One of the legislative battles we expect to heat up after the session begin next week is over the role and promulgation of so-called “innovation status” public schools. Under the 2008 Innovation Schools Act, districts and individual schools can submit an “innovation plan” allowing significant structural changes in the way the school operates, including waivers of contracts made with local teachers. Under the law, a vote of 60% of “personnel at the affected school who are members of the collective bargaining unit” is required.
Under a new bill we’re told will be introduced by Republican Sen. Nancy Spence in the coming session, any new school opened in the state could opt for “innovation status” without a vote of affected staff. Given the advantage this would give administrators over teachers in negotiations as school districts grow, what we’re talking about is a massive hit on the rights of teachers to negotiate the terms of their employment.
Safe to say, this isn’t what teachers who have been cooperating with the teacher evaluation reforms passed in 2010 under Senate Bill 191 expected in return. And that leads us to the moral of this story–how much reform is enough? And who is really pushing for this stuff?
The legislation from Sen. Spence mentioned above is being promoted by the education reform advocacy organization Stand for Children. Stand for Children has a generally sterling reputation as a nonpartisan group whose interests are genuinely rooted in improving education outcomes in public schools. Over the years, though, Stand for Children’s mission appears to have shifted as increasing amounts of corporate and identifiably conservative funding began to pour in. Critical insight into this transition from a Fall 2011 article in Rethinking Schools:
Stand for Children was founded in the late 1990s as a way to advocate for the welfare of children. It grew out of a 1996 march by more than 250,000 people in Washington, D.C. The aim of the march was to highlight child poverty at a time when Congress and the Clinton administration were preparing to “end welfare as we know it.” Jonah Edelman, son of children’s and civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, co-founded the group and continues to serve as CEO. Stand’s first chapter was in Oregon, but the group now operates in eight additional states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington…
Stand’s effectiveness is reliant on a public perception that it represents the interests of parents. But in fact, Stand’s agenda is now closely aligned with those who call for privatization, charters, vouchers, and an end to teachers’ unions. [Pols emphasis]
This is true throughout the country. For example, Stand’s most significant work in Colorado was their support of Senate Bill 191, a landmark piece of legislation that bases 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student achievement data. As Dana Goldstein explained in a recent American Prospect article, this may lead the state to test every student, in every grade, in every subject-including art, music, and PE. The poisonous debate around the bill vilified those in opposition and demoralized teachers across the state. One teacher, recalling the negotiations over the bill, told Goldstein, “I’ve chosen a profession that, in the public eyes, is worse than prostitution.”
Stand’s Colorado operations are funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation and the Daniels Fund, two right-wing philanthropies that have pushed for vouchers and charter schools…11 of the 14 board members of Stand for Children and the Stand for Children Leadership Center have joined the organization since 2006.
It’s important to understand that even though the Colorado Education Association and other teacher’s unions opposed Senate Bill 191, everyone involved with that, including principal sponsor Sen. Mike Johnston, will tell you their participation in implementing those reforms has been constructive. SB-191 continues to be a sore point in some relations between teachers and their traditional Democratic allies, but organizationally, teachers have accepted its basic premise. Though routinely vilified, teachers are just not the enemy of reform they’re portrayed to be.
Meaning that there’s no reason to cut them out of the process of setting up new schools. There’s no reason to do this at all except to take advantage of a bipartisan desire for education reform, and co-opt that desire to regurgitate the whole litany of decades-old right wing attacks on public school teachers. We think the public will go so far in support of the reform agenda and then stop–as was discovered this year in the Jefferson County School Board races. The same is true of reform-minded Democrats who supported SB-191 with varying degrees of reluctance–but may be beginning to understand that some of their “allies” want to go much father than they do.