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In an Era of Funding Darkness, Community Organizations Ally with Corporations, CEO’s

November 6, 2011

It has been a few weeks since the latest salvo in education reform politics, and honestly, I had to calm down before I wrote about it. I am sure there is a reason why this latest campaign pushed my buttons, but the words indignant, meddlesome, and hubris come to mind.

It was a long 15 hour day when I returned home after teaching, conducting two evening parent meetings, and picking up donations for the Washington D.C. trip. As is customary, I read through my twitter feed to catch up on the latest news. A piece in the L.A. Weekly caught my eye-

L.A. Charities & Minority Groups Tell United Teachers Los Angeles & LAUSD: ‘Don’t Hold Us Back’

I am a UTLA member. Who was I holding back?

As I read Hillel Aron’s article, the realization dawned on me (as the temperature rose inside of me) that a group of local community organizations had come together to purchase a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times and La Opinion, citing the school district’s graduation rate as a concern, and asking me, a teacher, to settle my contract negotiations with the district in 30 days, so that I did not “hold students back.”

I saw white.

I saw nothing else for several minutes as I tried to comprehend what I was reading. Thoughts jumbled in my mind:

Of all the factors that have contributed to the struggles of our students, we the teachers, THE TEACHERS, are the ones “holding students back?” Not the economy. Not the crime. Not the violence. Not the hunger. Not the fragmentation of the nuclear family. Not the lack of medical care and fresh food in the South Central community in which I work, but me, the teacher.

They really spent thousands of dollars to buy this ad, buy a webpage?  Couldn’t the money used for this ad have helped the students that are hungry and homeless stay in their apartment for one more month, get that tooth taken care of?

Who are the experts in what is best for students? Educators or billionaires?  Teachers or journalists?  Unions or astrotorf orgs?  I may be a parent, but when the doctor tells me how to take care of my daughter, I yield to the expert.  When her 5th grade teacher shared his expertise on how to approach her math work, I listened and implemented.  Parents play a huge role in the success of their children but we each have our own job to do; and it differs.

Perhaps what made me see white it is what I see on a daily basis that: colleagues constantly buying food for hungry students or uniforms for those who have stains and holes in theirs.  Work done over the weekend and on vacation that is never, ever done.  Time taken away from their own families to fill in the gaps left by absent parents lost to disease, vices, non-stop work, or death.

Certainly the ad was not what I needed to see at the end of a 15 hour work day or nor did anyone else who has done the actual work of working in schools

There are three fatal flaws in the “Don’t Hold Us Back” campaign.

Teachers are not holding anyone back

We don’t need a contract to do right by children.  We served children through whole language, fuzzy math, Open Court, and NCLB.  We find a way to make the best of policies imposed ON us by legislators and school board members passing through for bigger and better gigs.  I am not sitting at my desk waiting for my union and management to agree on the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement to differentiate my instruction for Derek, who already demonstrates coherent knowledge of the social, political, and economic realms of the medieval Muslim empire.  Or to speak softly and literally to Sam, who has a clear case of emotional overexciteablity and cannot handle a stern voice.  Or to realize that Kyle is an undiagnosed autistic student who needs double the help of his peers in staying organized.

I will serve my students regardless of when my CBA is settled.

The United Way et al, has no business interjecting into labor negotiations between me and my employer

My labor rights were acquired over a history of 50 years.  For every right acquired, there was a reason for it, a struggle behind it.  As an educators’ union, we live in an era where due to lack of funding, ergo oversight, we are sometimes managed by a system that is not in order itself.  We are the classroom experts however, and can and should have a say in what is best for schools, best for students, best for our profession.  In this recession, I have said goodbye to many colleagues who had no choice but to work in schools without the protection of a union.  Not one has agreed that working without protections was more beneficial to the school and the student, and these were some of the best teachers I have had a chance to work with in my 20 year career.  How can you be a good teacher if you have to use the restroom but don’t have a free minute until 1:00 p.m.?  How can you be a master of your discipline if you are assigned to teach 5 different classes in one day, each which requires significant prep time?  How can you teach children about responsibility and accountability if they are allowed to call you at 10:00 p.m. and ask what the homework assignment was?

Active and awake teachers and activists were quick to connect the dots (read Skeel’s comments)  as to why all of a sudden groups like the Urban League were entering the education reform business.  These dots should have been connected by the journalists, like Sam Dillon in the New York Times.  But journalists themselves are more often becoming mouthpieces for the billionaires who own their corporations, tell the editorial boards what to think and write. The motivation behind this initiative is another story, told well by Jonah Edelman in a candid moment of honesty.  What’s next?  Civil rights groups arguing against civil rights?

Teachers do not need corporations, billionaires, and non-education based organizations telling them how to do their job

This is the battle educators have been fighting for many years now.  Everyone from politicians, hedge-fund managers, bloggers, and now community orgs are trying their best to force me to implement their preferred reforms.  I don’t need someone to tell me what will work; I figure that out on a daily basis in the classroom. Frequently, the reforms imposed on teachers are NOT in the best interest of students.  Are we supposed to stay silent?

As someone who was an inactive union member for most of my 20 years in teaching, my consciousness was raised when I saw the devastation caused in my school and suffered by my students in the budgetary layoffs that began in 2009.  I saw the power of a school community coming together instructionally, emotionally, and righteously…and it was destroyed instantly when our nation entered the financial crisis, causing cut after cut after cut.  Those who survived the cuts were left behind to put the pieces back together, to look into our students’ eyes and tell them they mattered, that their beloved teachers would always be cheering them on, in spirit.

No one, not one education reformer wants to address the effects of poverty on students, magnified by crime, violence, and recession.  It’s as if these don’t exist.  These reformers have demonstrated time after time their true lack of understanding of what students need first, and assault the characters of those who dare point it out (see comment by Marco Petruzzi)

Here are some of the demands of the “Don’t Hold Us Back” coalition (from Progressives Find Religion on LAUSD Reform):

  • a standard way to evaluate teacher performance;
  • an end to “last hired, first fired,” which looks solely at teacher seniority and not at the teacher; and
  • reinstituting full Public School Choice, which allows outside groups to run flailing public schools (in August, the school board temporarily barred charter schools from being allowed to take over schools under Public School Choice)

You can have the strictest, most fierce CBA and it will still not quell the rumbles in a student’s stomach. It will however, allow districts rife with cronyism and nepotism to fire loud and pesky teachers at will.

Firing teachers with the lowest AGT will still not stop mom from doing drugs, dad from being absent, students from resisting the lure of gangs, promiscuity, and drugs.  It will however, cause teachers to flee to “better” schools, with easier to teach students, to game their scores.  The more you use tests for purposes other than for which they were designed, the more the data is corrupted (please look up Campbell’s Law)

You can eliminate seniority protections in the era of layoffs but why aren’t these civil rights organizations joining Occupy Wall Street to avert layoffs in the first place?  When we lost 23 teachers in 2009, we lost good ones, bad ones, and middle of the road ones.  It was ugly, but fair.  I have seen excellent teachers shunned and targeted in spite of labor rights; the possibilities of  no rights for teachers is far worse than an anonymous seniority-based layoffs.  Even the laid-off teacher will tell you that.

Public School Choice?  An ill-conceived, market-based reform based on the idea that threats and competition will make teachers and schools work harder.

One has to wonder why these so-called civil rights groups advocating for the practice of giving away schools to charter organizations that have been proven over and over to not accept the same number of special education and English learner students as the local public schools.  Isn’t that the true civil rights issue?  Why aren’t they funding full page ads against charter schools with sky-high attrition, or against Geoffrey Canada, the charter school CEO that kicked out an entire group of students because of low test scores?  Can they help my student’s parents who are denied access to local charters because of low grades/test scores/special ed designation?

At best, all I can conclude is that these organizations have been misinformed.  But my gut feeling and experience tell me this is a naive conclusion.  Scores of folks who are themselves suffering the effects of the recession have found that compromising their principles for employment in the education reform industry will at least put food on the table, get more hits on their website, get their names in the paper for their next election.

This coalition has chosen to communicate through public channels, all made possible with funding from the billionaires.  I will respond on the free WordPress blog and say this:  you don’t speak for me, my students, or their families.  They can and have spoken for themselves.  You have offended my sensibilities to the core, and should be ashamed that you have chosen to advocate for market-based reforms instead of opening a true dialogue with teachers who have dedicated their lives to helping students.

Below are the groups responsible for the “Don’t Hold Us Back” campaign:

Edward J. Avila

President, Alliance for a Better Community

Elise Buik 

President and CEO, United Way of Greater Los Angeles

James Cuno

President and CEO, The J. Paul Getty Trust

John Emerson

Chairman Emeritus, Music Center

David Fleming 

Of Counsel, Latham & Watkins LLP Founding Chair, LA County Business Federation

Ronald Gastelum

Attorney at Law

Russell Goldsmith

Chairman and CEO, City National Bank

Antonia Hernandez

President and CEO, California Community Foundation

Mickey Kantor

Partner, Mayer Brown LLP

George Kieffer

Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Stewart Kwoh

President & Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Andy Lipkis 

President, Tree People

Cindy Miscikowski 

President, Board of Harbor Commissions Port of Los Angeles System

Thomas M. Priselac

President & CEO, Cedars Sinai Health System

Robert K. Ross, M.D.

President & CEO, The California Endowment

John H. Semcken III

Vice President, Majestic Realty Co.

Robert Simonds

The Robert Simonds Company

Steve Soboroff

Soboroff Partners

Blair Taylor

President & CEO, Los Angeles Urban League

Gary Toebben

President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce

Matthew A. Toledo

CEO & Publisher, Los Angeles Business Journal

John Mack

Vice President, Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners; Former President Los Angeles Urban League

Other organizations include:

Communities for Teaching Excellence

The Community Coalition

Inner City Struggle

Council of Mexican Federations

East L.A. Community Corporation

Families That Can

Southern Christian Leadership Conference

Educate Our State

Watts/Century Latino Organization

Parent Revolution

Dream Team L.A.

Youth Policy Institute

Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative

Youth Speak Collective

Proyecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission

Union de Vecinos

Plaza Community Services

Ed Trust West

15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2011 2:39 pm

    You have every right to be incensed. I live two states away and am boiling in empathetic rage. I wish there was something else I could say–it is just sickening the way our culture has targeted teachers to blame for the entire society’s utter failure.

  2. November 6, 2011 2:46 pm

    I live in this state. And I’d like to contact those people. If you have phone numbers or email addresses, please add those to the post!

  3. Jorge Crenshaw permalink
    November 7, 2011 1:32 pm

    exactly!!! Why should these community groups who’ve been working with poor families for decades have the audacity to think they have any business commenting on the union contract! It only impacts the families and students they work with as much as any other factor! shame on them for speaking their minds in the name of fighting for their children!

    How dare they ask for;
    1) a standard way to evaluate teacher performance;
    2) an end to “last hired, first fired,” which looks solely at teacher seniority and not at the teacher; and
    30 reinstituting full Public School Choice, which allows outside groups to run flailing public schools

    Such insanely unreasonably and offensive demands are utterly insulting.

    • November 7, 2011 4:06 pm

      Jorge,

      It is precisely because the reforms these groups espouse MAY NOT help children that concern teachers.

      We teachers do not just advocate for the children of the able and the willing. We have to be concerned about all children. What we see in the market-based reforms espoused by these organizations is education for the lucky few who are able to navigate the charter school system and whose children are not addled with special needs.

      Educate yourself about the serious concerns academic experts have about value added methodology (known as AGT in LAUSD.) There are error rates of over 25% in some cases, and the ramifications of instituting a system such as this to evaluate teachers would be detrimental to the students I referenced above.

      Also ask yourself if these organizations would even be participating in this campaign if it were not the pet project of the Gates and Broad foundations. These are criticical questions to ask and understand.

  4. November 7, 2011 10:49 pm

    Mr. Crenshaw’s point number three is an out and out lie. The original incarnation of PSC, written by the reactionary Yolie Flores, was to hand brand new schools over to whatever groups the board majority deemed it wanted to. Aside from being rife with cronyism, nepotism, and favoritism (just think CRES 14 to CNCA Corporation), PSC didn’t include struggling schools (where Crenshaw writes “flailing” I’m not sure if he meant failing or flailing). It was the District 4 trustee that added them. So please tell us Mr. Crenshaw, exactly how brand new schools that have never hosted a single class a “failing” or “flailing” school? Or are you too busy drinking the Broad and Gates kool-aid to see that logical inconsistency in your corporate cheerleading rant? Oh, and please be honest, when you say “outside groups,” just tell the truth and call them what they are — private corporations.

    Moreover, which of these deep pocketed, self serving 501C3s have been “working with poor families for decades?” When I look at the vile list of plutocrat funded organizations comprising the so-called “don’t hold us back” coalition I see a lot of organizations that have never done anything except increase market share for the lucrative charter industry. I suppose Jed Wallace, Marco Petruzzi, and Judy Burton are the port families you’re discussing. No?

  5. November 8, 2011 5:32 pm

    You express exactly how most everyday educators feel about the constant attacks we face in our profession. I want to thank you for giving us voice. You are right, we don’t have multimillion dollars to run campaign ads, but we still have a voice.

    • November 9, 2011 1:59 pm

      Jose, what are you talking about? You have multi-multi-millions to run “campaign ads.” How else does a guy like Kayser get a school board seat, or a person like LaMotte retain one? Those union dues buy a lot of political favor.

      • July 10, 2012 1:53 pm

        Mr. McGalliard’s chronic dishonesty issues cropping up here again. The so-called “political favor” he’s speaking of pales in comparison to mountains of cash bought by the same billionaires who fund the non-profits discussed in the essay above. Problem is that McGalliard takes money from the same folks to do the same thing, so he’s a bit uncomfortable facing that truth.

        Let’s take his Kayser example. The truth is that both Kayser and UTLA were outspend by nearly five to one. Proof?

        City Ethic Website: http://j.mp/MYO5xC

        Who were the independent expenditures for Sanchez by? Eli Broad, Philip Anschutz, Jerry Perenchio, Reed Hastings, etc.

        Sorry to expose you as a fraud again there.

  6. November 9, 2011 1:58 pm

    Martha,

    The UTLA contract doesn’t do much for kids, I’m afraid. It’s too fat, and the union in LAUSD is just too reactionary to make progress on reforming it. BUT, I know the contract got fat for a reason. I agree with you that it was negotiated over many, many years and much of it is a protection against bad management; rules and procedures and complicated processes built up over many years as an attempt to mitigate against managerial incompetence. I know how arbitrary and incompetent LAUSD management is, especially now, after working with LAUSD’s ‘higher ups’ for some time now.

    Who’s holding all these incompetent middle managers of LAUSD accountable? Fremont was restructured, but why wasn’t Local District 7 restructured?

    So I get you about the contract.

    But the contract is for teacher protections (deserved or not), not family or student protections.

    Many of these community groups are indeed the voice(s) of the children and families we all serve. Some of these orgs (not all) are the “protections” or “unions” for these families. Teachers who care will have to work with orgs that care, and we’ll have to find a new way forward.

    Mike

    • November 9, 2011 5:11 pm

      Mike,

      Let’s say the contract is fat. Are we really saying that this coalition of organizations truly wants to change the contract to better help students? We’re venturing into some very dangerous territory.
      First, are you changing the mission of your organization by venturing into matters so complex that they generate debates between the experts themselves? Are we really saying that the Community Coalition of South L.A. has someone on staff who knows so much about value added methodology (more than say Diane Ravitch, education historian) that they can in good conscience recommend that teacher performance be measured by this means? In spite of margins of error of up to 25%? I think it is inappropriate for these orgs to all of a sudden change their mission and get involved in something they know nothing about. The fact that they are receiving funding from the Gates foundation contingent on them advocating for market-based reforms does not lend their motives any legitimacy; it exposes them for being money starved and willing to do whatever it takes to stay afloat (reminds me of Race to the Top.)

      As for “teachers who care will have to work with orgs that care,” I find that language condescending. It implies I am a recalcitrant teacher who does not seek to improve and must be forced to embrace new ideas. Not the case for most teachers. We have a lot of experience and concluded long ago what took you several years to discover: the district is mismanaged in many areas. This same experience, wisdom, and knowledge about educating students leads many of us to be concerned about the misuse of test data for purposes other than for which tests were designed. You must know about Campbell’s Law, Mike. Improving evaluations is something everyone agrees must happen. The National Board of Professional Teaching Standards has a great program, but it’s expensive. Do we want what’s easy and cheap, or valid and expensive?

      I welcome support from any organization that can help improve the lives of my students. In fact, my school has to depend on many of these orgs to provide the services we can’t. But there is an obesity epidemic in this nation. Do you see orgs telling doctors how to treat patients? Or how to negotiate compensation from insurance companies? They wouldn’t dare. Why is it okay to do this to teachers?

      • November 9, 2011 6:47 pm

        *what’s easy and cheap and ineffective.

        What is so offensive is that any organization or individual thinks they know how to solve the problems “we teachers” have caused. They are willing to stand on the sidelines and shout, but until they stand in the classroom and teach, I grant their perspectives no validity. I do not walk into a restaurant and tell the chef how to cook or tell the manager how to manage. I am not an expert in that.

        The problem is that everyone believes they know better than teachers do. So, now all these policies from outsiders are what has put us in the test and fail situation we now find ourselves. Teachers did not create these failed policies, yet we are being blamed for the outcomes. Sideline shouters with no real stake in the game create these policies. They shout, their pipe dream fails, and they can just shrug and walk away… and we’re stuck dealing with the cumulative messes.

      • November 14, 2011 12:29 pm

        Martha,

        Sorry for late reply. I fell of map for a few days.

        I agree with many of your points. Some community orgs might have a total legit concern, and may be well intentioned with their support of the latest trend (e.g., VAM). But few are experts or know what they are supporting.

        And yes, I can’t stand money chasing orgs. A lot of them (I won’t name names) have suddenly become ‘experts’ in education since RTT and big money. And they’ve successfully tapped into the money pipeline. (I was shocked by how RTT funds were distributed in LA, specifically i3 and how Ford FDN followed).

        I didn’t mean to be or sound condescending in my comment about teachers and community orgs working together. But community orgs are inserting themselves into education with a louder voice and this is more than a trend. One can’t some up this phenomena by calling them all money chasers. Especially if we also argue that “education” is about poverty, health, etc, as much as schools.

        I don’t know how well your metaphor of obesity supports your argument. The medical industry is under intense scrutiny, and many orgs and advocacy groups insert themselves into the business of doctor billing, insurance practices, and the like. And imagine the public outcry if the medical industry had a failure rate like public schooling (e.g., the health of half the patients at a particular hospital failing to improve).

        Teaching is a special craft, but it’s not arcane science. And educating children isn’t only about the teacher. I think you’d agree with the latter point.

        So yes, I understand why one might argue that United Way has no business suddenly inserting itself into education when education was never its business before RTT cash. But when one (rightfully) argues that poverty is one of the biggest impactors on educational performance, one can’t also sensibly argue that orgs meant to fight poverty should stay out of ‘teacher business.’

        Best
        Mike

    • July 10, 2012 2:26 pm

      Who is holding “incompetent middle managers” and all of the management at LA’s Promise accountable? Manual Arts is being restructured, but why isn’t the plutocrat board and wealthy executive staff at LA’s Promise being restructured?

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  1. United Way’ Elise Buik’s Myopic One Percent Policies | OccupyLAUSD

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