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July 17, 2014 standard

Traditionalists will do anything to defend tenure laws giving teachers near-lifetime employment, even amid evidence that all it does is protect laggard and criminally abusive teachers from being sacked from classrooms. Especially now that the California Superior Court ruling in Vergara v. California, which effectively ends tenure, is now leading school reformers and Parent Power activists to file similar suits in the rest of the nation. Especially for the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, upon which their influence over education policy — and the grand bargain they struck decades ago with classroom teachers that fills their coffers to the tune of $708 million a year — is partly based, any effort to end near-lifetime employment is anathema.

So it isn’t shocking that Arthur Goldstein, an AFT union boss at Francis Lewis High School in New York City, took to the pages of the Daily News to defend tenure. But unlike his fellow NEA and AFT leaders, he didn’t bother to make the usual argument that tenure merely ensures that teachers are kept from being unfairly fired. This time, Goldstein offered a novel, yet absurd, defense of near-lifetime employment: That it allows teachers to be whistleblowers and defenders of kids in schools. The problem? The evidence doesn’t support his case.

Pointing to his own personal efforts as a teacher to help out English Language Learner students who had long been neglected by the Big Apple district, Goldstein argues that near-lifetime employment allows for him to be a strong advocate for the kids in his care without fear of reprisals by craven school leaders. Goldstein also argues that denying tenure can force teachers working hard for kids to be forced out of schools. Writes Goldstein: “[Teaching] is a tough job, and despite what you read in the papers, it also entails advocating for our students, your kids, whether or not the administration is comfortable with it.”

Let’s say this: It’s admirable that Goldstein looks out for the kids in his care. This is what all teachers should be doing. On this, he deserves our thanks. But Goldstein’s claim that he could only do this because near-lifetime employment rules keep him from being fired isn’t exactly so. As a civil servant, he is already covered under New York State’s civil service law, which provides rather reasonable protections against unfair dismissals by laggard leaders. In fact, if the New York City Parent’s Union’s Vergara suit (along with that being filed by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Equality) succeed in eviscerating tenure, Big Apple teachers would still be protected from unfair firings. NEA and AFT leaders cannot argue legitimately why teachers should be granted protections that go far beyond those given to police officers and firefighters (who endanger their lives daily and are subjected to far harsher politicking), much less other civil servants and those of us in the private sector.

There’s also the reality that Goldstein would still be protected from unfair firings if traditional teacher evaluations — which use subjective observations from school leaders with their biases (and who may themselves lack the skills to teach effectively) — were replaced with objective evaluations that use both test score growth data , student surveys similar to the Tripod student perception survey developed by Harvard’s Ronald Ferguson and Cambridge Education, and evidence of teachers undertaking successful efforts to help their students succeed. By getting rid of observations that are going to be biased and subject teachers to the predations of principals looking for revenge, good and great teachers are protected from harm to their careers. [The same kind of strong evaluations can also rid districts of incompetent school leaders who attempt vengeance on those teachers.]

Meanwhile Goldstein fails to admit is that not every teacher does this for their children. In fact, near-lifetime employment rules, along with teacher dismissal policies and the greater concern of NEA and AFT affiliates for maintaining their influence at the cost of children’s futures, even criminally abusive teachers can keep their jobs.

Some 97 Big Apple teachers and other school employees were charged with sexual misconduct over the past five years. Yet, thanks to arbitrators who are essentially appointed by the AFT’ local — along with the union’s zealous defense of those teachers regardless of guilt — the likelihood of them ever getting fired can often be remote. One teacher, Steven Ostrin, who was found guilty of sexually harassing students and even propositioning one of his young women students for a striptease; yet he was only given a  six-month suspension and a reprimand for what would be considered a firing offense in the private and even much of the public sector. [He would eventually retire.] Another criminally laggard instructor, Andrew Troup of Public School 96 in the Bronx, kept his job in spite of being found to have professed his infatuation to one of his students.

The obstacles to firing laggard and criminally abusive teachers can be even harder in other states. One of the reasons why the families of nine Southern California children behind Vergara pushed so hard is because of the Golden State’s dismissal rules, which requires a district to spend as long as seven years (and as much as $7 million) to go through a process that involves 10 different steps — including appeals before a three-person panel of the state’s Professional Competence commission that is largely slated in favor of NEA and AFT, and state courts — until a dismissal is either finalized or tossed out. Even then, incompetent teachers could keep their jobs. Two years ago, L.A. Unified was told that they had to keep special education teacher Matthew Kim on the job despite evidence of harassing female counterparts and propositioning his students. The byzantine steps, along with the length of time it takes to conduct a dismissal, and the high cost of doing so, explain why just 100 dismissal hearings were heard between 1996 and 2005, according to the Golden State’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Meanwhile there is little evidence that tenure gives teachers the freedom to cross the thin chalk line of silence that often protects laggards and criminally abusive teachers from damaging children, both academically and otherwise. This was clear in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where former teacher Mark Berndt was allowed to engage in at least 21 acts of what prosecutors call “lewd conduct” against children at Miramonte Elementary School over the course of his three-decade-long career. Not only did few teachers at Miramonte inform on Berndt, they even remained silent about the alleged criminal abuse of another colleague, Martin Springer, who also engaged in lewd conduct against another student. [Springer's charges were dismissed only after the parents of the child said she was too traumatized to testify at trial.] Berndt was only removed from L.A. Unified classrooms after the district paid him $40,000 just in order to get him to drop his appeal of its dismissal.

If anything, near-lifetime employment rules actually encourage silence among teachers about abuse to children by their colleagues. One reason: Because even the most-honorable teachers know that even if they report acts of criminal abuse, their colleagues can end up keeping their jobs. The possibility of reprisals against them from those teachers and those laggards willing to protect them is more than enough to keep them silent unless they are willing to risk their careers to do the right thing. Another reason is that tenure ends up fostering cultures of academic neglect and abuse in the first place. When laggard teachers know that they can keep their jobs, they are willing to aid and abet even the worst among them; after all, low expectations lead to even worse consequences.

This was made clear last year in Rochester, N.Y., where Matthew LoMaglio was convicted of second degree sexual conduct against a minor for criminally abusing an eight-year-old boy who attended School 19. Not only did teachers at the school fail to cooperate in the criminal investigation against LoMaglio — and the school leader failed to report the allegations to police as required by law — his former colleagues even wrote letters begging for leniency on his behalf to the judge presiding over his case.

Certainly you can’t just fire your way to high-quality education for kids. That’s why reformers focus so hard on overhauling how we recruit, train, manage, and reward teachers. But the status quo can’t remain ante. You can’t build cultures of genius that help all kids succeed as well as keep good and great teachers working in classrooms when near-lifetime employment rules keep even criminally abusive teachers in classrooms. And you can’t stem an education crisis that condemns 120 kids every hour to poverty, prison, and even mental anguish, if laggards and criminally-minded teachers know they can never be fired.

It is high time that we end tenure and near-lifetime employment for teachers. Our children deserve better than this.



July 16, 2014 standard

Reformers took plenty of pleasure earlier this last week when Indiana Inspector General David Thomas announced that his office cleared former Supt. Tony Bennett of alleged corruption involving his move two years ago to amend the state’s A-to-F grading system, and which affected the ratings of 13 schools (including one whose founder was a donor to Bennett’s re-election campaign). In many ways, it is understandable. Yet reformers must still remember that the clearing of Bennett’s name on corruption charges does not excuse the bad decisions he made which led to this fiasco in the first place.

As you may remember, Bennett, who had moved on from the Hoosier State’s chief school officer job to become Florida’s superintendent, was forced to resign from that job after revelations of the move by Associated Press writer Tom LoBianco (based on e-mails likely leaked to him by Glenda Ritz, who defeated Bennett for the job) led to calls for his head from both traditionalists and opponents of Common Core reading and math standards such as Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute. The validity of Bennett’s decision (if not the lack of transparency involved) was vindicated a month later when a Hoosier State legislative team concluded that he made “plausible” adjustments that were geared to address concerns from school operators that the new grading system didn’t measure school performance in a fair and accurate manner. But traditionalists and Common Core foes still continued to accuse Bennett of behaving in a corrupt manner, while some reformers such as Ann Hyslop of the New America Foundation still thought that Bennett engaged in “grade inflation” for a select number of schools.

Yet as Thomas has noted, there was no evidence that Bennett amended the grades as a favor to Christel House Academy South, whose founder, Christel De Haan, gave to his unsuccessful re-election campaign. In fact, the investigation validated the statements by Bennett and his allies that the move was done to deal with the variations for 165 schools with a nontraditional kindergarten to 10th grade format, as well the state legislature’s own report. Bennett only ended up being fined $5,000 for asking state education department staffers to compile lists of key donors (as well as their decision to store that list on the agency’s computers). Certainly Bennett shouldn’t be excused for this bad judgment. But this is hardly evidence of corrupt behavior.

In light of this latest clearing of Bennett’s name, you can understand why reformers are calling out traditionalists, Common Core foes, and their more-skeptical fellow-travelers for beating up on him. American Enterprise Institute education czar Rick Hess bemoaned in his Education Week column about how they engaged in the kind of “politics of personal destruction” that is beyond the pale of political battles, especially those involving systemic reform. Thomas B. Fordham Institute honcho Mike Petrilli went further, demanding on Twitter that Hyslop and Carey walk back their critiques of Bennett’s conduct.

Both men are right, at least on this: Traditionalists and Common Core foes who insinuated that the grade-letter change was driven by corrupt motivations — including the intellectual charlatan Diane Ravitch, Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute (who called for Bennett’s resignation from his now-former post as Florida’s education commissioner), and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin — should apologize for rushing to judgment. What they did was intellectually unacceptable and morally wrong. All of us should follow the Golden Rule, and one aspect of that is to not make accusations before all facts are in evidence. I don’t expect any of these folks to apologize. Particularly for Common Core foes such as Stergios, taking out Bennett was a victory for their cause of opposing the standards. [Let's not even bother with the once-respectable Ravitch.] May God rest all of their souls.

Pioneer Institute boss Jim Stergios is among a rogues’ gallery of folks who should’ve been less willing to pillory Bennett on false charges of corruption.

Meanwhile Hyslop should have been a little more circumspect in calling Bennett’s move grade inflation. Sure, Hyslop was right to critique the lack of transparency surrounding Bennett’s decision to amend the grades. [More later] Hyslop was have also been on high ground to criticize how Bennett and his staff addressed the issues inherent within the A-to-F grading approach the state was implementing, and that he championed. But Hyslop should have also been more circumspect in her judgment until all the evidence came out. [Editor's Note: Hyslop tells us that she eventually wrote in a New America piece published that the reasons behind Bennett's move was "plausible" but it was still a decision that weakened public confidence in accountability.]

There are two other people who should also be called out for their conduct. The first is LoBianco, whose reporting led to the sliming of Bennett’s character. As I noted last year, his reporting incomplete and lacking in strong analysis. He failed to provide good journalism by not noting that Bennett was dealing with questions among traditional district bureaucrats and charter school operators about the validity of the A-to-F grading system since February 2012, when a dry run by Bennett’s staff showed wide swings in performance. LoBianco also did a shoddy job of reporting. He should have gone beyond the e-mails leaked to him by Ritz and asked current and former state education department staffers about the technical issues surrounding implementation of A-to-F grading. Finally, by failing to address the political motivations behind the e-mails being supplied to him — including Ritz’s battles with reformers over her attempts to roll back Bennett’s efforts — LoBianco didn’t act like a reporter shining light on complex issues.He, in effect, became little more than a political arms dealer, at best, and in the minds of some, a Mike Sitrick-like attack flack working for Ritz while on the payroll of an objective media outlet.

Then there’s Ritz, who started the entire character jihad against Bennett (and against Hoosier State reformers) in the first place. By leaking those e-mails to LoBianco instead of providing the information to the public in a more-honest fashion, Ritz behaved not as a public servant, but as a vengeful politician who only has her own self-interest in mind. By starting this act of character assassination against Bennett, Ritz essentially showed her own bad character. The good news, if one can call it that, is that Ritz is now paying her own price for engaging in politics of personal destruction. Her battles with both the reform-minded state board of education and the otherwise-useless Gov. Mike Pence has essentially weakened her ability to advance her agenda; her decision to spend $100,000 of state money to renovate her office — money that Bennett had redirected during his tenure to focus on improving student achievement — has also shown that she has no interest in helping all kids succeed. Hopefully, Ritz will lose office in two years.

Yet reformers cannot act as if Bennett was blameless. While Bennett clearly didn’t engage in bad behavior, he made the kind of bad judgments that weakens the efforts of reformers to transform public education for all children. And as a moral movement, we cannot dismiss or excuse it.

Bennett amended the grades in order to deal with problems with implementation of the A-to-F grading system as well as to avoid the likely public backlash that would come with it. Bennett’s faulty decision was also driven by another problem in his leadership: The loss of critical staff needed to address the information technology and other technical aspects of implementing the A-to-F grading system. As the Hoosier State General Assembly’s report pointed out, the Indiana State Department of Education lost three key staffers within a year of initial implementation. That brain drain, along with the apparent lack of information technology manpower within the agency, led to a series of snafus (including the aforementioned failure to eliminate the cap on student achievement growth that could count against the grades) that,along with Bennett’s aggressive deadline to put the accountability system in place by October 2012 and the underlying complexity of the accountability itself, led to Bennett’s hasty decision.

What Bennett should have done is slow down implementation. Certainly that would have been hard for him to do. After all, aggressively putting reforms in place is critical to making them stick. But in light of the loss of talent, Bennett should have announced that the agency wouldn’t release the results until November of 2012 in order to work out the kinks of implementation. Just as importantly, he should have made all of his decision-making — especially on the grade change — transparent and public, with full explanations for his decisions, and a willingness to take the heat for doing the job of properly informing all.

But by continuing on a needlessly aggressive path of implementation, Bennett sowed the seeds for another bad decision that he probably rues to this day. By not making his decision-making transparent and public, Bennett gave his opponents the ability to paint his actions in an even worse light than they deserved.

The consequences ended up being politically grave. Not only did he end up allowing his opponents to damage his reputation, he also  jeopardized systemic reform efforts in Indiana, Florida and the rest of the nation. Bennett’s decision to not be transparent about the grade changes had hampered efforts to provide high-quality data that families, policymakers, researchers, and others can use to make smart decisions. As is, A-to-F grading wasn’t exactly ready for prime time. But Bennett’s decision and the controversy arising from it has raised even more questions about its validity as well as that of other accountability systems, playing into the hands of traditionalists and districts who want the status quo to remain ante.

Particularly on Common Core implementation, Bennett’s decision gave foes of the standards a tool to force him out of public office, and, in the process, get rid of another prominent supporter for high-quality standards that can help all kids, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds, get the college-preparatory curricula they need and deserve. Bennett’s presence in advocating for Common Core would have been especially helpful in Indiana, where legislators moved this year to kibosh their implementation.

Reformers have to remember that one bad decision can have so many devastating consequences. They must also remember that while the behavior of Ritz and others is deplorable, it is also coin of the realm. Education will always be subject to political gamesmanship. So conduct becoming is the best weapon against such machinations, especially since reformers are going to be the first to call out the bad decisions of traditionalists. If Bennett was transparent in his decision-making in the first place, opponents wouldn’t have no weapon to use.

Ultimately, reformers must remember that like born-again Christians, we have publicly declared that we behave and conduct ourselves differently than those who defend traditionalist thinking. Because of our public declaration, and our dedication to the movement’s moral mission, we cannot engage in the same type of behavior and excuse-making as traditionalists who excuse policies and practices that condemn the futures of our children. This means that we cannot excuse Bennett’s bad decision-making even as we rightfully criticize traditionalists and Common Core foes for their wrongful rush to judgment.

Your editor hopes that Bennett returns to the public stage, has learned from his mistakes, and once again take his well-deserved place as one of the nation’s foremost reform-minded state education leaders. Bennett certainly deserves criticism for how he handled the grade change. But we will all make mistakes and deserve second chances. Now, more than ever, we need bold champions for the systemic reforms our children need. And as a movement, reformers need to learn the lessons from this fiasco even as we properly celebrate Bennett’s vindication.

July 15, 2014 standard

Once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch has long ago proven that she’ll plumb any depths of intellectual charlatanism and moral demagoguery — even to the point of engaging in blatant race-baiting and politicizing tragedy. So it isn’t shocking to your editor that Ravitch attempted to denigrate the views of former CNN anchor-turned-school reform advocate Campbell Brown in an interview with the Washington Post by claiming that her efforts to end near-lifetime job security for laggard teachers and overhaul teacher dismissal laws aren’t worth considering (and, in fact, “illogical”) because she is “telegenic” and “pretty”. Having already engaged in racism back in May when she wrote that 50CAN honcho and new-era civil rights activist Derrell Bradford should go into “sports or finance or broadcasting”, Ravitch’s sexist remarks against Brown are just another example of her despicable shamelessness.

Your editor doesn’t need to defend Brown. For one, she’s proven more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the likes of Ravitch, and Jonathan Chait of New York has already gone to bat for her. There’s also the fact that Ravitch just doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Her racial myopia and racialism (along with her dilettantism) has been apparent since she dismissed black families in Ocean Hill-Brownsville attempting to become lead decision-makers in the Big Apple’s traditional district in 1972?s The Great School Wars: A history of New York City schools. So I expect nothing less from the likes of her.

What will be interesting is the reaction from hardcore progressive traditionalists — who as much proclaim themselves to be feminists as they call themselves opponents of racialism — to Ravitch’s latest remarks. If the past is any guide, it is more than likely that traditionalists will not only not call Ravitch on the carpet for her remarks, they will even defend them because Brown is one of those so-called corporate education reformers who are threatening their ideology and finances.

After all, they defended Ravitch after reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute called her out for racialist remarks against Bradford. A year earlier, they defended another demagogue within their camp, American Federation of Teachers honcho-turned-Albert Shanker Institute boss Leo Casey, after he raised the specter of antisemitism against Brown by accusing her of committing a “blood libel” against teachers by calling out the union and its Big Apple affiliate for defending criminally abusive instructors. And they rallied around both Ravitch and Karen Lewis, the president of the AFT’s Chicago Teachers Union, after they both politicized the massacre of 23 teachers and children in Newtown, Conn., as part of their attempt to smear reformers.

So we shouldn’t expect anything less than a broad defense of Ravitch this time around. In fact, you can already see it in the responses to Chait’s critique of her demagoguery. Which proves this reality: Progressive education traditionalists like to claim to be foes of racialism and other social ills — until their own allies commit such nastiness against those whom they oppose. When their allies behave badly, progressive traditionalists will do everything they can to defend them, even when they should be shaming them and demanding them to apologize. As far as these band of traditionalists are concerned, bigotry and sexism is okay so long as it is committed against what they think are the right kind of people.

Simply put, Ravitch’s sleaziness is a reflection of the rather demagogic worldviews of progressives within traditionalist ranks and, in some ways, traditionalists in general, especially when it comes to dealing with minorities and women who dare oppose their failed policies and practices that have harmed kids for decades. Particularly when it comes to blacks, progressive traditionalists only oppose bigotry against them when they follow in lockstep with their ideology. But this shouldn’t be shocking. For all the proclamations from the Ravitch crowd that they care about children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — they continuously defend a system that harms them by perpetuating the legacies of Jim Crow segregation, nativism, and religious bigotry. Which makes all of them anything and everything but progressive.

July 14, 2014 standard

The nicest thing that can be said about the American Federation of Teachers’ latest convention is that it was an amazing display of desperation by a union that has lost considerable influence over education policy. The union’s vote yesterday to call for President Barack Obama to fire Arne Duncan if he didn’t improve (read: do the AFT’s bidding) as much epitomized the union’s fall from power as the National Education Association’s call for the U.S. Secretary of Education’s resignation a week earlier. The union’s efforts at rallying the rank-and-file — from videos declaring its effort to supposedly “Reclaim the Promise” of American public education, to rah-rah speeches from longtime villeins such as once-and-future California Gov. Jerry Brown and Congresswoman Judy Chu — did little to hide the reality that it is politically weak and financially struggling.

But the most-interesting thing about the AFT convention was how far the union and its president, Rhonda Weingarten, has gone to disavow the effort to triangulate school reformers (and embrace only the weakest versions of school reform measures while keeping the status quo quite ante) it has undertaken for the past five years. It passed a resolution that moves away from the union’s always-tepid embrace of modest teacher evaluation reforms and fully calls for opposition to the use of Value Added and student test score growth data in assessing performance. The AFT also disavowed one of the more-admirable aspects of Weingarten’s tenure (and one legendary leader Albert Shanker’s better ideas), by approving an effort to force states to ditch Common Core reading and math standards if they don’t let AFT affiliates effectively weaken them altogether. And Weingarten herself ditched her own past effort to make the AFT seem reasonable in comparison with the more militant NEA by taking up the combative (though less-inflammatory) rhetoric befitting the likes of Karen Lewis, the bellicose boss of the union’s Chicago local.

None of this should be surprising to any reformer or even to any reporter who has spent enough time covering the fight over reforming American public education. Over the past few months, Weingarten has been doing all she can to remake herself into Lewis lite, and backtracking away from her triangulations. This includes announcing in March that the AFT and its foundation wing would no longer take money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, whose eponymous founder spoke before the union’s convention four years ago.

But the AFT convention is another reminder that any hopes of teachers’ unions embracing any aspect of systemic reform — or even that NEA and AFT leaders who embrace some form of it can last long within its ranks — is foolish thinking.

One of the more-naive assumptions of some reformers, particularly centrist and even idiosyncratic progressive Democrats within the movement, is that there are some bosses within the NEA and AFT ranks who will willingly embrace, support, and even lead the overhaul of public education. Heartened over the years by occasional calls for change coming from the mouths of Weingarten and by the efforts on the ground by union bosses such as David Cicarella, the president of the AFT’s New Haven, Conn., local to weed out laggard teachers, centrist Democrat reformers argue that these bosses realize that it is in the enlightened best self-interest of their unions to ditch support for the traditional teacher compensation and seniority-based privileges for which they have long advocated.

Such naivete explains why the Obama Administration has continually promoted case studies of reform-minded school leaders working closely with NEA and AFT locals, why Class Struggle author Steve Brill floated the laughable idea of Weingarten becoming chancellor of New York City’s traditional district three years ago, and why organizations such as Educators4Excellence and Teach Plus — which represent younger, reform-minded teachers who now make up the majority of NEA and AFT rank-and-filers (and are staffed by teachers who are themselves centrist and progressive Democrats) — work so hard to aim to lead reform from within union ranks.

Certainly some of this thinking among Democrat reformers is based on their own affinity, both financial and ideological, for unions; after all, the NEA and AFT have long been the biggest funders (and most-important advocates within the ranks) of the Democratic National Committee. But it is also based on some geniuine, if misguided, beliefs: That there are NEA and AFT bosses who can succeed in rallying support for modest measures from everyone, especially Baby Boomers in classrooms, within their respective rank-and-file; and that they are as concerned as reformers about the futures of children and therefore, willing to risk their unions losing influence and money in order to help all kids succeed.

But recent history has proven that these hopes of reform unionism becoming a thing, as the cool kids say these days, isn’t even possible. This was made clear by Weingarten’s willingness to abandon her own moderate reform rhetoric (and her triangulation strategy) during the AFT’s recent national convention. It has also been seen in the ouster of those few NEA and AFT bosses who have dared to embrace modest reforms. This includes Lewis’ successful ouster of predecessor Marilyn Stewart four years ago, and the sacking of the AFT’s Washington, D.C., local boss, George Parker after he negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with now-former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee that embraced performance-based pay plans and all but ditched seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs. It has also been seen in the moves by NEA and AFT bosses backing some modest reforms — Weingarten’s protege and likely successor as National AFT boss, Michael Mulgrew, for one — to ditch earlier pledges in order to keep their phony baloney jobs.

Why can’t NEA and AFT leaders ever be reliable reformers? For one, the two unions are looking after the interests of Baby Boomers, who, despite their dwindling numbers, remain the most-influential within the rank-and-file. Efforts by reformers along with reform-minded (and, in many cases, budget-conscious) governors to make it harder to attain tenure or abolish near-lifetime employment altogether, along with moves to subject teachers to performance-based evaluations, means that they would lose the benefits for which they have long worked. Sure, Educators4Excellence won a few internal battles — including gaining seats on the governing board of the AFT’s Los Angeles local a few years ago. But Baby Boomers — including those within NEA and AFT leadership, and thus (save for Weingarten, who only taught for 122 days at New York City’s Clara Barton High School over a six-year period before becoming an AFT union boss), are also beneficiaries of traditional teacher compensation) are still in clear control of union activity. And they will do what they can to preserve their interests.

Reform-minded teachers’ union bosses such as George Parker don’t last long in power.

Particularly for AFT leaders, including Weingarten and Mulgrew (whose Progressive and Unity coalitions have controlled the union since the 1940s), keeping retiring Baby Boomers happy is especially key to their power. After all, they are leaving classrooms and becoming the retirees these leaders count upon for votes. Mulgrew made this especially clear in January 2013 when he successfully suppressed the votes of younger teachers and (along with more-militant traditionalists among Baby Boomers) by lifting the cap on retiree participation in elections from 18,000 to 25,300; his move was validated three months later when retirees accounted for 22,462 votes, or 52 percent of all ballots returned during the latest local elections. As seen in the cases of Stewart and Parker (and as former AFT bosses such as A.J. Duffy of the union’s City of Angels local admit), even when union leaders want to admit that seniority-based privileges and even near-lifetime employment for teachers are terrible for kids and great teachers alike, admitting this or even agreeing to measures that end them will lead to loss of power.

The consequence of the focus on NEA and AFT leaders on Baby Boomers (and retirees) has a consequence, especially on participation in union activity by younger teachers. For them, the greater concern of NEA and AFT leaders of advocating for reverse-seniority layoff rules that harm their careers leads them to decide that devoting time to union politics isn’t worth doing. That even those few NEA and AFT leaders who advocate for some modest version of systemic reform continually back other policies that do not help younger teachers — including the defense of defined-benefit pensions from which half of newly-hired teachers will never benefit — has also made them apathetic about even bothering with the unions that take so much of their take-home pay. When you also keep in mind that many AFT locals do everything possible to suppress the voices of younger teachers, there is little reason for younger teachers to bother with union politics other than to occasionally hope that the unions are attending to workplace concerns.

For those NEA and AFT leaders who truly support systemic reform, they end up in situations in which they have no active and engaged constituency who can continually support them even at times when they must battle with the hardcore traditionalists opposed to any change. They end up losing their berths, and eventually, end up outside unions in the reform movement. What about the likes of Weingarten and Mulgrew, who are just cynical politicians who don’t really want reform at all? Scandals such as the Connecticut AFT’s presentation on neutering Parent Power efforts, and AFT honcho-turned-Albert Shanker Institute boss Leo Casey’s “blood libel” smear against former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, end up revealing the phoniness of their efforts to both reformers outside the unions and traditionalist Baby Boomers within them. Since they are ultimately concerned with keeping their power, the Weingartens and Mulgrews will abandon their reformist rhetoric when politically necessary.

But there are other reasons why reform unionism is nothing more than illusion.

There’s the fact that the NEA and AFT continue to cling to an old-school model of employee-management relations — borrowed from industrial unions battling with managers who treated employees as little more than mules capable of only singular tasks — that was never really a fit for the kind of work teachers do in the first place. Certainly teaching was never as bad as factory work. But the concerns faced by the mostly-female teaching corps at that time — that they were never paid accordingly for their performance, that their performance couldn’t be measured in any way, that they could be easily fired for just getting pregnant, and couldn’t count on a secure retirement — were definitely realities. This is why the AFT and the NEA fought successfully for near-lifetime employment through tenure, degree- and seniority-based pay scales, and seniority-based privileges that currently make up traditional teacher compensation. And it is why the two unions have worked so hard to make school districts servile to their demands.

But this old-school industrial union mindset, which never really applied to public education, is especially outmoded in an age in which value-added assessment and standardized testing allows for the success of teachers in improving student achievement can be easily measured; the fact that two decades of studies have proven that value-added stands up to scrutiny is one that NEA and AFT bosses, along with their traditionalist allies, try to dismiss without much in the way of proof. The overwhelming evidence that traditional teacher compensation is ineffective in spurring student achievement, and worthless in attracting aspiring teachers and keeping high-quality instructors in teaching proves the uselessness of the NEA-AFT model. But the two unions continue to embrace this model because it is the source of their influence and financial sustenance. The fact that both the NEA and AFT have become so fearful of the implications of last month’s decision in Vergara v. California ending near-lifetime employment and reverse-seniority layoff rules — including the likelihood that teachers, now realizing that the two unions can no longer hold up bargain they struck with earlier generations in the profession — show how tied they are to this outdated model of unionism.

This unwillingness of NEA and AFT bosses to break with their old-school approach becomes especially understandable when you keep in mind that neither union has much to offer to younger teachers in this day and age. Because the two unions have never really succeeded in providing good and great teachers with the kind of professional development they could use to improve upon their talents, neither of them can prove their ability to help elevate the teaching profession. The opposition of the two unions to performance-based pay and objective data-based teacher evaluations using student test score growth data is driven more by the realization that the teacher dismissal restrictions they support are inherently impediments to professionalism than by an ideological belief that standardized testing has no value in measuring teacher performance. Given these two realities, NEA and AFT affiliate can never adopt the professional association or skill trades guild models found in other high-skilled fields; the unions can’t become that which they never were.

Finally, let’s remember that systemic reform efforts, especially those from centrist Democrats, all lead to the weakening of NEA and AFT influence.  After all, the efforts of centrist Democrats to implement objective teacher evaluations and revamp tenure have the same effect as efforts by conservative reformers and Republican governors to abolish collective bargaining and end the privilege of unions to force teachers to pay dues into their coffers. Even moving teachers away from defined-benefit pensions also weakens NEA and AFT power. Not only do NEA and AFT affiliates lose the ability to promise teachers that they will get comfortable retirements without contributing a single penny of their own cash, they also lose control they have over pensions through board seats on their governing boards. It is why Weingarten has spent the past two years issuing an enemies list of money managers whose bosses are supporters of reform outfits.

For centrist and progressive Democrat reformers, the AFT’s recent convention is another reminder that their desire for reform-minded teachers’ unions isn’t ever going to pass. If anything, the fact that the AFT and NEA have occasionally given in on reforms after losing battle after battle to the movement shows that the only way to get the unions going in any right direction is to continue weakening their influence. This includes supporting efforts by younger teachers to walk away from the NEA and AFT, and start new professional associations that can address their needs by offering professional development and championing teachers to start their own schools. It also means supporting efforts such as that of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to stop NEA and AFT affiliates from forcing teachers regardless of their membership to pay into their coffers.

At the end of the day, reformers must give up on the fanciful notion that NEA and AFT leaders can embrace systemic reform on anything other than a tepid level.

July 11, 2014 standard

This should be a happy time for Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten. After all, the American Federation of Teachers boss is in sunny Los Angeles presiding over this year’s convention. She can also claim that it has increased membership by 50 percent (from 848,323 to 1.6 million between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) even as the rival National Education Association’s ranks declined within that same period. There’s the fact that Dennis Van Roekel’s departure as NEA president makes Weingarten the most-senior leader within the traditionalist camp. And Weingarten can argue that she only has to build upon the AFT’s few successes while her new counterpart as NEA boss, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, is faced with cleaning up Van Roekel’s mess.

But you wouldn’t know Randi had anything to be happy about if you listen to her state of the union speech before today’s convention.

During the speech (which featured a talk show host-style walk-through and a less-than-sincere effort at folksiness with her “welcome home” to the crowd), Weingarten complained that reformers and cost-cutting governors have made “threats” to the lives and livelihoods of teachers and others within AFT membership. She intoned that the union would wage retribution against U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other politicians for supporting last month’s California Superior Court decision in Vergara v. California decision. And in a typical bit of class warfare rhetoric, she bemoaned the “political power” of the wealthy (without, of course, daring to mention the $543,150 she collected in 2012-2013 or the AFT’s vast coffers).

Yet none of Randi’s disappointment should be surprising. This is because she and her fellow AFT bosses have plenty to worry about. These days, the union’s influence over education policymaking, as well as its financial fortunes, are in decline.

Weingarten is presiding over the AFT’s convention in the City of Angels just a month after a California judge handed down his ruling in Vergara v. California ending the near-lifetime employment laws upon which the AFT’s influence (and that of the NEA) is dependent. Especially for the AFT, the ruling makes it even harder for the union, which works in the big cities that are the most-fervent hotbeds for revamping traditional teacher compensation and implementing other reforms), to keep the grand bargain it has long struck with Baby Boomers and other teachers to keep their profession the most-comfortable (as well as best-paid) in the public sector. Particularly for Baby Boomers and hardcore progressives within the AFT’s rank-and-file, the ruling is a reminder of how weak the union has become, and that Weingarten’s unsuccessful efforts to triangulate school reformers has, in their minds, contributed to the problem.

There’s also the fact that the AFT, along with the NEA, were harshly reminded that it can no longer count on unquestioned Democratic Party support. Randi wasn’t likely surprised when outgoing House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member George Miller, long a foe of traditionalists, sent out a letter to his colleagues praising Vergara. But Weingarten was livid when Duncan, the Obama Administration’s point man on education reform, mildly praised the Vergara decision as an opportunity to “build a new framework” for teacher employment that “protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities”. Even worse for Weingarten and the AFT, Duncan didn’t take too kindly to her attempt to shame him into submission; he doubled down on his earlier remarks, arguing that the AFTs (and NEA’s) defense of traditional teacher compensation policies “undercut the public’s confidence in public education.”

The need to boost Democratic Party support — especially given that the AFT (save for its New York State affiliate) has never bothered to cultivate allies among Republicans — explains Weingarten’s announcement today that the union is backing the formation of a Democratic Party pressure group co-chaired by longtime party operative Donna Brazile (whose firm is a recipient of teachers’ union dollars) in order to counter centrist reformers who are now in control of the education policy discussion. Whether or not it will work is another story. After all, Hillary Clinton, who may end up winning the Democratic presidential nomination if she runs for it, helped her husband successfully push for the use of teacher certification tests during his tenure as Arkansas governor in the 1980s. Other likely candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have also been strong reform backers.

Weingarten even learned that even some progressives aren’t on the AFT’s side. Sure, the union can still count on outfits to which it has financed such as Netroots Nation (the latter of which, along with its foundation arm, collected $43,400 from the union in 2012-2013). But the union took a blow last week when former Village Voice writer Wayne Barrett (who has also been a thorn in Weingarten’s side) took aim at the union, its Big Apple local, and even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on the pages of the Daily News for “hijacking the very language of movement politics” in order to keep its influence from waning and its coffers filled. The piece (along with one written this week by former StudentsFirst executive Dmitri Melhorn in The Daily Beast) has once again reminded more-thoughtful progressives that supporting the AFT (as well as the NEA) doesn’t lead to better outcomes for the children and poor families they want to help.

So this weekend, Randi is attempting to use the convention to galvanize the AFT’s campaign to supposedly “Reclaim the Promise” of public education. But given the union’s longstanding support of policies and practices that have harmed kids, especially those from poor and minority backgrounds attending traditional district schools the union’s locals have long dominated, neither it nor Weingarten can claim to be working to reclaim a promise it never made.

Meanwhile the AFT is attempting to reclaim its financial condition. That’s also a problem.

As Dropout Nation noted back in November, the AFT generated revenue of $321 million in 2012-2013, a two percent decline over the previous year. The decline marks the second straight year of decline. Forced dues collections in the form of a per-capita tax on members at the local level was $144 million, a 17 percent decline over 2011-2012. But even those numbers don’t fully show the union’s fiscal condition. See, the AFT has developed a habit of borrowing massive sums to tide itself over. It borrowed $117 million through its line of credit with SunTrust Bank during 2012-2013, of which all but $2 million was repaid; this was similar to what happened in 2011-2012, when the AFT borrowed $88 million and repaid most of it back. Without the borrowing (which accounted for 36 percent of reported revenue), AFT generated $203 million in 2012-2013, a 15 percent decline over the $238 million generated (excluding debt borrowings) during the previous year.

These tough straits explain why the AFT is proposing a $12 hike in raises by 2014-2015, which will raise just $10 million in new dues, according to a Dropout Nation analysis. This includes kicking some money to a so-called Militancy/Defense Fund that can only be used to finance work stoppages the union deems allowable under its strike policy. So it will rarely be spent, giving the union a nice pool of cash on which to collect interest. Of course, cutting the 198 AFT staffers making more than $100,000 a year, as the NEA has done, is not an option. Yet.

As for the AFT’s membership growth? It isn’t what either Weingarten or her fellow bosses within the union want to claim it to be. Much of the union’s growth hasn’t come from the addition of teachers to the rank and file through its organizing effort, or from the growing ranks of early childhood teachers working in preschool programs. Instead, it has come from striking affiliation deals with unions outside of education such as the United Nations Staff Union and unions representing nurses in the healthcare field. As a result of this, the AFT is less able than ever to claim itself to be the voice of teachers working in the nation’s classrooms. It also means that the AFT is competing against the likes of the Service Employees International Union, a far more ruthless union which has spent most of the last two decades beating back other unions to gain large shares of workers in healthcare, early ed, and other fields.

There’s also the growth that has come from adding part-time rank-and-filers to its rolls: The percentage of one-eighth members increased by a ten-fold, from 3,453 members in 2011-2012 to 33,042 in 2012-2013, while the number of one-quarter members tripled, from 24,484 to 97,571 in that same period. The ranks of so-called associate members have also doubled, from 25,264 in 2011-2012 to 53,212 in 2012-2013. Much of this growth can certainly be attributed to the addition of members who work outside of elementary and secondary education.

As a result, the AFT isn’t adding more of the full-time rank-and-file members it needs to fill its coffers. Just 46 percent of the AFT’s 1.6 million members in 2012-2013 were full-time dues payers either working in classrooms or in other areas; they accounted for three-quarters of the union’s roster a year earlier. What about the rest? Twenty-one percent of AFT members are retirees no longer working in classrooms; the better for Weingarten and her allies within the Progressive coalition that controls the union (as well as runs locals such as the United Federation of Teachers in New York City) to keep it under their thumb. [By the way: The AFT's decision to recognize the retirees is a big reason why the union's membership doubled between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.] Another 12 percent of members are half-members. That’s no so good: Like the quarter-members and others, they don’t pay enough into the union’s coffers to keep it afloat.

This isn’t shocking. The long-term costs of virtually-insolvent defined-benefit pensions that the AFT has defended (and through its affiliates, often control through board seats) is weighing heavily on districts and states. This, along with woes from the seven-year-long economic malaise, and the retirement of Baby Boomers, is resulting in fewer teachers (as well as other school employees) on the job. The successful efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to end collective bargaining and the ability of teachers’ unions to force instructors to pay into their coffers regardless of their desire to join their rosters has also been hurtful. The AFT’s Wisconsin affiliate was particularly hard hit, losing 63 percent of its members, and being forced into merging with the NEA’s Badger State affiliate in order to survive.

But for the AFT (as well as the NEA), the worse is likely yet to come. The U.S. Supreme Court has already signaled in its decision in Harris v. Quinn that it will probably reverse the precedent set in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education granting public-sector unions the privilege of forcing workers regardless of membership status to pay into its coffers. For the AFT, this may mean a 25 percent decline in membership leading to a $36 million hit to its revenue line. Considering the AFT’s not-so-great fiscal condition (including a $14 million deficit last year), such a loss would be devastating.

Even without a reversal of Abood, the AFT could lose money and clout if younger teachers, who now make up the majority of rank-and-file members, leave the union for professional membership associations that eschew the old-school union approach it embraces. Given their frustration with the AFT’s defense of seniority-based privileges such as last in-first out that impede their career progress, anger with the efforts of locals such as UFT to rig elections in ways that favor retirees over teachers still in classrooms, and dismay with the union’s unwillingness to embrace a professional development model that elevates the profession, they have little reason to stay in its fold. And when they begin noticing that the union’s growth in other sectors outside of education is coming at their expense (as some traditionalists already have) they will agitate for something better.

The only way the AFT can keep those teachers is by embracing the skilled tradesman model of the pre-Industrial Revolution era at the heart of the medical and legal professions. This includes providing professional development to in place of what is offered by districts, championing teachers to start their own schools and programs to address the education crisis, and launching alternative teacher training programs similar to those offered by Teach For America. But that requires the AFT to embrace systemic reform — and that won’t fly with the Karen Lewises and other hardcore unionists among Baby Boomers in the ranks who want the union to fight harder for traditional teacher compensation. The fact that Weingarten’s efforts on that front — including the biannual TEACH conferences and the Share My Lesson venture the AFT launched with British corporate firm TSL Education Ltd — have not been satisfactory to members show the inability (and the unwillingness) of the union to truly adapt to meet the needs of younger teachers.

With Weingarten being unable to revamp the AFT in ways that will actually lead it to live up to its motto of being a union of professionals, and incapable of accepting the reality that the policies it defends can no longer stand (and, in fact, are immoral and intellectually indefensible), there is little for her to celebrate. Randi may be better off playing a certain Rolling Stones song and reminiscing about her union’s good old days.

Updated to note the proposed dues hike.


Last month, Dropout Nation discussed how the California Superior Court ruling in Vergara v. California would spur similar legal challenges to near-lifetime employment rules and other traditional teacher quality laws defended by traditionalists such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Parent Power groups such as the New York City Parents Union, which had immediately announced after the ruling that it would file a Vergara suit, would especially pursue such litigation largely because, unlike other reform camps, they have long backed the idea of using the courts to advance systemic reform for our children.

So it wasn’t shocking that the New York City Parents Union moved last week to file its own Vergara tort in Richmond County Supreme Court, essentially dominating the education news cycle this Fourth of July weekend. After all, it is following up on the announcement made a week earlier by Campbell Brown’s group, Partnership for Educational Justice, to file its own tort. As you would expect, the suit demands that New York State’s tenure, teacher dismissal, and reverse-seniority layoff rules be struck down because they violate the Empire State constitution’s provision that all kids are provided sound basic education. In the process, the Big Apple Parent Power group is applying the state Court of Appeals’ ruling in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. New York to force the Empire State to give districts the ability to provide all children with the high-quality teachers they need and deserve.

But the big story isn’t about the fact that this lawsuit was filed. As I mentioned, this was to be expected. No, the real story is how Parent Power activists who are the new voices in the school reform movement are taking their own steps to advance systemic reform, and aggressively use all tools at their disposal to transform education for all children. And it is time for the rest of the school reform movement, much of which has become a little too institutional, even a little too cautious, in their efforts, to be as bold in their actions as the parent activists fighting for the kids they love.

One of the more-interesting story lines unfolding in the fight over the reform of American public education is the emergence of families becoming what former National Urban League President Hugh Price calls impromptu leaders, agitating for the overhaul of traditional districts, pushing for the expansion of high-quality school choices, and even taking on traditional teacher compensation. Starting in the mid-1990s with Virginia Walden-Ford and her successful effort to spur the expansion of choice in Washington, D.C. (along with the overhaul of the traditional district), parents and caregivers working outside of think tanks and other institutions have been among the foremost reformers in the movement. It would be this earlier generation of Parent Power advocates who would make the concrete cases for why school choice was both beneficial to children and the moral obligation states owed to children condemned to failure clusters. And as homeschooling families who successfully provided their kids with high quality teaching and learning environments, these activists also showed what districts should be doing for all kids regardless of their learning issues if they were seriously about fulfilling their obligations.

What would really jump-start Parent Power activism was a move in 2009 that no one among the rest of the school reform movement would have thought possible. That’s when then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and now-former State Sen. Gloria Romero, driven by the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top initiative, passed the nation’s first Parent Trigger law. Thanks to the law, families in the Golden State (as well as in the six other states that have since enacted some form of Parent Trigger provision) gained a new tool for forcing reform by overhauling the very schools within their own communities. Two years later, Parent Power activists began embracing the example set in the last century by civil rights activists and school funding advocates by filing their own lawsuits to challenge Zip Code Education policies such as school residency laws that restricted families from providing kids with high quality school options, and taking on near-lifetime employment laws that subject kids to laggard teaching.

The importance of Parent Trigger laws in giving families the ability to advance reform can be seen in places such as Adelanto, Calif., where families of kids attending schools such as the former Desert Trails Elementary successfully took control of the school and also forced out two board members of the district that formerly controlled it. Families of kids attending several schools operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District have also leveraged the Parent Trigger law to force the school operator into negotiations that have led to new reforms to the benefit of students attending them. Meanwhile the families of nine Southern California children, assisted by school reform outfit EdVoice, proved the importance of using lawsuits to advance reform — and challenge traditionalists — with last month’s ruling in Vergara. That decision sent a message to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that the status quo they defend won’t stand — and at the same time, showed other reform camps the importance of using the courts to help transform public education.

Certainly not all Parent Power groups think the same way. There are disagreements among them about such matters as Common Core. Their views about how to leverage Parent Trigger laws also differ. Parent Revolution, the California outfit that helped bring that state’s Parent Power law into reality, views it as a form of collective bargaining for families; this reflects the organization’s roots in the work of Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr to help families in Los Angeles take over failing schools. Other Parent Power groups think of Parent Trigger laws in a different way, looking at the laws as direct democracy and localizing education decision-making; in short, a real family control over education that isn’t illusory like the local control that traditionalists and some movement conservatives defend.

There is also plenty of divide over how closely they should work with their fellow reformers and oppose traditionalists. The New York City Parents Union and its president Mona Davids, has confounded more-hardcore reformers by occasionally working with the AFT’s Big Apple local even as it has has fiercely battled the union over matters such as tenure and the new contract the latter struck with Big Apple Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Connecticut Parents Union, on the other hand, is as fierce a foe of the AFT and the NEA as they come; but its president (and Dropout Nation Contributing Editor) Gwen Samuel is skeptical of the propensity of some reformers to be as disdainful as traditionalists about the role families (especially those from poor and minority households) should play in education decision-making.

What Parent Power groups do share in common is their bold willingness to embrace new approaches to advancing systemic reform even as other camps within the movement — especially Beltway think-tankers and institution-oriented types — express initial skepticism at every turn. This isn’t surprising. Unlike other players in the school reform movement, Parent Power activists are grassroots-oriented players, often coming from backgrounds outside of education and policymaking circles, and have actually have dealt day-to-day with traditional districts which have treated them as little more than nuisances and pests. This gives Parent Power activists a much more personal perspective on the underlying causes of the nation’s education crisis, a lower tolerance for silver-bullet thinking on how to deal with these issues, and ultimately, a greater willingness to use any tactic possible to give all children high-quality education.

The fact that Parent Power activists are working on the ground with families with whom they share similar experiences, or have spent years learning how to master working with communities rightfully skeptical of outsiders, also gives them a perspective that other reformers lack. They have long ago learned that success on in communities involves listening attentively to — and addressing — concerns, providing lots of resources (including time) in order for people to help themselves, solving problems quickly (often without a plan), and giving families real power to shape the direction of reform in ways that fit the contexts in which they live. This is the hard work with which Beltway reformers and others more-comfortable with crafting legislation often struggle.

Then there’s the reality that for Parent Power activists, reform is no bloodless exercise. It isn’t some glib Mike Petrilli chat-piece or a Rick Hess policy tome or Jay P. Greene write-a-thon. After all, it is their children, the only kids they will ever have, who are the ones subjected to the worst American public education offers. It is their young black sons who are the ones most-likely to end up being placed into special ed ghettos even when they only need extra reading instruction. It is their Latino daughters who are kept out of college-preparatory math and science courses by teachers and guidance counselors who think they are incapable of mastering those subjects. They, along with their relatives, neighbors, and friends who are denied the high-quality data they need to make smarter decisions for their kids, the ones that researchers such as Peter McDermott, Julia Johnson Rothenberg, and Karyn Lacey have documented as being treated as afterthoughts and worse by traditional districts, the people who need school choice the most and the least likely to have it.

This makes sense. When you are the afflicted and not the comfortable, giving your children every opportunity to move into the middle class is your greatest concern. You don’t really care about treatises on whether families are best being customers of schools, or ideological debates over the value of Common Core, or pablum from school choice activists with jobs to protect about why state tests shouldn’t be used to hold accountable private schools taking vouchers for serving kids, or if an Obama Administration plan to address suspensions is somehow a punishment to traditional district schools that have been failing kids for decade after decade. You care about giving all children the best chances at better lives- and using every solution available to make it possible.

This is what drives Parent Power activists and makes them key players in driving reform for all children. In fact, all reformers should embrace Parent Power thinking in their work. This means being as focused on building grassroots support for advancing reform as lobbying statehouses and launching new reform groups. It involves being willing to leverage any new solution for transforming education and providing all kids with high-quality education. This includes becoming the afflicted in mindset and being willing to afflict the comfortable in all aspects of our work. And it must mean taking reform personally because the children for which we are helping are living, breathing people who look like our ourselves when we were young as well as our kids at home.

The school reform movement can use more of the boldness shown by Parent Power activists such as those in New York City and elsewhere. Because our children cannot wait another day for high-quality education.