Teachers Union President Joins Anti-Union Operative to Praise Charter Schools

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Randi Weingarten must be out of her damn mind!

 

The president of the second largest teachers union in the country, The American Federation of Teachers, is now writing op-eds with anti-union activists!?

Just this week she authored an article in the Los Angeles Times along with Jonah Edelman.

Perhaps you remember him. He’s the corporate shill who infamously bragged on YouTube about tricking teachers unions into supporting an Illinois law that would have stripped educators of their right to strike while eliminating seniority and due process.

Yes, THAT Jonah Edelman!

And why is she joining forces with a man who has dedicated his life to destroying the lives of the more than 1.5 million people she is supposed to represent!?

To fight school vouchers while pretending charter schools are a much better alternative.

No, I’m not kidding.

In the midst of an article that correctly outlines many of the problems with school vouchers, you’ll find this telling nugget:

“We believe taxpayer money should support schools that are accountable to voters, open to all, nondenominational and transparent about students’ progress. Such schools — district and charter public schools — are part of what unites us as a country.”

So once again we get the false distinction between charter and voucher schools.

Yet they ignore that BOTH are run privately without community input.

BOTH are not accountable to taxpayers.

BOTH are allowed to cherry pick the easiest students to educate and turn away those with special needs.

Yet Weingarten and her new best friend somehow think charters are worlds better than vouchers.

Wrong! They’re BOTH terrible.

Publicly funding privately run schools is nearly the same no matter whether you call them charter, private or parochial schools!

Yet we see Democratic partisans trying desperately to distinguish their cash cow charter schools from the extremely similar golden geese of voucher schools.

It’s a trick. Republicans champion privatized education in all of its forms. Democrats pretend to be discerning by boosting only charter schools.

But there’s really very little difference between these two positions. In each case, these partisan hacks are defending privatization against any and all forms of public education.

Weingarten apparently is even willing to throw the majority of her constituents under the bus to do so!

Charter schools are a failed social experiment. The majority have become merely parasites on traditional public school districts sucking out much needed funding without putting anything of value back.

They result in larger class sizes, a narrowing of the curriculum and more layoffs for the very teachers Weingarten is supposed to represent.

In the rare occasions when charters actually provide good educational value, the law explicitly allows them to change for the worse at any time. The problem isn’t a few bad apples. It’s the concept of charter schools, themselves.

You can’t have a separate level of school competing with its community district and expect the two not to end up harming each other. You can’t allow one school to operate in the dark without hardly any transparency and expect operators not to take personal advantage of it. You can’t allow one school to choose its students without expecting to drastically segregate the community’s children.

Yet here we have Weingarten joining hands with the devil signing a Faustian bargain with the blood of every member of the American Federation of Teachers.

Yes, school vouchers are a bad idea. They violate the separation of church and state. But other than that, they’re pretty much the same as charter schools. If you agree to defend the one while attacking the other, you’re just fighting about what to name the privatized school that will eventually overtake the public ones.

Weingarten should know that.

But this isn’t the first time recently that she’s agreed to hob knob with those salivating over the destruction of her own chosen profession.

Just last month, she went on a field trip to a public school with Betsy DeVos, our Anti-Education Education Secretary.

As parent and teacher activists were physically barring DeVos from entering some public schools, Weingarten was giving her a guided tour!

Some will say that we need to educate DeVos, a Republican mega-donor with next to zero experience of public education and a history of spending billions to destroy public schools. So how did it work out?

DeVos said the school was nice but could benefit from more privatization.

Thanks anyway, Randi.

You can’t make friends with the corporate education reformers.

This was one of the major weaknesses of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She tried to walk this same divide praising “high quality” charter schools while criticizing those that exploit the system.

In both cases, they’re ignoring the fact that the system was designed EXPLICITLY TO BE EXPLOITED – by charter schools.

This is one of the reasons I’ve been calling for Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association, to step down.

They aren’t listening to their constituents.

They have both gone rogue. They are playing politics on our dime without giving proper consideration to what’s in our benefit.

Teachers don’t want their national union representatives playing patty cake with those out to destroy us. We want action in the streets! We want activists and resisters, not diplomats and politicians.

It’s time Randi and Lily stepped aside for union leaders who understand what our schools, our students and our profession really needs.

Randi and Lily, For the Good of Our Unions, Please Step Down. You Are a Distraction

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Dear Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelsen Garcia:

Unions are facing hard times.

We are under attack by the new fascist wing of the Republican party.

So-called “right to work” laws are being drafted at the national level to strip us of our rights and transform us into the factory slaves of The Gilded Age. New court challenges at the state and federal level could make it next to impossible to collect dues without allowing countless free riders. And in the mass media criticism of teacher tenure is mounting despite widespread ignorance of what it even means.

More than ever we need to be united in our efforts to fight the forces of regression and tyranny. We need each other to protect our public schools and our students from those who would do them harm. But the biggest obstacle to doing that isn’t Donald Trump. Nor is it Mike Pence, Steve Bannon or even Betsy DeVos.

It is you. Both of you.

Frankly, as Presidents of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), you have become a distraction.

When DeVos was blocked by protesters from entering a Washington, D.C., school this week, Randi actually took her side. She tweeted:

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“Just heard a protester blocked & almost knocked Secy @BetsyDeVos down at Jefferson.We don’t condone such acts.We want her to go to pub schls.”

How dare you dictate to protesters what “we” want!?

This action may not have been something you, personally, condone. But DeVos just got away with purchasing her position as U.S. Secretary of Education. She and her billionaire family paid off mostly Republican lawmakers to the tune of $200 million allowing her to become the titular head of our nation’s public schools. This despite having never attended a public school, refusing to protect special education students, refusing to hold charter and voucher schools to the same standards, even refusing to keep guns out of our children’s classrooms! Well, Betsy, your money may buy you the title, but it buys you zero respect!

Randi, your statement just goes to show how tone deaf you and Lily are to the spirit of the rank and file.

We are not somewhat distressed at what is happening to our schools and our profession. We are enraged! We are taking to the streets! We are occupying our lawmakers offices and marching through community thoroughfares! And we aren’t throwing shade on other protesters behind the safety of Twitter.

For many of us, you both represent everything wrong with unionism. We are a people powered movement. We get our strength from the grassroots up, but you both try to rule from the top down.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the early endorsements by both unions of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Neither one of you made an honest effort to gauge member opinions on these endorsements before going ahead. You thought you knew better. You pushed through these endorsements despite a strong vein of support for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was much more in-line with our needs and values. And he had much more support among progressives and independents. He had a much better chance of winning! Meanwhile, Clinton was just another neoliberal in a long line of neoliberals like President Barack Obama who would offer us only the back of their hands.

You wanted a seat at the table, and you didn’t mind how much it would cost the rest of us.

Lily, when you took the reins of the NEA in 2014, you famously said “We are what Democracy looks like.” I was never more proud of my union than at that moment. But that pride has turned to ashes in my mouth.

Many of us will never forgive either of you for the results of this election. We blame you for Trump.

Had you not dictated to us that we must support Clinton, had you supported a candidate with a real chance of wining, there is little doubt that we could have defeated the clown currently in the Oval Office. Moreover, under a President Sanders we would have had a real chance at a progressive future that benefits everyone – $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, sanctuary cities, justice reforms, fair trade, free college tuition.

Trump did not win alone. Unwittingly, you were his biggest supporters. It was your hubris – along with that of corporate Democrats deaf to the voices of their base – that gave us these next four years. And none of you have learned your lesson.

Lily, your three-year term is up this year. Randi, your two-year term is up in summer 2018.

We can wait you out if we must. But do what’s best for the people you claim to represent. Step down now.

Otherwise, you can look for opposition in our Representative Assemblies.

Let me be clear. I don’t think either of you have broken any by-laws. I don’t think there is evidence for impeachment (if our by-laws even allow it). But members could easily make a motion from the floor for a vote of no confidence.

Support may already be mounting for such positions at the Region level. It could go to the State House of Delegates as a New Business Item and get a majority vote from the floor. Or perhaps at our next Representative Assembly, someone will just make a motion.

I don’t know if it would pass. But I know that this division among us is holding us back from being the force we can be. I know that it has stopped many of us from talking about how we fight external forces, because we are instead focused on enemies from within.

We want to transform our unions. We no longer want to focus solely on collective bargaining. We want to focus on social justice and the needs of our students and communities. To be sure, our labor rights are essential to this fight, but they cannot be everything nor can we be willing to give up on the needs of our students if the powers that be will only leave our salaries and benefits intact.

We want a union that is more at home in the streets than in the boardroom. We want leaders who mobilize us to fight not tell us what to think. We need leaders that listen to us – not the other way around.

As a classroom teacher and education activist, I make this request in no official capacity for any of the various groups to which I belong. I ask as merely another member of the NEA. I have no affiliation with the AFT.

Moreover, I have nothing personal against either of you. We met briefly at the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago two years ago. You were both congenial and inspiring. It may not seem like it now, but I hold tremendous respect for both of you. I think in your own ways you have accomplished much that benefits our members.

But the time has come to step down. You believe in accountability. Hold yourselves accountable.

Put the strength of our unions first. Let it no longer be about you. Let it be about us.

Here’s hoping you’ll do the right thing.

Yours,

Steven Singer

NEA and PSEA member

P.S. – If any NEA or AFT member reads this open letter and agrees with the sentiments expressed here, please add your name and union affiliation in a comment on my blog.

Do Unions Belong in the Fight Against Corporate School Reform?

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In the fight for public education, the forces of standardization and privatization are running scared.

 

They’ve faced more pushback in the last few years – especially in the last few months – than in a decade.

 

The Opt Out movement increases exponentially every year. Teach for America is having trouble getting recruits. Pearson’s stock is plummeting. The NAACP and Black Lives Matter have both come out strongly against increasing charter schools.

 

So what’s a corporate education reformer to do?

 

Answer: Change the narrative.

 

They can’t control the facts, so instead they try to control the story being told about the facts.

 

It’s a classic propaganda technique. As Malcolm X put it:

 

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

 

Their story goes like this – yes, there is a battle going on over public education. But the two sides fighting aren’t who you think they are.

 

The fight for public schools isn’t between grassroots communities and well-funded AstroTurf organizations, they say. Despite the evidence of your eyes, the fight isn’t between charter school sycophants and standardized test companies, on the one hand, and parents, students and teachers on the other.

 

No. It’s actually between people who really care about children and those nasty, yucky unions.

 

It’s nonsense, of course. Pure spin.

 

They want you to believe that the corporate vultures preying on our public schools are really just misunderstood philanthropists. And those demanding a fair shake for their own children and communities are really just paid shills from a monolithic and uncaring bureaucracy.

 

In essence, they want you to believe two things:

 

1) Despite profiting off the system and zero evidence supporting the efficacy of corporate school policies, they’re motivated purely by empathy.

 

2) Unions are evil by definition and they pervert everything they touch.

 

I’m not going to bother with the first claim here. There is an inherent bias from those who wish to change the laws so they can more easily profit off of schools without actually helping students learn and in fact exist at the expense of that learning. If you can’t see through the propaganda wing of the Walmart corporation, the Broad Foundation and Big Daddy Bill Gates, you probably won’t be very receptive to anything else I have to say.

 

Instead I will focus on the second claim, because it is the more pernicious of the two.

 

Put simply, unions are not perfect, but they are not evil. In fact, they are essential to the health of public education.

 

Many progressives are upset with teachers unions because of the current Presidential election. Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary election without what many would consider adequately polling rank and file members. For better or worse, the endorsements were top-down affairs reflecting the preference of union leaders.

 

That’s not how unions are supposed to work. And it’s having consequences for the way both members and non-members view teachers unions.

 

Critics infer from this that unions don’t represent membership. They are de facto arms of the waiting Clinton administration and the neoliberal agenda.

 

There may be some truth to this, but it does not represent the whole picture. Not nearly.

 

Unions are like any other democratic organization. The larger the association, the further from the grassroots the decision making body.

 

In the mammoth national unions, decisions are made by representatives most removed from our schools. They probably were teachers or support staff at some point in the past, but that may be ancient history. Now they are professional leaders and therefore at a remove from the grassroots.

 

By contrast, in our local chapters, leaders are most often working classroom teachers. Decisions are made by those still meeting students’ needs on a day-to-day basis. As such, they retain an authenticity and expertise that may be more cloudy in the large bureaucracies.

 

This isn’t to say the national unions are by definition unconcerned with the needs of teachers and students. I’m sure that most of the NEA and AFT leadership who decided to endorse Clinton did it because they honestly believe doing so will help public education. And – who knows – they may be right. But what they forgot in this case was the democratic process they were tasked with preserving. As such, they may have to pay a price for their hubris when their terms are up.

 

In most cases, the leaders of national teachers unions are at too much of a remove to see what is best for our schools. And they usually know that. It is up to the rank and file to tell them what to do, and that’s what happens every year at representative assemblies through various caucuses made up of work-a-day members. And if leaders overstep their authority it is members’ duty to hold them accountable at election time.

 

So even though the national organizations are most likely to go astray, they often don’t. Usually even these giants are trying to improve the situation in our public schools.

 

However, it can’t be denied that the most intense and passionate activism happens a bit closer to where the rubber hits the road. It’s those local chapters that are there everyday and make the most difference. They are the heart and soul of unionism.

 

So when corporate education reformers sneeringly deprecate their opponents as mere unions, they’re glossing over an important distinction. Opposition to privatization and standardization policies doesn’t come from the leadership of the NEA and AFT. It comes from the grassroots. This is not a top down initiative. It is bottom up.

 

This is how it’s always been. There is no political organization directing the fight to save public education. The Democrats certainly aren’t overly concerned with reigning in charter schools. It was grassroots Democrats – some of whom are also union members – who worked to rewrite the party platform to do so. The Clinton campaign is not directing anyone to opt out of standardized testing. However, voters are demanding that Clinton be receptive to their needs – and some of them are union members.

 

There is no great union conspiracy to fight these policies. It’s called public opinion, and it’s changing.

 

That’s what scares the standardizers and privatizers. They’ve had free run of the store for almost two decades and now the public is waking up.

 

They’re desperately trying to paint this as a union movement when it’s not. Unions are involved, but they aren’t alone. And moreover, their involvement is not necessarily an impediment.

 

The needs of the community and the needs of teachers are the same.

 

Both want excellent public schools.

 

Both want the best for our students.

 

Both want academic policies that will help students learn – not help corporations cash in.

 

And both groups want good teachers in the classroom – not bad ones!

 

The biggest lie to have resonated with the public is this notion that teachers unions are only concerned with shielding bad teachers from justice. This is demonstrably untrue.

 

Unions fight to make sure teachers get due process, but they also fight to make sure bad teachers are shown the door.

 

In fact, in districts with strong unions, MORE bad teachers are fired – not less, according to a new study by economics Prof. Eunice Han from the University of Utah.

 

The study entitled The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers concludes that when unions are strong and successfully bargain for higher salaries, they have an incentive to help ensure ineffective teachers don’t receive tenure. In short, it costs too much to keep bad teachers on staff. It is in the interests of the collective bargaining unit to ensure those unfit to teach move along.

 

Moreover, Han also concludes that strong unions actually help reduce the dropout rate. It just makes sense. When you treat people like the professionals they are, when you give them autonomy and respect, they’re free to concentrate more energy into their jobs than fighting to keep those jobs.

 

But unions stand in direct opposition to the efforts of corporate vultures trying to swoop in and profit off of public education. Teachers provide a valuable service to students. If your goal is to reduce the cost of that service no matter how much that reduces its value to students, you need a weak labor force. You need the ability to reduce salary so you can claim the savings as profit.

 

THAT’S why corporate education reformers hate teachers and their unions. We make it nearly impossible to swipe school budgets into their own pockets.

 

So do unions belong in the fight against corporate education reform?

 

Answer: Heck yeah! In fact, they are essential to it.

 

While Hillary Clinton Courts Teachers, Bernie Sanders May Have Conceded The Education Vote

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Hillary Clinton has made huge strides this week courting education voters. The Democratic Presidential candidate made a statement critical of scandal ridden charter schools. She also met with educators to answer questions in a closed door meeting.

Meanwhile Clinton’s main competition for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, remains silent on K-12 public education. He’s a favorite among teachers but he hasn’t really articulated much of an education policy at all.

Parents, educators and students are looking for a candidate with the guts to turn away from the destructive school policies of the last two presidents. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have increased privatization and standardized testing while reducing teacher and community autonomy. Instead of helping alleviate an epidemic of child poverty, they have blamed the problem on schools and teachers while starving them of the funding they need to succeed.

Frankly, moving away from these corporate education reform policies is a bad fit for Clinton. Her past education positions have been almost identical to that of the Obama administration. She’s been a strong advocate for charter schools and Common Core. She receives hefty support from wealthy corporate school reformers like Eli Broad, George Soros, Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton family. After all, her first major policy achievement was her 1983 campaign to establish accountability-based school reform in Arkansas when her husband was Governor.

Her connections to this movement have not weakened. Just this week, #TeachStrong – an education reform organization – was launched with ties to Clinton. The group is organized by the Center for American Progress (CAP) – a think tank long affiliated with both Hillary and Bill. Husband and wife have hired numerous staffers from this organization and have championed policies that originated behind CAP’s closed doors. Many education observers are theorizing that the #TeachStrong initiatives which blame teachers and try to make their lives more difficult will eventually become Clinton’s education policies if she becomes President.

By contrast, Sanders would seem to be well suited to oppose these corporate-driven school reforms. He’s anti-privatization, anti-Wall Street and pro-worker. His vitriol against the banking industry and the 1% using tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share would only be enhanced if he included corporate school reformers on his hit list. These are, after all, most of the same people he’s already going after just for different reasons. Unfortunately, he has yet to embrace public schools. Up to this week, both he and Clinton favored only pre-kindergarten and college support. Now she has started talking about K-12, but Sanders’ lips remain buttoned.

Perhaps this is because he thinks education voters have already sided with Clinton. The largest teachers unions – The National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – both endorsed Clinton in the primary. However, in each case these endorsements were highly controversial coming mainly from union leaders without much or any involvement from rank and file members.

Clinton seems to know that top-down endorsements alone won’t get her votes. She needs to win the hearts and minds of membership, and she seems to be committed to doing just that. Her education comments may not be entirely satisfactory, her connections may be highly unsavory, and her history may be deeply disturbing, but at least she’s making the effort to reach out to voters who care about the education system.

Sanders, where are you? You’re a Democratic Socialist. You say you’re committed to the public good. What is a greater public good than public schools? The education vote is by no means decided. It remains on the table for either candidate to take.

Personally, I don’t think Clinton is a good choice to come to education’s rescue. No matter what she says, I just don’t trust her. Someone who champions privatization isn’t going to save us from for-profit charter schools. Someone who is in bed with the testing industry isn’t going to reduce standardized testing. Someone who helped establish Common Core isn’t going to repeal it.

But if I’m honest, Sanders has skeletons in his closet, too. In the Senate he voted to expand charter school funding, voted for No Child Left Behind and most recently voted to keep test and punish policies in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. However, given everything else he espouses, all these votes seem like anomalies. While Hillary looks like a seasoned professional who knows exactly what she’s doing in education circles, Bernie seems like a bumbling amateur who keeps making mistakes. It appears all he needs is a good talking to, someone to explain how our interests and his align perfectly. (Call me maybe!)

Of course, there is another possibility. Perhaps Sanders is against us as much as Clinton. Perhaps there is no major politician out there who has any interest in saving our schools.

Perhaps we really are alone.

In that case, maybe we shouldn’t wait for major politicians to come to us. Maybe we should consider supporting someone who is honestly in favor of us but does not yet have much political clout.

What say you, Dr. Jill Stein?

In the meantime I find myself waiting impatiently for Sanders to make his move. But I won’t wait forever. If he wants my vote – and the votes of hundreds of thousands of parents and teachers – he’s going to have to make his case.

Otherwise, we’ll look somewhere else.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

Near Silence on Education at First Democratic Debate

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None.

Null.

Nada.

That’s how many questions CNN anchors asked presidential hopefuls about America’s public schools at the first Democratic Debate.

Imagine if Anderson Cooper and company had been silent on Climate Change. The candidates would have brought it up anyway. Bernie Sanders actually did talk about the threat to the environment when asked a question about national defense.

Imagine if moderators had no questions about gun violence. Candidates competed with each other to demonstrate which took a stronger stance against the National Rifle Association.

Imagine if no one asked about finance reform. On that stage each candidate tried to position his or herself as the new sheriff of Wall Street.

But when it comes to one of the most important issues of the day – our children’s struggling schools – the media apparently thought it was of no interest to the viewing public.

Admittedly both Hillary Clinton and Sanders briefly brought it up when asked about other things.

Clinton said we need universal pre-kindergarten and good schools. However, she neglected to say what those good schools would look like.

It’s almost like saying nothing at all. EVERYONE wants good schools – Even dunderheads like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump! But their ideas of good schools differ greatly from that of most parents, teachers and students. McCharter schools for the poor and Cadillac campuses for the rich isn’t exactly what real progressives have in mind.

And universal pre-k? Great! But that’s kind of the flavor of the month. Who really disagrees that we should help toddlers prepare for school? It’s like asking, “Who wants ice cream?” in a room full of little kids on a hot day. EVERYONE wants ice cream – even the kids who are lactose intolerant!

Sanders took a second in a diatribe about social services to mention the need to fund schools. However, he didn’t say a thing about equity or if that funding would have strings attached. President Obama talked about funding schools, too, when he was running for president in 2008. Once he got into office those education dollars came at the cost of accepting untested and developmentally inappropriate Common Core State Standards. And equity meant closing poor schools to save them.

I wonder if CNN would have felt more pressure to ask even a single token education question if the largest national teachers unions hadn’t already endorsed Clinton. Both the American Federation of Teachers representing 1.5 million members and the National Education Association representing 3 million members have backed Clinton.

Well, leadership has. Member outreach, polling, even voting by the organizations largest representative boards has been almost entirely absent.

But now that teachers have been pigeonholed in Clinton’s camp, what’s the point of asking education questions? In the public eye educators have already chosen their candidate. Why would they need to hear Clinton’s thoughts on education policy? Why hear her opponents thoughts? Their minds are made up.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to run roughshod over teachers concerns. For 7 years education professionals from all walks of life have complained about the administration’s failing school policies and its buffoonish education secretary Arne Duncan. But now that Duncan is leaving, the President replaces him with John King – ex-New York State Commissioner of Education who enraged parents so much he was run out of the state on a rail.

The media just doesn’t care about public education. Nine times out of ten if they even print a story about schools, it’s a puff piece spin doctoring a school reform policy that isn’t working, never has been working and is – in fact – making things much worse for our nation’s students. Otherwise it’s an expose of how teachers can’t make these horrendous policies work so its their fault and don’t even glance at the ballooning child poverty rate – that’s completely irrelevant to the issue of all these lazy teachers who can’t be fired because we’d have to prove they’re bad first.

And what of the candidates? Do they care about public education?

The Democrats say they do and then zip their lips. They might make positive noises about preschool or universities – especially when it comes to funding. But they have next to nothing to say about K-12 schools. When the issue comes up, they deflect to toddlers or the college campus.

Meanwhile Republicans can’t contain their glee about mentioning teachers during debates and stump speeches. They want prospective voters to know that conservative types like them want to punch teachers in the face. During the first Republican debate, at least half of the candidates in that crowded boasted how much they stood up to the teachers unions.

And so there you have it, folks. That’s what passes for a substantive Democratic debate of all the important issues of the day. Now voters can make an informed decision in the primaries. There will be a few more debates, but they’ll probably be no different than this one.

And if you actually care about public schools, if you have children in the system, or derive your livelihood from it, or even if you just don’t want to live in a society of uneducated dummies – you’d be better served using Tarot cards to determine where the Democrats stand on this issue.


NOTE: This article also was quoted extensively on Diane Ravitch’s blog and published by Commondreams.org and on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

 

The NEA May Be About to Endorse Hillary Clinton Without Input From Majority of Members

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The largest labor union in the United States may be about to endorse Hillary Clinton for President without a poll of its membership.

Leadership at the National Education Association (NEA) has been making troubling moves toward endorsing Clinton that could commit the organization to supporting the Democratic presidential hopeful with no regard for the wishes of its 3.2 million members.

An endorsement could come as early as Oct. 2-3 when President Lily Eskelsen Garcia is expected to propose a primary endorsement of Clinton at the NEA Board meeting, according to multiple NEA sources. Then the PAC council would vote. If approved, it would go to the board for a final decision.

However, since this is only an endorsement for the primary election, the matter would not need to go before the Representative Assembly (RA). In effect, the move could sidestep the voices of the RA’s 8,000 delegates representing state and local affiliates, student members, retired members, and other segments of the united education profession.

The decision would be made by a handful of leaders and the PAC council. Though there are thousands of PAC council votes, they are distributed by the amount of money raised by each state’s members. This means that little states like Delaware – where members donate greatly – have a larger vote relative to their membership than other states.

The voices of the great majority of members would be silenced.

Already leadership at the highest levels seems to be trying to consolidate Clinton support.

Last Wednesday NEA Directors were invited to an hour-long conference call with Clinton. Few directors were allowed to ask questions and only if those questions had been submitted in advance.

After Clinton left the call, only three state presidents had a moment to speak; all gave positive reflections on Clinton and how she supports teachers and public education.

Despite the fact that several Democrats have been courting the NEA’s endorsement, only Clinton was invited to this call.

Last summer, the NEA invited all presidential candidates to participate in the union’s endorsement process. Only Clinton, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders did so. Each made a video statement that was shown at the summer’s RA meeting and posted by many to their local groups. Though more candidates have entered the race since then, none have chosen to interview with the NEA.

Ironically, at the same RA meeting, the assembly voted specifically NOT to ignore rank and file membership before endorsing a Presidential candidate. New Business Item 79 states:

NEA, as an organization, will actively engage in conversation and outreach on the NEA endorsement process with all 2016 Presidential campaigns prior to the consideration of a primary recommendation.

It seems if the leadership goes through with the primary endorsement as outlined above, they may be violating NBI 79.

The move is doubly troubling because of the strong-armed manner in which the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsed Clinton in July.

Though the AFT Executive Board voted to endorse Clinton, there is little evidence it did so after adequately gauging members opinions through claimed multiple surveys and telephone town halls. The move caused an uproar and claims the AFT endorsed too early and without rank and file support.

Despite politics at the national level of the NEA, some state affiliates have already made endorsements. For instance, Vermont NEA already endorsed Sanders, their state’s Senator.

“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” Vermont NEA president Martha Allen said in a statement. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: He is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

Alternatively, the New Hampshire NEA endorsed Clinton in September. Scott McGilvray, NEA-NH president, called Clinton a “tireless fighter” for students and teachers.

However, Sanders is gaining on Clinton in the polls in the first two primary states. A new Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire gives Sanders the lead over Clinton by a 43-36 margin. Sanders also leads Clinton in Iowa by a 41-40 margin. This is a huge gain from July when Clinton was beating Sanders by 49-25 in that state.

A major endorsement from a union the size of the NEA at this time might give Clinton the boost she needs to solidify her front runner status.

Whatever happens, no matter who the NEA decides to endorse, if anyone, it should be someone leadership can demonstratively prove has the support of the majority of its members.


NOTE: This article also was published on the LA Progressive and the Badass Teachers Association Blog

Punching Teachers in the Face – a New Low in Presidential Politics.

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Chris Christie wants to punch me in the face.

Gosh!

I’ve never even met the man. I don’t even live in New Jersey!

But in an interview, the Republican presidential candidate told the media that the national teachers union deserves a punch in the face.

Gulp. I guess that means me.

After all, I AM a public school teacher. I DO belong to one of those nefarious teachers unions.

I must deserve it. My colleagues – most of whom are women – and I must be asking for the NJ Governor to bop us on the nose.

Well come on, Governor. Hit me with your best shot!

One day historians may look back on Christie’s statement as a new low in electioneering. And this campaign season, that’s really saying something!

A candidate from one of the major political parties actually thinks threatening teachers with physical violence will gain him votes.

Why?

Look at it from his point of view. Christie is one of 17 Republicans running against each other for the party’s nomination. The first GOP debate is coming up and they’re only going to let the top 10 Republican candidates participate. And Christie’s popularity is low enough that he might get left out in the cold.

What’s a guy to do? Well the frontrunner, Donald Trump, earned his lead by saying the most outrageous things he could think of – namely that Mexican immigrants are rapists and thieves. And – WOOSH! – up went his poll numbers! Mike Huckabee compared the Iran deal to the Holocaust and watched his poll numbers rise, too.

Heck! If it worked for them, might as well try the same thing, Christie style! Let’s punch teachers!

This is strange for two reasons: (1) the governor of a populous state is actually resorting to the schoolyard rhetoric of an 8-year-old to characterize his presidential policy, and (2) who he’s targeting.

Can you imagine a U.S. President – not a candidate but a duly elected Commander-in-Chief – speaking to the nation this way?

“Today the state of our union is strong because my administration has punched the teachers in the face. We’ve also thrown welfare moms off the top ropes, put illegal immigrants in a sleeper hold and kicked planned parenthood in the groin!”

But notice that Christie isn’t talking this way about Welfare, Immigration or Abortion. As usual, he’s saving his most bitter rancor for teachers.

Can you imagine him speaking like this about any other public employee? Would he challenge postal workers to a knife fight? Would he threaten to pistol whip firefighters? Would he dare promise to drop kick police officers?

No way! For some reason educators really bug him – always have. He has a reputation for shouting down and bullying teachers in his state.

A psychologist might easily look at Christie and say he’s overcompensating.

A 52-year-old who probably couldn’t beat up an egg with an egg beater continues to talk as if he’s a street tough. A grown man who is still apparently intimidated by people with any kind of learning or book smarts continues to attack education and educators.

It would be pathetic if the stakes weren’t so high.

Ultimately the success or failure of such tactics is up to the voters. Do they really want presidential candidates to talk this way?

Once upon a time, politicians ran for office based on what they were going to do for you once they won. Now they generate as much contrived reality TV drama as they can in the hopes this will get a nation of couch potatoes to go to the polls.

It’s as if campaign managers are taking their cues from the most thriving kind of democracy we have left – the televised kind. They’re emulating shows like American Idol or American’s Got Talent. Make a big noise, put on a freak show and try to start a fight. We used to justify this as truth. Remember one of the first shows in the genre, The Real World, used to begin every episode with the line, “What happens when people stop being polite and start being real?”

But it was never real. It was always pre-packed, pre-planned, pre-arranged crap that could only exist because we pretended that’s how people really act!

Now that’s how we run for president.

We used to have Kim Kardashian, Kate Gosselin and Snookie.

Now we have Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie.

Cynics say these kinds of shenanigans will just serve to make far right ideologues like Jeb Bush look increasingly rational because they have more self control.

But I wonder if these are really optimists. Given the choice between the fake adult and the clown, the public may pick the clown.

Politics may really have sunk that low.

If only we had spent more time listening to our teachers instead of punching them.


NOTE: This article also was mentioned on Diane Ravich’s blog and published in the LA Progressive and on the Badass Teachers Association Blog.