A new advocacy group, Integrity in Education, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to expose connections between the U.S. Department of Education officials and for-profit education companies.
The group, headed by Sabrina Stevens, a former teacher and American Federation of Teachers staffer, launched today during a conference call with reporters. It will focus on exposing connections between K-12 public education and for-profit education companies and countering arguments laid out by groups promoting free-market reforms for education such as StudentsFirst and Chiefs for Change.
Stevens said she was moved to begin public school advocacy after her experience as a teacher in Denver, where she said she was "drowning under mandates" that forced her and her colleagues to hire substitute teachers in order to finish benchmarking tests and entering data. "We had to stop teaching in order to convince the government we were teaching," she said. [Correction: The original version of this post mistakenly identified where Stevens taught school. She previously worked in Denver Public Schools.]
When asked about the funding streams that support Integrity for Education, which caused a dust up on education blogger Alexander Russo's website last month, Stevens said the group had received generous start-up funding from Deborah Sagner, the chair of the group's board of directors and a philanthropist who heads up the Sagner Family Foundation. She said that she anticipated the group would become a "small, donor-driven" organization like MoveOn.org.
Other members of the board include Michael Huttner, president of the Huttner Group; Joan Davidson, an urban planner who sits on the board of a charter school in Brooklyn; and Brian Kettenring, the co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy.
When pressed on the group's affiliation with teachers' unions, Stevens seemed hesitant to link the groups, saying there was no "direct connection" between Integrity in Education and any national or state teachers' union, but that the group "will be working with people who agree with us on this issue to continue to change the narrative on education."
"We are an independent organization," she said, "but we are willing and committed to working with anyone" who shares its philosophical agenda.
The group is not necessarily against charter schools, Stevens said during the call, but remains categorically against schools run by for-profit companies like K12 Inc. "Public school choice is a workable thing when it's actually choice for the families involved," she said. "We don't consider it a choice when school districts are forcibly shutting down schools and handing them over to private companies." However, a community starting its own charter school is something the group "can be supportive of," she said.
Integrity in Education, which is registered as both a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4), will be tackling its goals through aggressive media campaigns and "unapologetic advocacy," according to its website.