In an Era of Funding Darkness, Community Organizations Ally with Corporations, CEO’s
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
President and CEO, United Way of Greater Los Angeles
President and CEO, The J. Paul Getty Trust
Chairman Emeritus, Music Center
Of Counsel, Latham & Watkins LLP Founding Chair, LA County Business Federation
Attorney at Law
Chairman and CEO, City National Bank
President and CEO, California Community Foundation
Partner, Mayer Brown LLP
Partner, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
President & Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Legal Center
President, Tree People
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.
The Robert Simonds Company
President & CEO, Los Angeles Urban League
President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
Matthew A. Toledo
CEO & Publisher, Los Angeles Business Journal
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
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