Archives for category: Unions

In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times again defended Superintendent John Deasy from critics who were appalled by the appearance of rigged bidding on a $1.3 billion tech contract.

The editorial shifts the debate, saying that somehow the disgruntled members of the school board are actually stooges for the teachers’ union, which the editorial writer obviously despises.

“At L.A. Unified, tensions are high and crisis is in the air. The relationship between Supt. John Deasy and the school board that oversees him is at what is perhaps an all-time low. Deasy is again muttering about quitting; others are grumbling that he should be fired.

“Not surprisingly, United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union, is practically giddy. The union has regularly lambasted the superintendent, calling his performance “anything but satisfactory,” suggesting he be placed in “teacher jail” like a teacher accused of misconduct would be, and making it clear that it would like him to resign. If Deasy resigns, the leadership no doubt figures, it can go back to the good-old days.”

The bulk of the editorial is devoted to attacking the union for seeking higher pay, defending the due process rights of its members, opposing scripted curricula, all actions that the editorialist denounces as self-interested and selfish, while Deasy was defending students. His personal PR team could not have said it better. His problems are the fault of those lazy, greedy teachers and their union, which (in the eyes of the LA Times editorial board) does not care about students.

The readers of the LA Times deserve better. It seems as though the editorialist will go to any lengths to shield Deasy from just criticism or to insist that he be held accountable for his actions. When in doubt, blame the teachers and their union.

Zak Jason wrote a fascinating interview in “Boston” magazine with Barbara Madeloni, the recently elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest union in the state with 110,000 members.

I first learned of Madeloni when she was preparing teachers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and she refused to give the Pearson test to evaluate new teachers. Michael Winerip wrote a story about her defiance in the New York Times, and within a matter of days, her contract was not renewed. Now all teacher candidates across the university are required to take the Pearson exam.

I learned many things from this article. I learned that Barbara was a psychotherapist before she became a high school English teacher. I learned that when she ran for union president, she was considered a very long shot. Some people thought she had no chance at all.

I learned that the State Commissioner of Education, Mitchell Chester, is also chair of the governing board of PARCC, one of the two federally-funded Common Core tests. Some in the state say he has a conflict of interest.

Madeloni has called for a three-year moratorium on all testing and teacher evaluations:

“We’ve been trying to do scale, instead of human beings. We need to do human beings,” she says. She lambasts the Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards that the state adopted in 2010, as “corporate deform,” and described its architects to CommonWealth magazine as “rich white men who are deciding the course of public education for black and brown children.”

“The past and present heads of the state’s top education offices I talked to dismiss Madeloni’s rhetoric as naive, absurd, and, in the case of the moratorium, illegal. Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), says he’s concerned that her “hyperbolic” vision may force the DESE to tune out the entire union.”

Chester may dismiss her, but teachers view her as a savior. “She’s the first MTA leader willing to listen to their agony, and to tell the truth about how teaching in the age of accountability can be, as Holyoke teacher Cheri Cluff puts it, “like waiting tables at a busy restaurant; you’re running and running and running, and you’ve lost your head.” Whereas past presidents and her opponent, MTA vice president Tim Sullivan, were willing to compromise with state administrators, Madeloni is combative, unapologetic, and, as Agustin Morales, another Holyoke teacher, says, “unafraid to make her life uncomfortable.”

Morales, the article notes, was elected president of his local in Holyoke with a 70% majority; he complained about the data walls, where students’ names and test scores are publicly posted. He was fired.

Madeloni is a fighter. She is outspoken and unafraid. Will she be marginalized by the state? Can the state alienate its largest union? Watch for the battles ahead. Madeloni was elected to stand up for teachers. Richard Stutman of the Boston Teachers Union has agreed to collaborate with her.

Zak Jason concluded:

“When I first talked to Madeloni soon after her election, she agreed to have me follow her throughout her first week. But just before her presidency began, she told me, “As a psychotherapist, I know the presence of someone else in the room can affect how the room behaves,” and said she would only be available for an interview, and her communications director James Sacks would join.

“As I’m about to leave her office, Madeloni turns to Sacks and asks, half-joking, “Is there anything I didn’t say that I was supposed to say?”

“What’s your vision?” he says.

“That we reclaim the vision of public education as a space for democracy, for joy, for hope, for a better future for all of our children. All of our children.”

A regular reader, Laura H. Chapmam, curriculum consultant in the arts, asks: Who speaks for teachers? And, who is paid to appear to speak for teachers?

Chapman writes:

A collective teacher voice has depended on unions. The billionaires are recruiting teachers who are not friendly to unions, with the blessing of PR firms that USDE put in charge of helping states and districts comply with RttT requirements, including pay-for-performance.

The PR initiative, funded at $43 million, is dubbed the Reform Support Network (RSN). A 2012 publication from the PR writers working for RSN suggested that districts enlist teacher SWAT teams to head off criticism of the draconian federal requirements, in addition, a recent publication (May, 2014) offers states and districts over 35 other “messaging” strategies.

One of the “other” strategies is enlisting “teacher voice groups.” A “teacher voice group” is RSNs name for a non-union advocacy collective that depends on funding from private foundations favoring pay-for-performance.

Five voice groups are mentioned by name.

All have received major funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Teach Plus ($9.5 million), Center for Teacher Quality ($6.3 million), Hope Street Group ($4.7 million), Educators for Excellence ($3.9 million), and Teachers United ($942, 000). Other foundations are supporting these groups.

For example, Teach Plus receives “partner” grants from eight other foundations (including the Broad, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Joyce) and several major investment firms.

These groups are building out, state-by-state, in an effort to control conversations about “what teachers want. They are amplifiers of the wishes of the billionaires who fund them.

One of the major subcontracts for the USDE marketing campaign for $6.3 million, went to Education First. The founding partner is Jennifer Vranek, a former advocacy expert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She and others working for Education First helped a number of states apply for the RttT competition. They have fashioned PR campaigns for the Common Core State Standards in many states. The firm’s website includes a sample of its communication and advocacy services: “Outreach and public-engagement strategies and activities; strategic communications planning; reports, white papers and articles designed to synthesize, explain and persuade; development of communications tools, including marketing materials, web copy, press releases, and social media content.”

All this is just more evidence that the question is not just about who speaks for teachers, but who pays teachers to be spokespersons for union-hating billionaires, and why do these teachers have so little respect for due-process rights, including contracts that are not entirely dependent on the pathology of testing promoted in federal and state policies?

Paul Horton here attempts to understand why the Obama administration is waging war on teachers. He reminds us of Central Falls, when the Obama administration supported firing the entire staff of the high school. He remembers when the administration was neutral during the Chicago teachers’ strike, and Arne Duncan’s support for the noxious Vergara decision. He could have mentioned many other instances of the administration’s hostility to teachers, such as Duncan’s support for the L.A. Times story releasing the names and ratings of teachers. Or the administration’s silence during the large demonstrations against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or its silence as vouchers spread.

He writes:

“In sum, the war on teachers and due process for teachers is presented by many Democrats as a new war on poverty, and, somewhat obscenely, “the Civil Rights Movement of our time.” Last year Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of Washington D.C. Schools, made speeches at southern civil rights museums that proclaimed that supporting charter schools and making teachers accountable was the key to creating a more equitable America. Closing the achievement gap and not the excuse of poverty was the new focus of the new Civil Rights movement. The National Civil Rights Museum—Lorraine Motel in Memphis recently recognized Geoffery Canada, a Harlem charter school operator and the star of the anti-pubic school documentary, “Waiting for Superman” as a “Civil Rights Hero.”

It was cheaper to wage war on teachers than to wage war on poverty. But that leaves so much unexplained. Why did President Obama embrace the Republican agenda of testing, accountability, and choice? Why did President Obama turn against one of the most reliable members of his party’s base? Horton doesn’t explain.

This is a good article about Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who assumes the presidency of the NEA in September 1. She taught for many years in Utah, ran unsuccessfully for Congress, and was Utah’s Teacher of the Year.

Read her interview with Valerie Strauss. She knows how stupid VAM is, and she has a few choice words for Campbell Brown. She thinks Arne Duncan is a nice man who is “wrong, wrong, wrong.” Lily is passionate about the testing mania that is warping American education. She says that educators should do what’s right for kids and forget the reformers (easier said than done when the “reformers” control the legislature and hold the governorship and pass laws that are bad for kids.)

She has the potential to be a great voice for teachers, and early indications suggest that she won’t sell her soul or her members to get “a seat at the table.” The question is whether she is prepared to fight that nice man who is Secretary of Education and who demands more testing and more firings based on test scores.

In New York State, a small group of Democrats in the State Senate flipped their allegiance to the Republicans, giving Republicans control of the Senate. Republican control of the Senate worked to the benefit of the 1%.

One of that group was State Senator Jeffrey Klein. He just won the endorsement of the New York State United Teachers.

This is bizarre. According to this blogger, Perdido Street School, Klein is pro-voucher and pro-charter. He supports evaluating educators by test scores.

Can anyone associated with NYSUT explain this endorsement?

Civitas is a libertarian, anti-union organization in North Carolina. It is funded by Art Pope, who may be the most powerful powerbroker in the state. Civitas recently put up billboards saying “Teachers: Want a $450 Raise?” If teachers go to the Civitas website, they will learn that they can increase their annual salary by $450 if they quit the North Carolina Association of Educators, which is affiliated with the NEA. By no longer paying union dues, they can give themselves a raise!

Art Pope is a multi-millionaire who is passionately interested in politics. He gives generously to like-minded libertarians and has played a decisive role in ousting Democrats and moderate Republicans from the state legislature. North Carolina, once the most progressive southern state, has swung to the other extreme. Unable to win election on his own, Pope is now the state budget director, and his fine hand can be seen in legislation that is hostile to teachers (but not TFA) and that promotes charters and vouchers. The legislature has been so extreme on so many issues that it has brought into being a resistance movement called Moral Mondays, led by Reverend William Barber, head of the state NAACP. If the momentum of Moral Mondays continues to grow, North Carolina could change direction.

Kipp Dawson, a teacher in Pittsburgh public schools and a dedicated member of the American Federation of Teachers, attended the recent AFT convention in Los Angeles. She experienced a convening of brothers and sisters in the movement that encouraged her. Yet she was disheartened by the iron control of the New York City-based Unity Caucus, which dominates the Progressive Caucus, which calls the shots.

 

Dawson sees this as a crucial time for union in general and for teachers’ unions in particular. She calls for a new kind of democracy. She would like to see open debate with no instructions to members of the largest caucus.

 

 

For those who are on the outside of union politics, this was a fascinating insider’s perspective. What do you think?

 

 

Stephanie Simon of politico.com reports on the story behind Michelle Rhee-Johnson’s decision to step down as leader of StudentsFirst, the organization she founded in 2010.

Although she managed to raise some millions from big donors like the Eli and Edythe BroadFoundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Michael Bloomberg Foundation for her efforts to curb collective bargaining, eliminate tenure and promote vouchers and charters, she fell far short of her announced goal of $1 billion.

But even more important, Rhee-Johnson alienated some of her allies in the movement.

“As she prepares to step down as CEO, she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.

“StudentsFirst was hobbled by a high staff turnover rate, embarrassing PR blunders and a lack of focus. But several leading education reformers say Rhee’s biggest weakness was her failure to build coalitions; instead, she alienated activists who should have been her natural allies with tactics they perceived as imperious, inflexible and often illogical. Several said her biggest contribution to the cause was drawing fire away from them as she positioned herself as the face of the national education reform movement.

““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox,” one reform leader said.

Rhee-Johnson says she intends to devote more time to her family, which some assume means that her husband Kevin Johnson may run for governor or senator of California. Whether Rhee-Johnson will spend more time with her two daughters who live in Tennessee is unclear.

She recently announced her decision to become chairman of her husband’s charter schools. In some states, that would be considered nepotism, but apparently not in California.

The growing recognition of the failure of her style of high-stakes testing and test-based teacher evaluation did not seem to have played a role in her decision to step aside. Probably, living in the corporate reform echo chamber, she was unaware that her prize policies are on the ropes, as parents and teachers join to fight the reign of standardized testing.

Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as leader of StudentsFirst, a group she founded in 2010. She is likely to remain a board member. She recently changed her name to Michelle Johnson.

“StudentsFirst was launched on Oprah’s TV talk show in late 2010 and immediately set ambitious goals, such as amassing $1 billion in its first year and becoming education’s lobbying equivalent to the National Rifle Association. Its policy goals focused on teacher quality, teacher evaluations, school accountability and the expansion of charter schools. But the group has failed to achieve some of its major goals. After revising its fundraising goal to $1 billion over five years, the group only netted $62.8 million in total: $7.6 million in its first year, $28.5 million in its second year and $26.7 million between August 2012 and July 2013. The group also has seen much staff turnover, cycling through at least five prominent spokespeople since 2010.

“After the group began, it saw some legislative and electoral successes. It claims credit for changing more than 130 education laws in many states. It has released report cards ranking states on their education policies, supported candidates through political action committees, and lobbied state legislatures and governors on reform issues.”

Although Rhee always claimed to be a Democrat, most of her group’s campaign contributions went to conservative Republicans. Last year, StudentsFirst honored Tennessee State Representative John Ragan as “education reformer of the year,” despite the fact that he was co-sponsor of the infamous “don’t say gay” bill). She opposed unions, tenure, and seniority, and she supported vouchers and charters. She was a leader of the privatization movement as well as the movement to evaluate teachers by test scores. Ironically, her successor in the District of Columbia announced yesterday the suspension of test-based evaluation of teachers, a move supported by the Gates Foundation.

Resmovits speculates that former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown will become the face of the movement to strip due process rights from teachers. StudentsFirst, however, is unlikely to have the national visibility that it had under Rhee’s controversial leadership.

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