Tag: Randi Weingarten

AFT’s and NEA’s Soft Bigotry Against Minority Children

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live…

America’s public school teaching workforce is mostly-White and nearly all female. Many of them live in suburbia — even when they teach in urban districts. Even when they do live in urban districts, many of them either use school choice clauses in collective bargaining agreements to get first dibs on schools that don’t have Black or Latino children in them, or just send their kids to private schools to avoid the failure mills they themselves work in.

While many teachers are progressive politically, this is not true of everyone in the profession. As seen three years ago in New York City, when teachers angry at the American Federation of Teachers’ Big Apple unit for supporting efforts against police brutality wore t-shirts in support of police, not all are all that concerned with criminal justice reforms that would help improve the lives of the poor and minority children they teach. And unlike the two unions that represent them (often not of their own choosing), those teachers aren’t necessarily loyal to the Democratic National Committee. Even American Federation of Teachers President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten conceded last year that one in five of its rank-and-file voted for Donald Trump.

Considering these realities, it is little wonder why Steve Bannon, the White Supremacist who helped Trump win the presidency last year and served as his aide before flaming out this past August, wanted (and managed to score) a meeting with Weingarten last March. Nor is it shocking that Weingarten came away rather impressed by  his political acumen. Because she, along with Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the National Education Association, knows all too well that far too many teachers in American public education are racially myopic. And that her union protects them.

Certainly reformers can point to the instances of outright bigotry by teachers and school leaders within the past year. This includes Cammie Rone, who was suspended in September by the Panola district in Mississippi after writing a Facebook rant that demanded that Black people should “move back to Africa” if they are dissatisfied with the legacies of bigotry that still perplex America today. It also includes an as-yet identified teacher at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey who was caught on Snapchat last month berating her (English-speaking) Latino students, proclaiming that soldiers “are not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.” The incident led to students at the school, which is in a district in which one-third of students are Latino, walking out in protest.

Certainly most teachers aren’t outright bigots. There are myriad teachers who do well by all children every day and deserve our praise as well as respect. But far too many poor and minority children are subjected by far too many instructional professionals to educational abuse and neglect. And it extends beyond those few public instances.

Over the past few months, a litany of studies have once again proven that White teachers are less likely to have high expectations for Black children (and therefore, less likely to provide them high-quality instruction) than their White peers. Just 24 percent of White teachers expected their Black students to finish high school and higher education, according to a 2017 study led by Seth Gershenson of American University and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. Those low expectations contribute to low educational attainment by poor and minority children.

This racial myopia (and outright bigotry) toward poor and minority children also manifests in the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh traditional school discipline. As Adam Wright of University of California, Santa Barbara determined in a 2015 study, beliefs among White teachers that Black children are unruly and poorly-behaved explain why they are more-likely to be referred for discipline and suspended than their White peers. Black children taught by Black teachers were 28 percent-to-38 percent less-likely to be suspended than if taught by White teachers.

Not only does Wright’s study bear out three decades of research on overuse of discipline (including those than control for socioeconomic status), it even proves Vanderbilt Professor Daniel J. Reschly’s assertion about the role of teacher beliefs (and misinterpretation of data) in the overidentification of Black and other minority children as special ed cases. Which is why your editor isn’t surprised by today’s news out of California that even with aggressive reforms on the school discipline front there, out-of-school suspensions were meted out to 9.8 percent of Black children, a rate three times higher than that for their White schoolmates.

Certainly the educational abuse of Black children are reflective of failures in school leadership within states and traditional districts. This is a point Dropout Nation continues to make in its Rationing Opportunity and Beyond Ferguson collections. But teachers do the work in classrooms, and as data continues to show, have the greatest impacts on student achievement, especially in areas such as math. More-importantly, because the quality of teaching varies more within schools (from classroom to classroom) than among them, the racial myopia of teachers (and their low expectations for the poor and minority children in their care) are matters that have to be addressed in order to help all children succeed.

This includes overhauling how we recruit teachers, ensuring that they care for every child regardless of background as well as have the subjective-matter competency needed to educate them properly. It also includes giving districts and other school operators the ability to remove those in the classroom who don’t belong there.

Those transformations, however, are opposed by AFT and NEA. For all their talk about opposing the bigotry of the likes of Bannon and Trump — as well as their participation efforts such as the new Education Civil Rights Alliance funded in part by the Ford Foundation — the Big Two unions end up aiding and abetting the kinds of soft and hard bigotries associated with the likes of them.

The Big Two continue to support the nation’s university schools of education, which have demonstrably proven ineffective in recruiting teachers both empathetic to all children and competent in their instruction. AFT, in particular, gave $71,410 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the organization that defends the poor practices of ed schools, during its 2017 fiscal year.

The Big Two defend near-lifetime employment in the form of tenure and shoddy teacher dismissal policies that make it difficult for districts to root out laggards (as well as those engaged in criminal and sexual abuse). Their opposition to the efforts of Teach For America (which is now the training center of choice for high-quality Black, Latino, and Native teachers) to diversify teaching, as well as their fights against efforts of charters to develop alternative routes for bringing in teachers (which would be a boon to mid-career professional of African-American descent) also exemplifies their lack of concern for the futures of poor and minority children.

Meanwhile AFT and NEA have been unwilling to ride herd on locals and state affiliates who oppose school discipline reforms that can help poor and minority children. AFT’s failure three years ago to force its Minneapolis local to support an effort by the district to reduce overuse of suspensions is merely one of many instances when the national union’s proclamations for social justice are proven empty in practice.

This soft bigotry perpetuated by AFT and NEA extends beyond teachers. From opposing the expansion of high-quality charter schools and other school choice options, to its opposition to Parent Trigger laws and efforts of Parent Power activists in places such as Connecticut and California, to efforts to eviscerate accountability measures that hold districts and school operators to heel for serving Black and Brown children well, even to their historic disdain for Black families and condoning of Jim Crow discrimination against Black teachers, both unions have proven no better than outright White Supremacists when it comes to addressing the legacies of bigotry in which American public education is the nexus.

By refusing to embrace systemic reforms, AFT and NEA help perpetuate damage to the futures of Black and Brown children, often behaving no differently in consequence than the regime that occupies the executive branch of the federal government. Even worse, by refusing to help root out those teachers harming children, the two unions actually damage the teaching profession itself as well as do disservice to those good and great teachers who care for every child in their classrooms.

Certainly Weingarten is no bigot. This is crystal clear. But given these realities, one has to wonder how different is she in reality from Steve Bannon? Because she and her allies are doing no better than him when it comes to building brighter futures for Black and Brown children.

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AFT’s Bleak Future

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff. Whether or not it will be…

As this morning’s Teachers Union Money Report shows, the American Federation of Teachers knows how to spend well. Especially on its leaders and staff.

Whether or not it will be able to do so is a different story.

Some 236 staffers were paid six-figure sums in 2016-2017, according to the union’s latest disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. That is 14 more than in the previous fiscal year. That well-paid group includes Michelle Ringuette, the former Service Employees International Union staffer who is chief political aide to President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten; she was paid $240,437 last fiscal year. Michael Powell, who is Weingarten’s mouthpiece, picked up $252,702 from the union.

Kombiz Lavasany, an AFT operative who oversees Weingarten’s money manager enemies’ list, earned $177,872 in 2016-2017. Kristor Cowan, who handles the union’s lobbying, collected $189,808 last fiscal year. Then there is Leo Casey, the vile propagandist who currently runs the union’s Albert Shanker Institute; he was paid $232,813 in 2016-2017 for doing, well, whatever Leo does these days that doesn’t include accusing reformers of committing “blood libel“.

Of course, the leaders are well-paid. Weingarten was paid $492,563 in 2016-2017, just a slight decrease over the previous year. She still remains among the nation’s top five percent of wage earners, and thus, an elite. Her number two, Mary Cathryn Ricker, was paid $337,434 last fiscal year (an 8.3 percent increase over the previous period), while Secretary-Treasurer Loretta Jonson was paid $392,530 in 2016-2017, a 9.6 percent increase over the past period. Altogether, AFT’s top three took home $1.2 million last fiscal year, virtually unchanged from the same time in 2015-2016.

The current occupant of the White House’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court dooms the financial and political future of AFT — and even has risks for some players in the school reform movement.

The additional salaries and bodies explain why AFT’s union administration costs increased by 17.8 percent (to $10.2 million) over 2015-2016, while general overhead costs increased by 14 percent (to $42 million). The union still managed to keep benefits costs from increasing. It spent just $10.4 million in 2016-2017, barely unchanged from the previous period; that can be credited in part to the fact that, unlike the districts its rank-and-file work in, AFT doesn’t provide defined-benefit pensions and only gives its workers defined-contribution plans that the union can avoid contributing to during times of financial stress.

It takes a lot of money to keep Weingarten and her team on board. Of course, they can thank compulsory dues laws that force even teachers who don’t want to be part of AFT. But those dollars are on the decline.

The union collected just $177 million in dues and agency fees in 2016-2017, a 7.9 percent decline from the previous year. This is despite the fact that the union’s full-time rank-and-file increased by 5.2 percent (to 710,865 from 675,902) over the previous period, reversing a three-year decline. One reason for the decline: A 12 percent decline in the number of one-quarter rank-and-file (to 81,191 from 93,047), a group that includes nurses and government employees represented by the AFT’s non-teachers’ union affiliates, and a 29.2 percent decrease in one-eighth rank-and-filers (to 24,180 from 34,104).

Another factor lies in the move last year by United Teachers Los Angeles to jointly affiliate with the National Education Association. That move contributed to a 23 percent increase in the number of AFT rank-and-filers in affiliates also tied to NEA and other rival national unions (to 158,225 from 128,221). With more states attempting to end compulsory dues laws, a possible U.S. Supreme Court law striking them down altogether, and a desire by state and local affiliates to wield more influence in education policy at all levels, expect more AFT affiliates (and even some NEA affiliates) to also align themselves with other national unions.

Overall, AFT generated revenue (including debt borrowings) of $332 million in 2016-2017, a 1.2 percent increase over the previous year. This included $88.2 million it borrowed during the year to shore up operations (of which $68 million was repaid by the end of the fiscal period); that’s 59 percent more than the amount the union borrowed in 2015-2016. Excluding the borrowing, AFT’s revenue for 2016-2017 was $244 million, virtually unchanged from the previous year.

But as today’s report notes, AFT faces trouble in the next year. If the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down compulsory dues laws as expected in Janus v. AFSCME, the union and its affiliates will lose big. The union has already seen its affiliate in Wisconsin attempt a merger with NEA’s Wisconsin Education Association Council after losing half of its rank-and-file since the state abolished its compulsory dues law six years ago. [The merger was aborted because of the difficulty of merging dues structures.]

While AFT’s presence in Democrat-dominated states could help it stem rank-and-file losses, the reality is that it will likely lose at least 25 percent of its membership. This means a likely loss of $44 million (based on 2016-2017’s dues collections), and less revenue that it can use for influence-buying, political campaign activities, and lobbying. Not even AFT’s stalled strategy of expanding its presence into nursing and healthcare would have offset those losses,  especially since the Supreme Court ruling will also apply to public employees working at hospitals and health centers.

Those possible revenue and influence losses is one reason why AFT, along with other NEA and other public-sector unions, spent so furiously last year to support Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. If she had one, it was likely that either she would get to appoint a Supreme Court justice more-amenable to their cause, or, given congressional Republican opposition to Obama’s efforts to select a replacement for Antonin Scalia, would have kept the court split equally between conservative and more-progressive justices.

But with Trump in the White House and his appointee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, confirmed and in the job for life, AFT and its affiliates now needs a new strategy for actually attracting members. This will be difficult.

Because AFT hasn’t had to actually win bodies since the 1960s, it lacks the strong organizing infrastructure that has made SEIU a major force in both the public and private sectors. The fact that the union has seen a 15 percent year-to-year decline in associate members (who are members of the national union) means that there is also little appetite for its presence, especially since, unlike state and local affiliates, it doesn’t have the means to help associate members out when they have workplace disputes.

While the state affiliates are strong in lobbying legislatures, they, along with AFT National, play little role in addressing the day-to-day concerns of classroom teachers; that’s what locals such as UTLA, Chicago Teachers Union, and United Federation of Teachers in New York City do. That the big locals also tend to be major players at the state levels, dominate the operations of the affiliates, and, in the case, of UFT, virtually controls the virtually-insolvent state affiliate, means that they have little need for either the state operations or national. Even without a Supreme Court ruling, you can expect the local affiliates to develop new structures that bypass AFT and allow them to try new approaches to education policymaking and organizing.

Reformers can’t exactly celebrate, either. A dirty secret of centrist Democrat and civil rights-oriented reformers is that they are as dependent as AFT on compulsory dues. This is because AFT and other public sector unions are the biggest financiers of the Democratic National Committee operations (as well as those of state parties), and also give plenty to reform-minded groups for their activities outside of education. Center for American Progress, Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, and UNIDOS are among the reform-minded outfits who will also take a hit if the Janus ruling goes against AFT and its fellow public-sector unions.

You can imagine Weingarten and her staffers shudder at the prospect of a future without compulsory dues. What they will do to preserve traditionalist influence (and keep their jobs) will be fascinating to watch.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.

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AFT’s $44 Million Spend

The American Federation of Teachers just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. Once again, it has spent big on preserving its influence over education policymaking….

The American Federation of Teachers just filed its 2016-2017 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor. Once again, it has spent big on preserving its influence over education policymaking. Whether or not the spending will help in the Trump era — or if it will have the money down the road — is a different question.

The nation’s second-largest teachers’ union spent $44.1 million in 2016-2017 on political lobbying activities and contributions to what should be like-minded groups. This is a 29.6 percent increase over the same period a year ago. This, by the way, doesn’t include politically-driven spending that can often find its way under so-called “representational activities”.

As you would expect, AFT gave big to the nonprofits controlled by Hillary and Bill Clinton — including their eponymous foundation and the now-shuttered Clinton Global Initiative — collected $400,000 from the union in 2016-2017; this includes $250,000 directly to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and $150,000 to the Global Initiative, which was shut down during the former Secretary of State’s unsuccessful presidential bid. Altogether, AFT gave $2.2 million to the Clinton-controlled groups over the past five years.

As Dropout Nation detailed over the last two years, the AFT worked assiduously to win over the Clinton machine in order to assure that it had influence over federal education policy if she won the White House. Besides the donations to the Clinton foundations as well as direct campaign spending, AFT had key supporters (including Democratic National Committee member Hartina Flournoy, a former union apparatchik, as well as Clinton campaign education adviser Ann O’Leary ) positioned to support its efforts.

As part of its effort to buy influence with the Clintons, AFT spent $10,000 with now-former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s eponymous firm, a 90 percent decline over levels in 2015-2016. Oddly enough, it gave no money to Democrats for Public Education, the astroturf group that was attempting to replicate the efforts of the reform-oriented Democrats for Education Reform. Meanwhile AFT gave $175,000 to Center for American Progress, the ostensibly reform-oriented outfit founded by former Clinton Administration honcho (and Hillary’s campaign chairman), John Podesta; his communications with Weingarten (as well as with other key players) were leaked last year by Wikileaks.

Meanwhile AFT spent big on political campaigns on the national level. It poured $2.5 million into its Solidarity 527; those dollars, along with the $10.3 million spent by its main political action committee, worked hard to support Hillary and other unsuccessful Democrat candidates. AFT Solidarity, in particular, spent $843,614 against Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on behalf of Democrat rival Patrick Murphy, and spent another $328,590 against Ohio Sen. Rob Portman on behalf of former Gov. Ted Strickland, who co-chairs Democrats for Public Education on the union’s behalf.

AFT also gave $190,000 to Immigrant Voters Win, a PAC that was part of the Families Fight Back campaign organized by supporters of expansive immigration reform. The union also gave $345,000 to the Democrat-supporting House Majority PAC and poured $110,000 into the America Votes super-PAC.

AFT bet big on Hillary Clinton (right with John Podesta and Neera Tanden of Center for American Progress) — and lost even bigger.

None of the AFT’s spending helped either its cause, or that of Hillary and her fellow Democrats. The election of Donald Trump to the White House not only endangers the futures of poor and minority children, it also assures that neither AFT nor rival school reformers (including centrist Democrat s who supported Clinton), will have a voice in the executive branch. Trump’s appointment of school choice activist Elizabeth Prince (Betsy) DeVos hasn’t done much for conservative reformers and hardcore school choice activists. But it also denies AFT a role in policymaking at L’Enfant Plaza.

Matters may get even worse next year, thanks to the March’s confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the federal high court likely to strike down compulsory dues with a ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which is likely based on Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion three years ago in Harris v. Quinn, the AFT could lose at least 25 percent of its rank-and-file, leading to a major hit to its coffers as well as its ability to wield influence. Questions about Gorsuch’s conflict of interest on this matter (including giving a speech last week to a group that is involved in the lawsuit) may end up forcing him to recuse. But if it doesn’t, AFT, along with NEA, face a bleak political and financial future.

But until that ruling happens (if it does), AFT is spending big. Center for Popular Democracy and its action fund, which has done the union’s business by publishing reports aimed at stopping the expansion of public charter schools, collected $210,000 from the union in 2016-2017, about a third less than it received in the previous year. The fact that AFT President Rhonda (Randi) Weingarten no longer sits on its board is likely a factor in the lower levels of support.

Another big group of recipients is the NAACP and several of its affiliates. The old-school civil rights group itself received $90,000 from the union in 2016-2017, while chapters in Florida, New York and North Carolina collected another $65,000. Altogether, AFT financed NAACP to the tune of $155,000; of course, this doesn’t include the help NAACP receives from the union through payroll deductions from union dues that go towards paying membership fees.

Leah Daughtry now gets more money from the union than either Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.

AFT’s has gotten plenty for its chicken wing money. NAACP has pushed hard to halt the expansion of charter schools, presenting its arguments at events such as the annual education policy ‘braintrust’ hosted by another AFT beneficiary, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.  NAACP’s message is incoherent, often incorrect, and on education policy matters, irrelevant. But thanks to school reformers, who haven’t yet figured out that the outfit can be ignored, NAACP’s effort has gotten national attention, for which AFT is most-grateful.

AFT gave $60,000 to Democracy Alliance, the secretive progressive campaign collaborative to which it (along with National Education Association) belongs. That is unchanged from 2015-2016. Receiving even more money from the union is State Innovation Exchange, which aims to duplicate for progressives and Democrat state legislators the kind of legislative writing work done by American Legislative Exchange Council on behalf of Republican and conservative counterparts. SIX picked up $115,000 from the union in 2016-2017, double what it received in the previous year.

As for co-opting progressive groups? AFT handed $25,000 to Netroots Nation in 2016-2017, unchanged from the previous year, while it gave another $10,000 to Demos, the progressive think tank. The union also gave $60,000 to Gamaliel Foundation, whose efforts to fund supposedly grassroots progressive outfits are also funded by the union’s reliable vassal, Schott Foundation for Public Education; that is also unchanged. Speaking of Schott: AFT gave it $85,000, an 13.3 percent increase from 2015-2016; apparently, its efforts on behalf of the union and other traditionalists at the expense of Black children is making the union happy.

AFT gave $200,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund, the outfit run by former Clinton Administration player Eric Kessler’s Arabella Advisors in 2016-2017; the group has also collected cash from NEA. It also gave $20,000 to Center for Media and Democracy, the parent of PR Watch (a 28.6 percent decrease). It also gave $60,000 to the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, which is also well-funded by the union’s Chicago affiliate; $50,000 to the Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund; and $10,000 to UnKoch My Campus, which is targeting the array of libertarian student and academic training outfits funded by natural resources billionaires (and Soros-like bogeymen for progressive groups) Charles and David Koch. United Students Against Sweatshops, which has helped AFT in its battle with Teach for America, picked up $10,000 in 2016-2017.   To reach youth, AFT also gave $31,500 to Community Labor United’s  Boston Youth Organizing Project.

Meanwhile AFT attempted to further inroads with Black and other minority outfits.

The union gave $80,000 to the aforementioned Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, allowing it to rub shoulders with the likes of House Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Democrat Bobby Scott (who has already collected a $5,000 donation from the union to his re-election campaign), as well as buy prominent speaking spots for its leaders (including Weingarten’s number two, Mary Cathryn Ricker, who spoke on her behalf) at CBC’s annual conference. The union gave another $25,000 to CBC’s Political Education and Leadership Institute, giving it even more access to future Black leaders. It also gave $35,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute as a way to win over Latino congressional leaders.

AFT also gave $10,000 to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, $5,000 to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, $10,000 to the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, $12,500 to National Black Caucus of State Legislators, $15,000 to National Association of Black Journalists, $15,000 to Higher Heights Leadership Fund (which is tied to Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory) and $25,000 to National Alliance of Black School Educators. The biggest single recipient of AFT’s largesse not named Schott: Rev. Leah Daughtry, who presided over last year’s Democratic National Convention; she collected $165,000 from the union in 2016-2017, getting a lot of teachers’ money.

At the same time, AFT gave to a variety of Latino organizations. This included $15,000 to UNIDOS, the former National Council of La Raza that changed its name earlier this year; $7,500 to the school reform-oriented MALDEF; $10,000 to National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators; $5,000 to National Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs; $10,000 to U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute; $16,667 to Hispanic Federation; $5,000 to Hispanic Heritage Foundation; $5,000 to the foundation named after labor leader Miguel Contreras, and $6,500 to Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. To build support among immigrant communities now endangered by the Trump regime, AFT has given more money to outfits working on their behalf. This includes $5,000 each to National Immigration Forum, National Immigration Law Center, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

AFT continues its efforts to co-opt the Atlantic Monthly. It gave $1.2 million* to the magazine in 2016-2017, double the previous year.  You have to wonder if Weingarten and her mandarins are kicking themselves for not offering to buy a stake in the Atlantic, which will soon be controlled by Laurene Powell Jobs’ reform-minded Emerson Collective, which has become a landing spot for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his former honcho on civil rights enforcement, Russlyn Ali.

As for the usual suspects? AFT gave $250,000 in 2016-2017 to Economic Policy Institute, whose policy solutions almost always resemble those of the union; that is unchanged from the previous year. The union also gave $25,000 to the American Prospect, which garnered notice back in August when it ran an interview of now-former Trump aide Steve Bannon by Robert Kuttner (who also cofounded Economic Policy); that is two-thirds less than what the union gave it a year ago. AFT also gave $75,000 through the University of Colorado Foundation to Kevin Welner’s National Education Policy Center, a 67 percent increase over 2015-2016; poured $10,000 to Committee for Education Funding (a 43 percent decrease over 2015-2016); and gave $50,000 to Alliance for Quality Education (unchanged from last year). As a reminder of the AFT’s unwillingness to support efforts to elevate the teaching profession it supposedly defends, the union gave $71,410 to Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, a key player in vetting the nation’s university schools of education.

Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the AFT’s financial filing later today. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the AFT’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site. Also check out Dropout Nation‘s Teachers Union Money Report, for this and previous reports on AFT and NEA spending.


*Dropout Nation originally reported that AFT gave the Atlantic Monthly $900,000 in 2016-2017. But thanks to a reader, another spend with the magazine increases that number to $1.2 million.

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Best of Dropout Nation: No More Waiting: The Morality of Parent Power

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…

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.

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Voices of the Dropout Nation: Steve Peha Takes on Randi Weingarten

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When it comes to the role of teachers in stemming the nation’s dropout crisis and crisis of educational failure, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and their…

When it comes to the role of teachers in stemming the nation’s dropout crisis and crisis of educational failure, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and their allies in traditional public education tend to argue that they play no part in either solving the crisis — and that low-quality teachers and the system of teacher benefits and compensation that helps aid and abet them plays no part in fostering the problem in the first place. But, as Steve Peha argues in this Voices, such statements are, well, not exactly so. In light of the Los Ange;es Times’ report on the low quality of teaching in L.A. Unified Schools, Peha shines light on the role of teacher quality in solving the dropout crisis:

In her response to a recent speech on education by President Obama, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, used what has probably become the greatest cliché in all of education reform: “Teaching is a complex enterprise, and there are no silver-bullet solutions for our schools.”

This is a self-serving fallacy. There is a silver bullet and we all know what it is: competent teachers. Not rock stars. Not geniuses. Not Rafe Esquiths or Jaime Escalantes. Not carefully recruited, alternatively certified, finely tuned specimens of human capital. Not former four-star generals or ex-Fortune 500 CEOs. Not Six-Sigma-superstars or Seven-Habits-heroes. Just competent teachers acting in the best interests of the children and families they serve.

This works every time. In fact, it’s the only thing that seems to work. So why do we say out of one side of our mouth that teaching quality is the most significant influence on student achievement and then, out of the other side of our mouth, we say that, “Teaching is a complex enterprise, and there are no silver-bullet solutions for our schools.”

Teaching is a complex enterprise, but being a competent teacher is not. Being responsible for our competence can be challenging at times, but most of us get the hang of it after a while. If we don’t, we never grow up. And if we never grow up, it really doesn’t matter if we ever become competent. We’re the adults in the room. If we don’t act like adults, there’s no point in being in the room.

Teaching is hard. No argument there. But one advantage of its difficulty is that it’s not hard to figure out if you’re any good at it. Competence—yours, mine, or anyone else’s—is easy to gauge. Being responsible is how you become competent if you’re not, and knowing whether you’re being responsible is easy to gauge, too.

We could fix the competence problem if we applied the following principals of responsibility:

  1. If you know what to do, do it.
  2. If you don’t know what to do, learn.
  3. Iterate through challenges quickly.
  4. Assess your progress often and honestly.
  5. Apply Principal #1 or Principal #2 as needed.

This is exactly what we ask of small children, so we can be certain that we all understand it. Acting the same way we expect others to act is called modeling in the classroom. Another thing every teacher is familiar with. It’s called integrity in life. Integrity is easy to gauge, too. When we say that there are no silver bullet-solutions for our schools, we are out of integrity with what we know to be true.

I do not mean to trivialize the challenge here. But neither will I support the oft-repeated position that education is too complex to be tamed or that straightforward approaches can’t be implemented. How complicated is it to ask that adults who care for children take it upon themselves to be competent, and if they are not competent, to be responsible about achieving competence?

If you think you detect a lack of compassion in my tone, I encourage you to detect again. I know as well as anyone the pain of incompetence when the well-being of children for whom I am responsible is at stake. Few things I have experienced in my life have ever felt as awful, day after day, and for many days thereafter, as letting a group of struggling elementary school students go an entire year without learning a thing about learning to read. But over the ensuing summer, I read books on reading instruction, practiced on a few patient kids, and became a competent reading teacher—not a great reading teacher, just a competent reading teacher. And when September rolled around, I felt like a human being again. My own experience, and that of many teachers whom I have trained, leads me to believe that supporting every teacher in achieving competence is one the most compassionate gestures we can make on behalf of people who devote so much of themselves to what is often a very unforgiving vocation.

We must also have compassion for children, of course, especially for those who are most sensitive to poor learning conditions at school because they may not have the support at home that we would wish for them. The most compassionate gesture we can make on behalf of our children is the guarantee of a competent teacher in every classroom. It’s hard to live a good life these days without a good education. And every teacher I know— competent or not—feels the pain of poorly educated children as they head out of school, ill-prepared for the world that awaits them.

Competence is the “silver-bullet solution” for our schools. Any time we say it isn’t, we lie to ourselves and to our country. Competent teachers provide quality educations to the children they serve. This is a research-proven fact and an empirically tested hypothesis in our own personal lives. Tens of thousands of these people exist across our land. We all know at least a few of them. Some were our teachers.

Competent teaching is not a mystery. The mystery is why more of us don’t take ownership of our competence. Again, the word is “competence”. Not “excellence” or “perfection” or “greatness” or “self-less saintly sacrifice”. Just competence.

Every teacher working in every school today is either competent or has within his or her sole power the social, emotional, intellectual, financial, and temporal resources to become competent. Many of us may have to get a little training, we may have to read a book or two, we may have to practice a bit, and mess up a few times before we get our act together. But competence is within our grasp.

Don’t even try to tell anybody it isn’t, least of all yourself.

There have been many times when I wasn’t competent. Incompetence stalks me even fifteen years into this work, when situations arise that are new to me and for which I am not well prepared. Recently, for example, I realized I didn’t know nearly enough about helping kids with ADD and ADHD. I am not competent in this regard. So I e-mailed a few smart people, read a couple of good articles on the web, purchased a highly recommended book on the subject, and started to learn. I’m not competent yet, but I will be soon enough. Probably just in time to be faced with another situation in which I am not competent.

School is like that. It encourages us learn. Yet some of us manage somehow to avoid learning at school. That’s when the responsibility part kicks us in the ass. If we can feel the pain of our own failure, we can heal ourselves and move forward. If we can’t feel the pain, it’s time to welcome someone else up to the front of the room.

There is very little about competent teaching that is not stored somewhere ready for anyone to access, often for free. Some of it is in books. Some of it is on the web. Some of it is on DVD. Some of it is in training. Some of it is inside the brains of competent teachers and teacher trainers across our nation. But it’s all there somewhere.

In my personal quest to understand education, I have, in pursuit of competence, posed a seemingly endless stream of questions, few of which have remained unanswered for very long. The answers haven’t always been right for me or for my situation. But other answers have usually been available as long as I have been willing to look for them. The amount of knowledge we have about education is overwhelming. But no one needs to know it all; not even close. We just need to know enough—enough to be good enough. That’s what being competent means, being good enough. We don’t have to understand the universe of education, just our tiny part of it. And there’s nothing overwhelming about that.

We can say all kinds of things about how hard teaching is. No one’s going to disagree with us. But we can’t say we can’t all become competent because that’s just as much of a lie as saying there are no silver bullets. We’re the silver bullets, ladies and gentlemen. Competence is the gun. Responsibility pulls the trigger. Integrity holds us together and attracts into our lives other people who share our values and lend their support. In a spirit of community and compassion, we teach our way toward competence, and improve our education system one silver bullet at a time.

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Rewind: Jason Kamras on Performance Pay

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As disappointing as the Washington, D.C. school district’s contract with its American Federation of Teachers local may be, the fact that the district’s performance management system — the first in…

As disappointing as the Washington, D.C. school district’s contract with its American Federation of Teachers local may be, the fact that the district’s performance management system — the first in the nation that uses test scores as a dominant factor in teacher evaluations — remains intact is a great victory for efforts to reform teacher quality. This Dropout Nation report and video from this past January, which features the man at the heart of this effort, offers some insight on why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s push to improve the quality of education in the district has come under such fire.


As D.C. Public Schools and the American Federation of Teachers’ Beltway local continue to spar over competing contract proposals — and Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s school reform plans — the district’s teacher quality czar continues to implement IMPACT, the performance review program that features the use of student test score data in evaluating teacher performance.

Jason Kamras may be the most-important person in education today. Yes, more important than Arne Duncan or Joel Klein or any of the two national union heads or even Rhee herself. On Rhee’s behalf, he is overseeing the most-comprehensive reform of teacher evaluation and performance management going on today. More importantly, he is already saying that the results he sees from this effort may be used in wide-ranging ways, from rewarding the best teachers to deciding which ed schools are deserving of D.C.’s patronage.

At a meeting with education professionals last night, Kamras admitted that the plan still needed some work. Although D.C. held a mass professional development session early in the school year, along with other meetings, Kamras said the district needed “to do more communication [with teachers]. We can never do enough of that” He also noted that the student benchmark tests given throughout the year aren’t fully included in the value-added analysis used in evaluating teachers; the final value-added assessment isn’t completed and delivered to teachers for their evaluations until July, just when they have to decide whether to stay and go through the remediation (if they are lagging) or quit. That said, Kamras notes that the rest of the evaluation scores, which are given in June, should give teachers more than enough info on where they are likely to stand; especially if their performance is in  the proverbial red.

Kamras notes that there is still more work ahead. D.C. Public Schools is working with its test provider on delivering the final standardized test data in time so all the information can be used to fully evaluate teachers in a more-timely manner. There is also some discussion on how to use technology to conduct teacher observations; but, as Kamras noted in response to one question, cameras in the classroom aren’t comforting to teachers (who often prefer in-person observations) and given D.C. law (which requires a person to give permission to being taped on camera), it may not be worth it. Kamras notes that if a teacher rejects the use of cameras, then “we’re back at square one.”

The biggest impact may come in terms of choosing which ed schools from which D.C. and its sister traditional districts and charters schools they choose. Kamras said last night that if an ed school produces far too many laggard instructors, he will tell them that he’s not recruiting from their schools — and will tell his colleagues throughout the D.C.-Virginia-Maryland region as well. He will likely tell those districts about the successful ed schools as well. This could actually result in improvements in teaching quality throughout the area — and ultimately, the nation.

The efforts in D.C. are certainly interesting to watch. Whether or not other school districts will follow its model will largely depend on the willingness of school chief executives to take on the lax performance management cultures and servile relationships districts often have with their union locals. As you can see below, here is a short clip of Kamras’ response to a question about how he thinks performance pay will shake up teaching.

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