The AFT Responds on Parent Power
After yesterday’s Dropout Nation report on the American Federation of Teachers’ Parent Trigger presentation, the union’s has responded with a statement stepping away from the language and the tone in the piece. On its Web site, the AFT declares that: “we have received complaints about these materials and have removed them because they do not represent AFT’s position.” It also declares that: “The truth is that we created an avenue for parents in Connecticut to become involved in their children’s school.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten told This Week in Education‘s Alexander Russo (who broke news about the response) that she hadn’t seen the presentation until yesterday and that “The powerpoint didn’t represent AFT or my views, nor does it represent the Conn Fed’s views.” (Note that the presentation was made by Jennifer Berigan, a lobbyist for the AFT’s Connecticut affiliate.) Russo’s says Weingarten’s response was “Somewhat like Jonah Edelman in his apology for the infamous Aspen Ideas Festival video”.
The takeaway: Essentially, the AFT is proud of the strategy, the tactics, and the results, but not exactly happy to be associated with the tone of the presentation. Or, to quote Weingarten: “”We are proud of the work in Conn, but disagree with the wording.”
Now, let’s be clear about this: One shouldn’t be surprised about the AFT’s disdain for Parent Power efforts. Addressing the challenge of Parent Trigger laws, vouchers and charter schools was the subject of a workshop called “Attack on Public Education: Vouchers, Charters and the Parent Trigger” held at the AFT’s annual conference for its rank-and-file members working as paraprofessionals and school staff held earlier this year. (The Web page for those workshops has been taken down, but Google does a nice job of caching the information; and the workshop information is still available.) At the same conference, the political field director for the AFT’s California local also explained during a presentation (also still available at the AFT’s site) how Parent Trigger laws served as one of the “threats/opportunities” facing the union (and an opportunity to raise funds for its political action committee).
Again, not surprising. The AFT faces a decline in influence over federal and state education policy. So it must triangulate school reform while maintaining the privileges it has maintained for so long. And that’s fine. As players in American politics, they can strategize and share information on how to beat back their opposition. The fact that it ends up weakening the role of parents in education decision-making means that school reformers (some of whom are skeptical of Parent Trigger laws) and Parent Power activists must work harder in their advocacy. And it also means that families and grassroots activists must see the political game for what it is and play accordingly.
But at least we know they publicly disavow the tenor of the presentation.