As Rethinking Schools’ representative to the National Network of Teacher Activist Groups, I hear a lot of news about exciting organizing (and outrageous attacks on education). Recently, TAG Boston told us that Stand for Children has zeroed in on Massachusetts. That reminded me that last fall, Rethinking Schools published an investigative piece, “For or Against Children? The Problematic History of Stand for Children,” in which authors Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez described how Stand began as a parent-led organization with a progressive agenda, but has become a highly funded weapon in the attacks on teachers and teachers’ unions. I thought our blog readers would be interested in this update by Teacher Activist Group-Boston.
–Jody Sokolower, Policy and Production Editor
Stand for Children is at it again, this time in the state of Massachusetts. The self-proclaimed “independent social justice organization” has been organizing to curtail the rights of teacher unions across the country.
In Massachusetts, their recent and extremely complex ballot initiative, “Great Teachers Great Schools,” is focused on stripping due process rights, silencing the voices of child advocates, and forcing yet-to-be-tested evaluation rules onto school districts. The ballot initiative doesn’t mention children once and it’s quite possible that it will divide parents and teachers instead of bringing them together.
Why would any organization want to do this? After taking a closer look at who is on Stand For Children’s (SFC) advisory board these apparent contradictions make a little more sense.
In Massachusetts, the current board of advisors is composed of members who have more experience with running a business than a classroom. Members include the Managing Director at Spectrum Equity, a private equity firm, and a Vice President of Client Services at KGA who formerly worked for Fidelity Investments. Nationally SFC has received millions of dollars from The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the wealthy owners of Wal-Mart. They have been using their money and influence to lobby legislators all over America and convince them that cheaper, younger, unprotected teachers are good for corporations and good for our children.
Massachusetts is no different. SFC has already started using their cash and clout to collect more than 100,000 signatures in a matter of months. They believe our teachers need to be evaluated aggressively. SFC believes more expensive, veteran teachers who are historically the leaders of our schools shouldn’t be valued for their experience.
No teacher would disagree that there’s a need to better our current evaluation system in order to improve teacher quality. In fact, Massachusetts is already implementing a rigorous new teacher evaluation program that has been supported by AFT Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. Why then do voters need to weigh-in on implementing another system before the new one is rolled out?
Good question. It appears that the bill is really about weakening unions and local control. If passed, there is little motivation for school districts and unions to agree on issues of evaluation or possibly, in the future, agree on anything at all. School districts can ask the state to make all final, binding decisions. The result is an attack on unions that undermines collective bargaining, which in turn is an attack on teachers and the young people that teachers care about most.
What’s worse is that even if the initiative does pass, it is hard to see how it can improve our public schools. As Mary Ann Stewart, president of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association, explained: “This is a huge distraction from what teachers and parents believe is most needed to help students succeed. We need small class sizes, excellent preschools, support services for at-risk students, and high quality professional development for teachers. Instead, this ballot question gives us more top-down mandates and red tape.” In addition, both associations of Massachusetts principals and the Secretary of Education Paul Reville are opposed to the initiative.
Lastly, and most importantly, this initiative silences the voices of teachers and makes it harder for them to advocate for their students. It weakens protections for teachers and will leave many of them too scared to speak out against the injustices their students face. Without protection, teachers may be afraid to stand up for an English language learner or a special education student who isn’t receiving the supports they deserve. Instead of standing for children, teachers will be forced to stand for silence, regardless of where the children fall.