that,” yet provides no answers when asked about the union’s stance on privatization. I thought the front page of the NEA website would be bursting with anti-privatization articles. Instead I found all kinds of back-to-school tips for teachers.Anyone here a union rep? In the know? What is going on?

It’s kind of funny when a blog talks to a blog, which then talks back to the other blog.

I wrote today about how the State Superintendent of Schools in Georgia came out in opposition to a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would allow a commission appointed by the governor to override the decisions of local school boards that reject charter schools.

The news story about him said:

“I cannot support the creation of a new and costly state bureaucracy that takes away local control of schools and unnecessarily duplicates the good work already being done by local districts, the Georgia Department of Education, and the state Board of Education,” Barge said in a prepared statement. “What’s more, this constitutional amendment would direct taxpayer dollars into the pockets of out-of-state, for-profit charter school companies whose schools perform no better than traditional public schools and locally approved charter schools (and worse, in some cases).”

Then, in response to my post,  Jonathan Pelto wrote that Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy pushed for the same authority in Connecticut, to allow his Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor (who founded a charter school and is a strong proponent of charters) to intervene in low-income districts with almost unlimited authority to impose the changes he prefers.

And here is the funny part: The idea is promoted by the conservative group called ALEC, which advocates for vouchers, charters, the parent trigger and opposes unions, tenure, and certification. As an organization of some 2,000 conservative legislators, ALEC would normally be in favor of small government and local control. But ALEC advocates that governors should be able to appoint a commission with the power to overturn local decisions about charter schools, so that more charters will be created despite local opposition. This is a case where ideology trumps ideology.

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) supports privatization and promotes a free-market ideology. It gained some unwanted attention this spring for its model “stand your ground” legislation, which figured in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida by George Zimmerman.

Strange world we live in.

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