Thursday, August 18, 2011

Planting seeds of doubt? Keep an eye on Stand For Children Tennessee's next moves

Stand for Children Tennessee is an official partner with Metro Nashville Public Schools, which is reason enough to keep an eye on what they are up to, but the smaller moves they make via social media in what could be attempts to manage expectations and influence opinions should be watched as well.

Tonight on their Facebook page SFC posted a link to an article by Richard Whitmire, who seems to triangulate the conservative emphasis on teacher evaluations and the union opposition to subsidizied charter schools:

[Obama Education Secretary Arne] Duncan was a mere middle-of-the-roader compared to Joel Klein in New York or Michelle Rhee in Washington. Rhee rushed through reforms so fast, the unions hardly knew how to fight back: real teacher evaluations that used student test scores and a performance pay system that attempted to reward the better teachers. Most controversial was her willingness to fire teachers she deemed to be ineffective.

War was declared.

Meanwhile, billionaire reformers -- Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg -- were seen as aggressively applying business principles, such as accountability, to schools. Conspiracy theories abounded. It was all about privatization!

There's no going back. From the perspective of most teachers, poverty explains education problems. A valid point. Reformers insist that school quality, especially effective teaching, can make a sizable dent in the learning inequities we see across the lines of race and income. Also a valid point.

Mostly, however, the two sides no longer engage about their differences. They just glare and shout.

I cannot speak for the unions, but from my perspective Whitmire lapses into the centrist fallacy that ignores the practical act of staking out a position to keep certain principles in play in public debate or that confuses that act with inciting chaos. Many people I know who are fighting to save public education are pragmatists who give voice to the cause even as they are aware that they cannot possibly win much of what they fight for.

But back to SFC TN's use of Whitmire.

It is one thing to post a link to a pro-education reform article criticizing others opposed to education reform; it is quite another to post the article given that SFC in other states has expressed the same anti-union reform preferences. I worry that SFC TN is maneuvering subtly to make the same moves for education reform that we have seen other state branches make before.

These are Stand for Children's tactics in Oregon according to one former volunteer:

I quickly became a fan [of Stand for Children] ....

Stand’s primary agenda was focused on school funding, as was mine. Then a year or so after I was introduced to them, something quickly changed .... When I was looking at how to work on funding, they were talking about teacher contracts. Recently in Portland, Stand organized what they described as an Education Forum ....

No teacher representing the union’s position was on the panel ....

After watching the video of Stand’s national leader proudly attacking teachers and working to silence their voice in Illinois, I realized that was the same thing they were trying to do here in Oregon (Portland).

Stand for Children members in Oregon should be very disappointed. I encourage Stand for Children members and current coalition partners to look deeper into the organization’s true agenda and to pay close attention to its funders.

I wish I could naively take Stand for Children Tennessee at their word without reference to the organization's past. But the present in Tennessee looks like it is setting up like to be like Oregon: attack the teachers without reference to a system that generates a cheap, undereducated labor class.

Ostensibly, SFC TN could be honestly seeking feedback. However, SFC TN leaders have made no attempt that I am aware of to distance themselves from Jonah Edelman's recent embarrassments in Illinois or from the firestorm the Oregon branch came under in 2011 for starting out grassroots and ending up anti-union at voting time. I have blogged on these unpleasant events previously. Local SFC leader Francie Hunt even replied in the comments section of this blog in defense of the Tennessee organization without distancing it from Oregon's or Illinois's.

So, it is fair and reasonable to ask whether Stand for Children Tennessee is trying to plant the seeds of doubt among its volunteers by linking to the Whitmire article without linking to other articles that either agree with teachers or that are critical of education reform.

Buyer beware. We will see whether this is an initial small step toward dividing teachers from the "movement". Stand for Children already tipped their hand in Illinois and Oregon. It is not unreasonable or wild to worry that they may misbehaving soon in Tennessee, too.

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