When Stand for Children came to town, I was contacted by a very nice woman who sat down with me to explain who they were and what they were doing. I found it interesting but I also felt confused. Were they working with parents or not? I tried to get a bead on if they were trying to compete or compliment PTA. It sounded good but vague. One thing I do recall is her telling me they had a specific non-profit status so that they could lobby. That should have told me something but I wished her luck and went on my way.
Here's the thing; since 2009, Stand, both locally and nationally, changed their tune. They suddenly morphed into a less-than-grassroots organization and into a lobbying behemoth. Their motives, their tactics were on display when their founder, Jonah Edelman, went off in a videotape that was widely seen. It was a huge embarrassment but that didn't slow Stand much.
It is clear that Stand, StudentsFirst (Michelle Rhee's group) and Democrats for Education Reform are the lead players much of the big push for ed reform. It appears that Stand may be aided and abetted by ALEC. (Interesting item is that the Dems in California are fighting DFER's use of the word "Democrat" as it has a legal meaning in that state. It may be that they will be forced to quit using "Democrat" in their name in that state. Washington state does not have a similar law.)
Let me be clear - it is absolutely the right of any person or group to lobby. They can support candidates or draft legislation for consideration. But the amount of money and intense links between corporations who would financially benefit from these changes is the game-changer. That the links between corporations and non-profits are becoming clearer makes it vital that people understand that linkage.
Additionally, that linkage is likely growing. (I find it amusing that the Gates Foundation is now funding some the Broad Foundation's education work. It's a like a two-headed dog.) So what's the latest?
ALEC and Teach for America and Stand. While there is no expressed union, at the Great Schools of America blog, they "connected the dots."
Last summer, quite by accident, I met a group of about six young adults on the MAX here in Portland who were traveling from the airport to train for their new jobs. They were talking about having just finished their teaching jobs and how happy they were to be done with it. Being an unemployed teacher myself, I listened for a while and then struck up a conversation. They identified themselves as Teach for America corps members who had just completed their obligatory two year stints in the classroom.
They were headed to the Stand for Children offices to be trained in writing education policy. Most had been hired to work as legislative assistants in state houses around the country. I asked a few probing questions about their education expertise, especially in policy. Turns our none of them had any education credentials. Some had worked on their masters degrees during teaching, but none had studied education or education policy. They really didn’t get my point. The arrogance was palpable. I finally asked one of them point blank, “Don’t you think you should have some education and experience before writing education policy?” They assured me that over the next two weeks (I think, anyway, short time) they would be trained to do it.
TFA has a political leg called LEE, Leadership for Education Equity. No surprise there. It is to help former TFAers become "leaders" in "politics, policy, advocacy, and elected office." Basically, LEE exists to allow TFA to write legislation and use their influence to get it passed. They even have a job at their job page for an ALEC job.
Here are two different groups from two different states who initially had supported, worked with and liked Stand. They are now deeply concerned about Stand and their agenda and are openly challenging them.
This all makes sense to me because when I spoke with Senator Rodney Tom about the charter school bill he championed, I asked him who had written it. He said a "coalition." I know that LEV helped but I now suspect they were joined by Stand for Children and possibly TFA.
But now former Stand members are fighting back.
This letter is from Massachusetts:
And—initially—Stand helped us do great work. We cast a critical eye on education bills at the State House and testified as needed. We turned back ballot initiatives that would have gutted education funding. We closely watched local budgets to keep dollars close to classrooms. We put our voices, time, money, and reputations into building Stand for Children. Because we were united and we spoke from our experience, we were heard.
Along the way, we learned a great deal about the legislative process, education funding, and policy. We learned to research our positions, present them, and back them up.
But in 2009, while we struggled to give voice to the needs of our schools, Stand’s staff was turning away from our concerns, announcing that it expected its members to forgo community advocacy in favor of a new, special agenda. This agenda, emerging seemingly out of nowhere, touted more charter schools, more testing, and punishing teachers and schools for low student scores.
None of these initiatives arose from the needs of our communities. Indeed, we understood well their dangers. Yet all of them became the positions of Stand for Children. Policy proposals no longer came from the local level. They were dictated from the top.
What accounted for this shift? We were mystified at first. But we’ve since learned that Stand abandoned its own local members – us – to follow the lure of millions of dollars from Bain Capital, the Walton Foundation, Bill Gates, and others who had an agenda in conflict with our previous efforts.
From Oregon written by Tom Olson :
I’ve viewed the video of your recent presentation to the Aspen Institute about how you view your recent Illinois Stand for Children “successes.” Well, former friend and colleague, your behavior and approach in that video is final justification of all the reasons why my wife and I cancelled both our sustaining memberships in Oregon Stand for Children 15 months ago.
Continuing this quest, early in the last decade I joined Oregon Stand for Children as a volunteer. I saw the future of public education seriously threatened by politicians who were de-investing in public education, while creating more mandates for phony “accountability;” Based on excellent research work, the Oregon Legislature and Governor adopted the Oregon Quality Education Model. It called for an investment of more than $8 billion biennially to truly deliver the quality education our children deserve. Stand for Children appeared to be committed to engaging volunteers like myself to help Oregon deliver on this moral purpose promise, and build school systems’ capacity to help all children succeed in school and as adults.
In February 2009 you gave a speech to the Portland City Club which clearly signaled this shift. Stand was clearly abandoning serious efforts to advocate increased financial capacity support ala the Oregon Quality Education model. Based on that speech (not on any advice from any of us volunteers) you and your paid staff began to talk about the need for poorly-defined “reforms”—while clearly downplaying the need for additional support and capacity building for our schools.
A State Task Force was then convened. Several subcommittees were charged with focusing on topics like teaching, time and accountability and assessment. Unlike previous Task Force reports, you only produced an abrupt “executive summary” report with generalities that at best confused the membership. The hard substantive work of the task force volunteers never saw the light of day. Beyond confusion, many of us were worried about this significant strategic shift.