When people like Diane Ravitch talk about the billionaires taking over education policy, they are sometimes dismissed as being alarmist, or even of promoting conspiracy theories. But a recent video details exactly how this has been happening, in the state of Illinois. The video released last week of Jonah Edelman describing how he and his group, Stand For Children, managed to maneuver education "reform" legislation is still reverberating through the education blog world.
Now it has even made it into the mainstream media, in this report at the Chicago Sun-Times, and here in the Chicago Tribune, both of which are credited by Edelman for providing sympathetic coverage and editorial support.
A complete transcript of Edelman's remarks is here:
Edelman has since apologized for his arrogant tone and tried to take back his most damaging statements. But it is clear that this was a presentation of how sausage is being made in education policy.
This video features an Illinois state legislator explaining how Stand For Children has engaged in pressure politics there.
Who is Stand For Children?
The group describes itself this way:
Stand for Children is an innovative, grassroots child advocacy organization. Our mission is to use the power of grassroots action to help all children get the excellent public education and strong support they need to thrive. Our members believe we need to stand up for our children now - particularly for their education from pre-school through high school - to create a better future for America.
We build effective local and statewide networks of grassroots advocates capable of convincing elected officials to invest in and reform children's programs. Following specific priorities chosen by our members, we focus on securing adequate funding for public schools and reforming education policies and practices to help children thrive academically, giving them the opportunities they need to become successful, productive citizens.
But the picture presented by Jonah Edelman was not of any sort of grassroots work. It sounded much more like old fashioned power-brokering and political gamesmanship. A few weeks ago I wrote about the phenomena of "astroturf" organizations - well-funded, professionally managed groups that recruit volunteers in order to create the illusion of a grassroots campaign. This group seems to fit the bill.
Here is the basics of the agenda enacted by Edelman through this legislation:
1. Teachers are unable to bargain over the length of the school day or year.
2. Principals are given discretion to hire and fire with little regard to seniority.
3. Teacher unions can strike (at least in Chicago) only if a hitherto unachieved 75% of the members approve of the action.
Update: Eric Skalinder, a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, sent the following additional information regarding point #3 above:
Any teacher union in Illinois may strike with a simple majority of more than 50% of its voters - except in Chicago. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has been singled out for a 75% threshold. But that threshold is not simply 75% of voters. The new law requires 75% of all *eligible* voters to authorize a strike. Not only is the percentage threshold higher but in Chicago, and only in Chicago, any eligible voter who does not vote is counted as a no vote.
Also, there are many ways in which Chicago teachers are singled out by our legislature for treatment that differs from the rest of our Illinois education colleagues. This new strike vote rule is just the latest to pick on urban teachers. It is a source of constant frustration to me that if I taught in a school 10 minutes away in the suburbs instead of in the city I would be treated with much greater respect and equality than I am now.
Stand For Children has active chapters in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. Edelman made it clear that his group is pursuing similar strategies wherever they are.
This raises many questions. How can we make the public aware of the ways in which our education policy is being driven by groups like this? How can we build a genuine grassroots movement to rival these well-financed "astroturf" efforts? What do you think?