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August 11, 2011 standard

Photo courtesy of the Journal-Sentinel

It is tempting to look at this week’s recall elections in Wisconsin — and the fact that Republicans retain control of the Badger State’s upper house — through the gaze of all-politics-are-local. But when more money is spent on the recall elections than on the entire state legislative campaign last year, most of it coming from public-sector unions opposed to Gov. Scott Walker’s successful effort to abolish collective bargaining, the politics are clearly national. And when the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers weigh in — including spending $400,000 on radio ads supporting Democratic opponents alone — the elections are also a referendum on the influence of teachers unions in education policy.

The results of the referendum are clear: The NEA and AFT are not nearly as influential in education policy as they once were a decade ago. And thanks to the twin forces of the school reform movement and the current economic malaise, that influence will continue to weaken.

The nation’s two largest teachers unions are certainly doing their best to triangulate and beat back Parent Power movements and other school reform efforts. It hasn’t always been successful — especially among the AFT, whose president, Randi Weingarten, issued another public nonapology apology  in the Huffington Post after Dropout Nation revealed its anti-Parent Trigger presentation. (Of course, Weingarten couldn’t mention your editor by name.) Even as the two unions are beset by a generational divide between Baby Boomers who want to preserve their privileges and reform-minded less-senior teachers, the reality is that the former are still in clear control of union activity. Their interest in keeping traditional districts under their respective thumbs, along with preserving the array of quality-blind compensation and near-lifetime privileges that has made teaching the most-comfortable public-sector profession, is why the NEA is devoting $40 million in member donations (whether or not younger members support it) on efforts to beat back reform. It is also why legislators such as New Jersey Assembly Speaker Steve Sweeney have lost NEA and AFT endorsements.

The NEA and AFT thought that they could whip up outrage against moves by governors and legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and Florida to abolish collective bargaining and begin overhauling costly teacher pay systems. For good reason. Most Americans respect individual teachers, who the two unions can rally for electioneering. The fact that governments (including school districts) are major employers, especially in rural areas, along with the struggle reformers often have in explaining the nuances of teacher pay (and moving away from over-simplification that lead to Matt Damon moments) should also help the NEA’s and AFT’s cause.

What the two unions continually fail to realize is that those arguments no longer work in the face of these stubborn facts.

For one, with states facing $137 billion in budget shortfalls this and the coming fiscal years, governors and legislators can no longer afford to protect school spending from the axe. Given that the cost of the nearly-free healthcare benefits and other perks of teaching have increased by 21 percent within a six-year period — and the $1.4 trillion in pension deficits and unfunded retiree healthcare costs — governors realize they must restrain future increases.

Second: While reformers haven’t done a good job of fully explaining teacher compensation, they have done a fantastic job of showing that the traditional system is ineffective in rewarding good-to-great teachers or in improving student achievement. A decade of revelations about the laggard quality of teaching and curricula in traditional schools and the results in the form of 150 teens dropping out every hour, has shown taxpayers that the nation spends $600 billion on education abysmally.

Then there is the reality that the average American, working in a private sector in which layoffs and wage cutbacks are common, are none too sympathetic to teachers unions who insist that their rank-and-file should not be subjected to economic reality. Opposition from the unions to performance pay plans, ending tenure and using student test score data in teacher evaluations, also fall on deaf ears. That there are other fiscal matters that they consider to be equally important, including police and fire service and Medicaid, that have been subjected to cutbacks, makes taxpayers less willing to listen to cries against revamping teacher compensation.

Combine these realities with moves such as the AFT’s failed lawsuit against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s school reform efforts and revelations such as those last week by Dropout Nation, and suddenly, the pitch from teachers’ unions is as failed as their vision for American public education.

All this said, the NEA and AFT remain formidable forces who have long ago mastered the less-electoral aspects of the political game. School reformers need to step up their game in this area as well as build ties to grassroots activists and community leaders in order to sustain momentum.

At the same time, some reform camps, namely centrist and left-leaning Democrats, need to come to terms with the reality that the teacher quality reforms they espouse involve the same weakening of teachers’ union influence as the efforts by conservative counterparts to abolish collective bargaining. Trying to publicly oppose the weakening of teachers’ union influence even your own agenda calls for exactly that is trying to have it both ways. And that’s just not possible.

This week marked another slow decline in teachers’ union influence. And more clout may be lost — to the benefit of our children — by the time the year is over.

Perhaps It’s Time to Abandon the Union: Last week’s Three Thoughts noted George W. Bush Center scholar Jay P. Greene’s conclusion that school reformers would be better off starting their own institutions in order to successfully spur school reform, and force traditional districts and other players to abandoned failed practices. This question comes up as one reads Andy Rotherham’s latest column in Time on the younger players who are trying to force the NEA and AFT to end their opposition to systemic reform.

As I did last year for Labor Watch and The American Spectator over the last year, Rotherham details how groups such as Educators4Excellence have agitated with some success for the two unions to modify their positions. NewTLA, for example, now significant influence in the AFT’s Los Angeles local, while the efforts of Teach Plus in Indianapolis and elsewhere to rally younger teachers to push for reform is also wonderful to watch.

But are their efforts enough? As Adam Emerson of Redefine Ed points out, the insurgents haven’t really forced the NEA and AFT to do more than slightly alter their positions and help shape a local election or two. More importantly, the activists haven’t challenge the penchant for treating families as nuisances and afterthoughts that is rampant among NEA and AFT leaders (and in the agendas of the two unions). The fact that the younger teachers pushing for internal reform have not yet themselves begun dismissing the anti-Parent Power strategies of their union (or have even argued publicly for the union to support Parent Trigger laws and vouchers, even though they do embrace charter schools) means that they don’t have the missing link they need to force the two unions to embrace systemic reform.

Virginia teacher and occasional Dropout Nation contributor Chad Sansing has noted that there needs to be a way for families and teachers to get together and work towards improving education. He is right. Currently, given that NEA and AFT affiliates are more-concerned with serving members and perpetuating its existence, and the concerns among poor and minority families that they are shunted aside in education decision-making, better working relationships between parents and teachers will remain a struggle. Certainly we need the insurgents to push for reform within the NEA and AFT. But reform-minded teachers may ultimately have to abandon the union model, form their own professional associations, and team up with Parent Power groups to do so.

August 9, 2011 standard

Last week, Dropout Nation revealed the American Federation of Teachers’ true feelings about Parent Trigger laws and Parent Power efforts. Since then, media out such as the Wall Street Journal and the Daily News have editorialized on the cynical efforts while Parent Power activists such as former California State Sen. Gloria Romero — who authored the nation’s first Parent Trigger law and was mentioned in the presentation — demanding that AFT President Randi Weingarten “offer an immediate apology and a commitment to never let something like this happen again.”

But there are other ways education traditionalists can weaken Parent Power — and this is true in Connecticut (the subject of, and test case for, the AFT’s presentation) and in the rest of the country. See, last month, the state legislature passed something called Public Act 11-135, which took the terrible step of delaying the move to improve the state’s mediocre high school graduation standards. As part of the law, state legislators wrote in language that exempts seven schools, called CommPACT schools, from the state’s Parent Trigger law. Essentially, those schools aren’t required to assemble school governance councils, the vehicles by which parents can exercise the Parent Trigger and push for the overhaul of failing schools.

By the way: Six of the seven CommPACT schools — M.D. Fox in Hartford, Barnum School and Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Hill Central Music Academy in New Haven, and Washington Elementary and West Side Middle School in Waterbury — were among the first schools that had to put school governance councils in place by November of this year; Barnum, Bassick and Hill Central should have had them in place already.

Members on the state committee charged with overseeing the implementation of the state’s Parent Trigger law were kindly informed about this after the law was passed.

Now, why would the CommPACT schools be exempted from the state’s Parent Trigger law? In theory, the schools are run by parents, teachers and other community members. But given that the Nutmeg State’s AFT and NEA affiliates are intensely involved in the management of the CommPACT schools — with the executive director of the NEA affiliate and four other union leaders holding seats on the 13-member advisory board — the exemption isn’t surprising. While each of the CommPACT schools has a board that consists of principals, teachers union officials, community members and parents, there is no capacity for families to push through an overhaul if they think any of the schools need a fix.

This is a shame because while some of the CommPACT schools such as Longfellow School in Bridgeport are having some success in improving student achievement so far (with just 22 percent of 7th graders reading Below Basic on the state’s achievement test in 2009-2010 versus 46 percent of them as sixth-graders a year earlier), other schools aren’t making the grade. At M.D. Fox School in Hartford, for example, 66 percent of fifth graders read Below Basic in 2009-2010, versus 57 percent of them as fourth-graders the year before. At Hill Central Music Academy in New Haven, 73 percent of fifth-graders read Below Basic in 2009-2010, versus 46 percent of them as fourth-graders the previous year.

By exempting the CommPACT schools from the state’s Parent Trigger law, the state has essentially taken power away from parents that they deserve. Once again, poor and minority families get less than their due. But let’s be clear: This wasn’t the only failure with this bill. State legislators voted for Public Law 11-135 even though organizations such as ConnCAN  had steadfastly opposed its other provisions, which included delaying the implementation of the new high school graduation standards approved last year. That the state legislature passed everything contained in the legislation — including the weakening of Parent Power — and that Gov. Dan Malloy signed it speaks plenty about the Nutmeg State’s seriousness about reforming education so that all kids, including those from poor and minority households — can succeed in school and life.

Of course, Connecticut Parents Union President Gwen Samuel (who kindly provided the information to Dropout Nation) isn’t exactly pleased with this legislation; expect it to be challenged next year during the state’s special legislative session on education. Once again, as I note in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, the lessons for Parent Power activists and school reformers everywhere are simple: Play the political game smartly; rally the grassroots; ask smart questions; and hold politicians accountable.

August 7, 2011 standard

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I take a look back at last week’s revelation of the American Federation of Teachers’ cynical strategizing against Parent Trigger laws and school reform, then explain how reformers and activists can turn that cynicism to their advantage. Becoming more-politically savvy can advance the systemic reforms our kids need to succeed in school and life.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player, smartphone, Nook Color or Kindle.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also download to your phone with BlackBerry podcast software and Google Reader.

August 6, 2011 standard

As everyone thinks over revelations of the AFT’s strategy to do end-runs around Parent Trigger laws and Parent Power efforts, it is a good time to remember that the opposition to a strong role for parents in education runs deep in its DNA. And the incident that would long-plague the union’s reputation with black and minority parents (as well as end a previous era of muscular school reform) offers numerous lessons for Parent Power activists and school reformers alike. Read Editor RiShawn Biddle’s Best of Dropout Nation piece from March, think through the lessons, listen to podcasts on building Parent Power and consider what can be done to make families the lead decision-makers in education they deserve to be.

The Ocean Hill-Brownsville teachers’ union strike of 1968 is best-remembered as one of the moments when the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association became the most-dominant players in education policy. It showed that teachers unions were willing to mobilize and stop classroom instruction in order to achieve their goal of making teaching the most-lucrative public sector profession. It is also the moment that ended a muscular form of American philanthropy that began earlier in the 20th century with the construction of libraries by Andrew Carnegie; outrage over the role of the Ford Foundation in spurring the school reform effort that led to the AFT strike resulted in the first significant federal regulations over foundations.

But for those studying the history of family engagement in education, Ocean Hill-Brownsville is also a critical moment. The efforts of the AFT and the response of state and New York City school officials to the strike made clear the reality that parents were expected to be seen and not heard. And 41 years later, the lessons for school reformers — and particularly, for parent power advocates — is clear: Those who have influence in education will behave amorally in attempting to keep it (especially if they have legal standing to do so). And it will take mass mobilization, energy and strategic thinking to force parents and families into their rightful role as kings and lead decision-makers in education at every level.

When the AFT began the first of its strikes in May 1968, it was ostensibly over the removal of 13 teachers (along with six administrators) that the mostly-black parent- and community-controlled board Ocean Hill-Brownsville board deemed incompetent and unwilling to go along with the decentralization plan. Even though the teachers were still employed by the New York City Board of Education (and would be allowed to keep their jobs, albeit sitting in offices at the school system’s main offices in Brooklyn), the AFT argued that the teachers were denied due process. The president of the AFT local, future national AFT president Albert Shanker, declared that he would oppose the firing any way he can.

But the strike was just the most-public step in a battle between school reformers of the time such as Ford Foundation — who wanted to give black parents an alternative to the woeful traditional public education system and the ability to be the lead decision-makers in schools — and the AFT, which wanted to ensure that their recently-won influence over school decisions remained intact. The AFT initially supported the effort to carve out Ocean Hill-Brownsville and two other decentralized school systems from the rest of the New York City school district, but then opposed the effort when Ocean Hill-Brownsville and other districts asserted that they had the management right to transfer teachers to and from the district regardless of seniority. Although Ocean Hill-Brownsville was not exactly the place where the mostly-white AFT rank-and-file teachers would want to be, the fact that the district’s board would even dare to assert power just a few years after the AFT won its influence (in an earlier strike) was to the union and its leadership, just too bold to let stand. From where the union sat, its influence (and to a lesser extent, ability to protect teachers from wrongful firings) were more important than the right of parents to actually improve education for their kids by any means necessary.

So when Ocean Hill-Brownsville moved to transfer the 13 teachers most-resistant to the new regime, the AFT demanded their return (the teachers, by the way, refused to even report to work at the Board of Education’s offices). When the community board and district boss Rhody McCoy, refused, the AFT began strikes and litigation to force Ocean Hill-Brownsville to bring the teachers back into their jobs.

Over the next few months, the parent power effort was ground down into ashes. New York City Mayor John Lindsey, who initially backed the creation of the districts, demanded that Ocean Hill-Brownsville reinstate the teachers; the New York City Board of Education’s superintendent, Bernard Donovan, also demanded the same. By June, an independent examiner ruled in favor of the AFT and reinstated the teachers back into the district. Only the refusal by McCoy and the board refused to let the teachers back in prolonged the battle. They had the backing of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville community, who naturally (and legitimately) saw both the AFT and the New York City powers that be as being thoroughly opposed to letting black parents actually have a say in running schools. When Ocean Hill-Brownsville shut down three schools where the removed teachers had worked in order to keep them out (a move which was not smart or good for kids), parents improvised by starting their own schools in storefronts and in homes around the area.

By September, New York State’s Education Department stepped in to mediate the dispute, pushing for both Ocean Hill-Brownsville and the AFT to split the proverbial baby. But neither was willing to do so. But the battle was already lost. Ocean Hill-Brownsville and the parents who backed them were opposed not only by the union and city and state officials. The Big Apple’s white (and often union-friendly) residents, already annoyed by efforts to force integration of the schools their kids attended (and angered by the city’s overall decline in quality-of-life), were more than willing to back the AFT (which they saw as force for merit) than black parents (with whom they often didn’t socialize in settings other than work). The fact that these kids had long been denied a high-quality education as defined at the time didn’t factor into the thinking of these adults (or into that of the AFT and the officials backing them).

By November, the state managed to replace the Ocean Hill-Brownsville board with a trustee and brought the teachers back onto the job. Although the AFT didn’t look good to civil rights activists or black families at the time, it didn’t matter because it advanced its growing influence. Besides getting the teachers back on the job, the AFT also wrung out an agreement that bound all the districts to its version of due process. The Ocean Hill-Brownsville effort fizzled into the New York City school bureaucracy and would get trapped in a cycle of incompetence and academic failure that would only begin to cease a decade ago with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful takeover of the system.

It’s easy to just blame the AFT. But the union didn’t act alone. The school decentralization concept was flawed from the get-go, largely because the central school system never really let go of its power; the teachers were still employees of the system, and the powers to transfer teachers were never really clarified in any way. The better move would have been to essentially pursue what would be now called the creation of charter schools, which would sever the bureaucracy from the operation of schools, forcing those who operate them to actually serve parents and kids. But that idea was not one that would have come to mind at the time. And given the unwillingness of all the players in education decision-making to hand real power to parents, it was a miracle that Ocean Hill-Brownsville even got a chance to exist.

More than four decades later, Ocean Hill-Brownsville still remain as relevant as ever, largely because the same battles fought then are happening now.

Even before Ocean Hill-Brownsville, teachers unions, school boards, superintendents and administrators considered parents and the groups that represented them to be little more than tools for their co-opting. As Temple University Professor William W. Cutler III noted in Parents and Schools: The 150-year struggle for control in American education, parents groups such as the United Parents Association in New York City were often enlisted as partners to further their goals and little else. Giving parents real power — especially the Virginia Walden Fords, Malkin Dares and other noisy parent power activists — was never in their plans. The fact that many of the early groups that arose to represent parents were run by middle-class women whose desire to improve the lot of poor kids were mixed in with their own disdain for their parents also played a part in this co-opting.

By the time of Ocean Hill-Brownsville, a generation of what we would now call Parent Power activists realized that they were getting the short end of the stick in education policy and practice. But at that time, there were few tools available to wage a strong fight. Thanks to the emergence of charter schools, vouchers and the efforts to hold schools and teachers accountable for performance through the modern school reform movement, Parent Power can now become a reality. So has the re-emergence of muscular philanthropy, this in the form of the efforts of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. None of this is music to the ears of those currently holding court at decision-making tables.

The opposition of the AFT and NEA to the expansion of charter schools — the most-successful form of school choice, family engagement and Parent Power currently in existence — is as much about the ability of the two unions to maintain their now-dwindling influence over education decisions as it is about the fact that the schools have largely avoided thorough unionization. School vouchers are even less beloved by the unions. For their allies among education traditionalists — including suburban districts and supposed civil rights activists such as Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation — the idea that parents should even have some modicum of influence over instruction and curriculum, much less full power, is an anathema to their limited, often wrong-headed vision of what American public education should be.

As parents in Compton, Calif., attempting to use the state’s Parent Trigger law to force out the school district’s control of McKinley Elementary School have also found out, the battles will not be easy. Beside the combined resources of the district and its AFT local, there is the reality that state laws and regulations governing education often act as much protection for the status quo. As seen in other school reform debates — including over the use of reverse seniority layoff rules — it doesn’t matter that kids are hurt by keeping bad policies in place. This isn’t to say that defenders of traditional public education practices don’t care about children; you have to take people at their word and besides, I think many of them do. But the choices and the policies they support belie their convictions.

Let’s be plain and clear: The efforts to deny parents power in education is absolutely shameful. After all, traditionalists often demand parents to be fully engaged in education, yet are so unwilling to let them play roles beyond staffing field trips and working with kids on homework. It is wrong from both a civil rights and systemic reform of education perspective. If education is the greatest civil rights and human rights issue of our generation, we can’t improve the system without bringing parents and families on board as leading players; from a systems theory perspective, you also need parents in order to make things happen.

Most importantly, from a religious and ethical humanist perspective, denying parent power in education is purely immoral and unethical. Parents and families are charged with being the nurturers and caretakers of their children; arguing that this role doesn’t extend into actual decision-making in education (even as they are bashed by status quo defenders for a lack of engagement) violates every tenet in every religious and ethical text on the planet. And considering that this denial of parent power hurts children from poor and minority families — the ones subjected to the worst public education offers — worst of all, it is means that these kids are being sentenced to poverty and prison.

As Dropout Nation declared in this Sunday’s podcast, our kids get one shot every day to get the high-quality education they need to write their own stories. Their parents cannot on the sidelines waiting for so-called experts to spur reform. They must exercise power in education. And there is no basis, moral or otherwise, to deny it to them.

For parents and other grassroots school reformers, along with reformers in the Beltway and running charter schools, they have the moral right (along with the right as taxpayers) to reform American public education. But they must heed the lessons from Ocean Hill-Brownsville to be successful: They must be as masterful in understanding and shaping the legislative and rule-making processes as they are at getting signatures for petitions. They must fully educate parents about what high-quality education should look like and how to expand influence. It is as important to play the public relations game as it is to pursue what is right. And it is critical to hold politicians accountable for school reform; those who oppose reform should be voted out swiftly.

It is high time for parents to be seen, heard and felt in education. We can’t wait for traditionalists to open doors. It’s time to blast them open. And it is important to take the lessons of Ocean Hill-Brownsville and use them to build Parent Power.

August 5, 2011 standard
Photo courtesy of the Daily News

Dropout Nation’s revelations that the American Federation of Teachers aren’t all that fond of the Parent Power movement and other elements of the nation’s overall school reform movement has shattered Randi Weingarten’s three-year-long effort at triangulating reform. For the union and its charming, cunning president, it will be more-difficult to convince the public that they welcome parents to the table of education decision-making. And the rank-and-file won’t be too pleased either.

But the “Diffused Parent Trigger” affair (their misspelling, not ours) also proves lie to one of the biggest myths perpetuated by education traditionalists: That their efforts to defend even the most-atrocious of traditional public education practices is simply a homegrown grassroots affair fighting against supposedly “corporate” school reformers interested in filthy lucre. The very anti-intellectualism of this mythology — based on the failure to realize that the entrepreneurs and corporate institutions are the very reasons why America has a high standard of living, are the ones who provide the tax revenues that sustain American public education, and finance the very institutions that give education traditionalists their jobs — makes such statements rather ridiculous. More importantly, this myth fails to consider the reality that education traditionalists are themselves defenders of an institutional, or, I’ll dare say, corporate, culture.

Consider this: At the national level, the AFT, along with the NEA, generate $622 million a year in dues — and this is the tip of the iceberg. When one drills down into the finances of all of their affiliates, the two unions are billion-dollar organizations with the sizeable staffs that one would find in the average corporation. Weingarten and her counterpart, Dennis Van Roekel, are just as well-paid as their counterparts in the corporate world (and not just the S&P 500 companies unions tend to focus on, but the average CEO, who makes in the $350,000 range):  Weingarten earned $428,284 in 2010,while Van Roekel was paid $397,721. Their respective executive team members also make six-figures sums, with Weingarten’s second-in-command, Loretta Johnson commanding $198,065 a year, while her NEA counterpart, Lilly Eskelson, gets $326,563.

Like their peers in the corporate world, the two unions devote countless hours developing strategies aimed at maximizing their core mission — serving their shareholders and customers, who, given that they are teachers, are one and the same. As with any business, they pay special attention to their controlling shareholders and most-loyal (and highest-spending) customers, Baby Boomers in the teaching corps, even though they make up a declining share of the shareholder and customer base. (Whether or not they are actually serving their customers and shareholders well is an open question; but then, most of them have no choice but to pay their dues). This includes developing marketing strategies such as touting that AFT and NEA affiliates are the only ones who can ensure that teachers are well-paid (and that school reform efforts are inferior, and in fact, dangerous to their incomes and careers), public relations activities such as endorsing (and financing half of the $100,000 budget for) last week’s Save Our Schools rally, and even corporate social responsibility activities such as donating millions to organizations whose views ostensibly dovetail with their own such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

And as with any business entity or institution, teachers unions always make sure that they continue to perpetuate their existence. Which means embracing branding and marketing strategies that advance their image. In their case, they promote the public image that they welcome family engagement and that they want to partner with them in order to improve education for all kids. And, as with Corporate America, they understand the importance of lobbying, public policy and campaigning in sustaining their business. It is why the two unions have become the biggest players in American campaign politics, handing off $292 million in donations between 2000 and 2011, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. And why the AFT and the NEA strongly opposes any effort to allow parents to be the lead decision-makers in education; it is a threat to their interests and, in their view, the very survival of their institutions.

In short, the NEA and the AFT are corporate traditional education institutions. They are not the only one. From traditional school districts (whose superintendents are often paid as well as Weingarten and Van Roekel) to university colleges of education (a $7 billion sector whose members train nearly all of the nation’s teachers), traditional public education’s defenders are about as corporately-driven as peers in the private and non-profit sectors. the more-independent of traditional educationalists are still just as tied up in the corporate/institutional landscape as those who work directly for institutions. From Diane Ravitch (who collects tidy sums from her gig at New York University, book royalties and  speeches before traditional educationalists) to conspiracy theorist Mike Klonsky (who runs the small schools effort out of the University of Illinois, Chicago), and Kevin Welner (whose National Education Policy Center has counted on NEA support, and who also serves on the board of the union’s foundation arm), the idea that these folks are just mom-and-pop advocates is just plain hilarious.

What isn’t so funny is their opposition to reforming American public education so that all children can write their own stories. Their sclerotic unwillingness to abandon practices and mythologies that are failures is a detriment to our kids. And the tactics they engage in to sustain it (even as they talk a good game) pretty much casts them as cynical ciphers supporting a failed amoral vision that condemns 1.2 million children a year to poverty, prison and despair. While I believe that they care for the lives of children, their beliefs and dogmas do not match with their tactics and actions. And this is especially infuriating when it comes to how they treat poor and minority parents and their children, who deserve better than condescension, dismissal and disdain.

Anything wrong with being corporate or institutional? Certainly not. Unless one is independently wealthy, everyone — including entrepreneurs, middle-managers, and advocates– depends on customers, clients and employers for their sustenance. But it is funny that education traditionalists don’t realize the hypocrisy inherent in their anti-corporate rhetoric — and, even after this week’s revelations, that they continue to be dismissive of Parent Power activists. Especially when they call themselves parent advocates. School reformers should consistently call out education traditionalists for the blatant mismatch between their message and what they actually support.

August 4, 2011 standard

Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Post

As you read more about the battles over Parent Power, feel free to listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast from last May on why we need to bring families to their rightful places as kings and lead decision-makers in education. Now, more than ever, the disdain shown towards parents — including those from poor and minority communities — must end in order to end the nation’s education and dropout crises.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player, smartphone, Nook Color or Kindle.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also download to your phone with BlackBerry podcast software and Google Reader. Also, listen to this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast on the five questions every parent should ask.