Archives for category: Unions

I had a very exciting day in our nation’s Capitol today.

Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers invited me to spend a day in D.C. And offered to set up meetings with members of the education committee in both houses. At the end of he day, the AFT hosted a reception.

I took the train to D.C. to avoid the uncertain weather of recent days, and spent 2 hours on the train writing blogs.

The train arrived a bit before 10, and I went directly to meet with Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Milwaukee. She is well-informed and warm; she remembered me from my last visit in 2010. I was fortunate to have an escort from the AFT to make sure I got to my meetings.

All my conversations were off the record, so all I can share is that I was very candid, and so were the members of Congress.

I next saw Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Cleveland, who is very sharp. That too was a very pleasant meeting.

Then on to see Congresswoman Rosa de Lauro, who has a key position on the appropriations committee. She is a wonderful, kind, and delightful woman.

After a fast sandwich, we went to the Senate, where I had the pleasure of meeting Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin–imagine, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin! And then we met Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, who is very impressive.

Here is the news: George Miller of California, Democrat of California, announced his resignation a couple of weeks ago. Miller was a huge fan of testing and charters, as well as an architect of NCLB. Next in line was Rob Andrews, but today he unexpectedly announced he too was retiring. So very likely the next top Democrat on the House education committee will be Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, a liberal Democrat.

Things should get interesting in D.C. We have friends in high places.

It is amazing how many of the 1% are willing to spend millions to remove due process from teachers, most of whom work harder and earn less than said zillionaire’s secretary or chauffeur.

According to this article by Jennifer Medina in the “New York Times,” David F. Welch is a telecommunications executive who has spent millions to create a group called Students Matter to launch a lawsuit in California intended to strip teachers of due process rights.

John Deasy, the Los Angeles superintendent, testified that the union contract prevents him from firing as many teachers as he would like. Presumably, he would fire thousands of teachers if he could.

Will anyone introduce testimony to demonstrate the allegedly superior education available in states where teachers can be fired at will, as Deasy would prefer?

In many communities, the word “evolution” will not be mentioned in science classes. Books that challenge the mores of anyone in the community will not be taught. If due process ends, so will academic freedom.

Shame on the craven Mr. Welch and his all-star team of lawyers, gunning for teachers.

In an article in “Politico Pro,” which is behind a paywall, AFT President Randi Weingarten applauded the decision of the New York State United Teachers, which passed a resolution of “no confidence” in New York State Commissioner John King.

She said that NYSUT was right to withdraw support from Common Core unless there are “major course corrections.”

The implementation of the standards was badly botched, she said, and neither King nor Board of Regents Chair Merryl Tisch was listening to the public or teachers.

Randi was especially outraged that King is pushing ahead with the Common Core standards at the same time that budget cuts have caused the layoff of thousands of people who provide important services for students.

Weingarten was insistent that the standards had to be delinked from the new tests.

Mercedes Schneider has closely analyzed the union-busting techniques of the so-called Center for Union Facts and its leader Richard Berman. Here she digs out the details of Berman’s long-planned strategy to damage unions with negative advertising. Now Berman is plastering New York City with billboards and radio ads to lower the public’s opinion of the United Federation of Teachers. A poll a year ago showed that New Yorkers trusted the union and the teachers more than they trusted Mayor Bloomberg to protect the interests of children.

She suggests a counter-attack, which she calls Operation Berman Boomerang.

EduShyster has a dream, but it is not the one that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about in 1963 at the March on Washington.

She has a dream of Dr. King returning today to see the new “reform” movement which so often claims that it is the “civil rights movement” of our time.

He tours the “no excuses” school and sees that it is segregated. He discovers that the new “civil rights movement” is funded by many billionaires.

He might be shocked to discover that poverty is now considered “an excuse,” not something to be opposed and banished.

He might be even more amazed to discover that in today’s world, the labor unions are an obstacle to closing the achievement gap, and not–as he thought–a valued ally in his efforts to advance social justice.

As he completes his tour of “excellent” charter schools, more surprises in store for him:

Separate but innovative
Tough news on this issue, reformers. Even Dr. King 2.0, now with more excellence, might have a problem with our apparent abandonment of the ideal of universal public education. In Detroit, for example, where he delivered his speech at the Great March in 1963, there are now dual school systems: one of charter schools and the other a public system that must accept all children and is rapidly becoming the last resort for the toughest-to-serve kids. And in Washington DC, where King dreamed of an equal future for children of all races, two separate systems, one for strivers, one for discards, compete for public resources. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that even Dr. King 2.0 would not be a fan of “separate but innovative.”


During the mayoral campaign in New York City, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown led a campaign against what she portrayed as a serious number of sexual perverts and deviants among the city’s teaching force. Mother Jones decided to investigate what was happening, who was behind the campaign, and here are its findings.

“Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP [Parent Transparency Project] trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they’d upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had “the guts to stand up to the teachers’ unions.” The spot stated that there had been 128 cases of sexual misconduct by school employees in the past five years, suggesting that nothing had been done in response. “It’s a scandal,” the ad’s narrator intoned. “And the candidates are silent.”

“Before founding PTP, Brown raised this issue in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in July 2012. But what she failed to disclose was that her husband, Dan Senor, sits on the board of the New York affiliate of StudentsFirst, an education lobbying group founded by Michelle Rhee, the controversial former Washington, DC, chancellor. Rhee made a name for herself as public enemy No. 1 of the teachers’ unions and has become the torchbearer of the charter school movement. In 2012, her “bipartisan grassroots organization” backed 105 candidates in state races, 88 percent of them Republicans. (Senor was also the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority following the invasion of Iraq and served as a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012.)…

“But there is much more about PTP that is less than transparent, including its sources of funding and its overall agenda. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, PTP may keep its donors’ identities secret and spend money in electoral campaigns, so long as political activity doesn’t consume the majority of its time and money.

“Despite its nonpartisan billing, Brown’s nonprofit used Revolution Agency, a Republican consulting firm, to produce the mayoral attack ad. Its partners include Mike Murphy, a well-known pundit and former Romney strategist; Mark Dion, former chief of staff to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.); and Evan Kozlow, former deputy director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The domain name for PTP’s website was registered by two Revolution employees: Jeff Bechdel, Mitt Romney’s former Florida spokesman, and Matt Leonardo, who describes himself as “happily in self-imposed exile from advising Republican candidates.”

“Another consulting firm working with Brown’s group is Tusk Strategies, which helped launch Rhee’s StudentsFirst. Advertising disclosure forms filed by PTP list Tusk’s phone number, and a copy of PTP’s sexual-misconduct pledge—since scrubbed from its website—identified its author as a Tusk employee. (Tusk and Revolution declined to comment. Brown referred all questions to her PR firm—the same one used by StudentsFirst.)….

“Brown’s group paints the unions as the main obstacles to a crackdown on predators. Yet Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, says that the union’s New York City chapter already has a zero-tolerance policy in its contract, and that AFT only protects its members against “false allegations.” New York state law also mandates that any teacher convicted of a sex crime be automatically fired. It is the law, not union contracts, that requires that an independent arbitrator hear and mete out punishment in cases of sexual misconduct that fall outside criminal law. The quickest route to changing that policy may be lobbying lawmakers in Albany, not hammering teachers and their unions.”

Paul Thomas believes that the Common Core standards do not answer any of the most pressing problems in American education, most of which are economic and social, not pedagogical.

In this post, he commends Randi Weingarten for turning against VAM but worries that states will push ahead with it anyway. He expresses the hope that AFT will take the next logical step and recognize that the Common Core standards are not a great new idea but rather a continuation of the standards-based, test-based reform that characterizes NCLB and Race to the Top. These strategies always leave those with the least far behind. They never close the achievement gap. They reflect it.

He writes:

It is now time for leaders in education—including political leaders, union leaders, professional organization leaders—to acknowledge the historical record on standards-based accountability, the research base on standards-based accountability, and the real-world consequences related to standards-based accountability; and then, CC should be rejected, the real problems facing schools should be identified, and a new reform paradigm embraced.

AFT and Weingarten could offer a brave and powerful voice in that fight, and it would be welcomed.


Mercedes Schneider, who teaches high school English in Louisiana, saw a photo of an ominous 5-story-high billboard in Times Square, New York City, attacking teachers’ unions. She knew who paid for the ad: the so-called Center for Union Facts. Schneider had already written about this corporate public relations firm, and the billboard got her thinking about who might have funded this particular hit job.

I might add that CUF, which has access to very few actual “facts” but a huge supply of vitriol, is also running radio ads on local stations in New York City, attacking the teachers’ union, blaming the union for low test scores, and calling for merit pay and other non-solutions. Its goal, as I wrote earlier, is to demonize the unions. Its own “solutions” are not research-based. Its goal is to destroy collective bargaining.

According to Rick Cohen of the Nonprofit Quarterly, the Gates Foundation is threatening to take away $40 million from the Pittsburgh public schools if the district and union don’t agree on a plan to evaluate teachers by test scores, to reward the “best,” and retrain the rest.

Does the Gates Foundation know that eminent researchers warn that VAM is inaccurate? Does it care that VAM has not worked anywhere?

The group in Pittsburgh that is most critical of the union is A+ Schools. Cohen points out that Gates is one of its major funders.

Cohen writes:

“This is probably an extreme example of “high-stakes testing” of teachers. With a significant reliance on student test scores for determining teacher performance, teachers are duly wary of standardized tests, which diminish the socioeconomic factors of student performance, even when the consequences could be teacher dismissals and even school closings. In this case, the high stake facing the teachers’ union is the school district’s loss of a free $40 million.”

(The word “diminish” in the previous paragraph is wrong. It should say “reflect to a large degree.”)

What is so distressing is that the Gates Foundation acts as if it bought public education in Pittsburgh and has the right to call the shots. Guess they never heard of the concept of democratic control of the schools. They are familiar only with plutocratic control.

Who will hold the Gates Foundation accountable for the damage it is wreaking on education?

A reader who calls himself or herself “Democracy” left comments criticizing me for defending Randi Weingarten–or perhaps for not attacking her.

Here is my response to Democracy:

Democracy, you ask a good question, and I will answer as best I can..

As you know, I have criticized the Common Core in many posts. I have criticized the lack of transparency and the lack of educator participation in its development. I have criticized the fact that the Gates Foundation paid out nearly $200 million to develop and promote the CCSS, which really means they are the Gates Standards. I have said that rigorous standards will not solve–let alone address–the economic dysfunction at the root of educational inequality–and is likely to exacerbate it.

Randi Weingarten is certainly more positive about Common Core than I am. She is the president of the AFT and has been willing to engage on the issues, while the NEA has remained supportive of Common Core and silent.

I have long believed that Randi would ultimately change course, and she has done so recently. First, she called for a moratorium on testing. only days ago, she came out in opposition to VAM, saying that VAM is a sham. She has followed her reasoning to its logical conclusion, which is that Common Core should be decoupled from testing. If Common Core is in fact decoupled from testing, it loses its power as a means of rating and ranking students and teachers and principals. It becomes a set of standards that may or may not prove useful but has no power to ruin lives and careers

The next, inevitable step is to recognize that Common Core must be amended by teachers and scholars. As it currently exists, it is an infallible edict encased in concrete. No standards are so perfect that they need never be updated.

I will not attack Randi, not only because she is a personal friend, not only because she is showing the capacity to evolve and change her mind, but because we who object to the current demolition derby can’t prevail without the support of at least one of the major unions. In short, we need her leadership. To turn against her is to wound our cause irreparably, our cause being the survival of public education and the teaching profession. To attack one of our few national leaders in the middle of a crucial war will aid those who are attacking public education and teachers. If we who are allies fight one another, we lose. I prefer success to defeat. Too much is riding on the outcome of these questions to indulge in ideological purity and cast out those who are not in complete agreement.


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