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At Unions' Behest, Website to Drop Stand For Children, StudentsFirst

Online petition website Change.org has agreed to end its relationship with education advocacy groups StudentsFirst and Stand for Children once their contracts are up, after complaints from labor groups that the groups aren't aligned with progressive values.

Clarification, 6/26: The paragraph above has been amended to clarify that change.org will fulfill its contracts with the organizations, which means their petitions won't be immediately taken down.

The Huffington Post reported on the action earlier this week. It notes that the decision was made largely at the behest of unions and other liberal officials.

The breaking point seems to have been a Stand for Children petition that called on Chicago's teachers' union to agree on a contract with the school board.

Change.org, a for-profit company, hosts online petitions that the public can sign electronically in support of liberal causes.

StudentsFirst is not at all happy about the move. A spokeswoman for the group told the Huffington Post that Change.org "couldn't point to a single one of our petitions on their site that violated either the terms of use or spirit of their organization." Stand for Children's Chicago affiliate, meanwhile, has depicted the move as censorship.

The advocacy groups' use of these petition sites was already controversial. StudentsFirst, for instance, has counted some of those who have signed such petitions among its million-plus members. That's caused some consternation from those who claim some of its petitions (in support of the DREAM act, for instance) don't adequately convey the groups' position on policy priorities such as teacher evaluation and charter schools.

Supporters of the move say that as a private company Change.org is well within its rights to decline to host petitions. (Interestingly, some supporters appear to be the same ones that decry "privatization" and "corporate education reform." Is privatization OK when it supports your views?)

The larger question has to do with what's considered "progressive" in education policy these days. Even the Huffington Post describes the advocacy groups and the Chicago-related petition as "anti-union," a description both of the advocacy groups likely would deny.

Behind all the drama lies an challenging philosophical debate. Can you be considered progressive while disputing some of the policies supported by the unions? This is certainly difficult terrain to negotiate, as many Democrats, from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to President Barack Obama, have discovered.

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