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EDIT: In regards to signing the open letter as per the end of this post, they say they are having trouble with their website so if you want to be sure your signature gets on their list, send an email with full name and city to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update II: Also, see bottom of post for a video from Citizens for Public Schools, one of the orgs fighting the ballot initiative.
I don’t know if you even know who Stand for Children is. Some of you reading, however, will. I was approached by Stand via trusted local officials when they were trying to get a regional organizing group started up here. They’d hired someone to start talking and organizing up here and after coffee with them, and a long conversation, it seemed good, it came through a very trusted source, and so I signed up for small recurring donations.
This was a number of years ago, before Stand for Children turned into what appears to be a vampire.
Stand for Children has a long history, going back into the early 90s, about working on improving education for all, especially for the poor. What happened to them is nothing less than literally, the life being sucked out of its carotid artery, exchanged for diseased blood, so that the organization could rise again, faster, stronger, and ready to devour the very people it once fought to protect.
Now, they are Scott-Walkering our state with a ballot initiative, trying not only to destroy teachers unions and public schools with “reform” that we know won’t solve anything, but doing it on the backs of the stellar reputations of the state’s education advocacy groups, elected officials, and individuals. Including this blog, and myself.
But now the wheels are coming off the bus, so to speak. You might have remembered Jack’s post from October 2011 where he talks about Stand and the ballot initiative they want to foist on our state. (There are some really, really excellent comments on that post. Go read it. Also read this article linked in comments by pablo, about the funding shift and Stand’s about-face.)
As parents, teachers, and community members, we are Massachusetts grassroots activists for education. We read bills, testify at hearings, write letters to the editor, pore over budgets, speak at town meetings, make phone calls, and hold fundraisers. Many of us have done so for years.
It was as part of this work and with great hope that we joined Stand for Children. 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.
This was not what I, nor so many elected officials, parents, teachers, and administrative staff, signed up for. Certainly, these vultures (that’s how I think of them now) came at the most progressive elements with a nice story, perhaps heartfelt at the time, about how we were all going to work together to improve schools and help our kids be even better than they already are as students and as future citizens. No mention of charters, at-will teacher employment (read: easy firing), or anything remotely like that.
The letter continues:
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.
The ballot initiative brought forward by Stand for Children is just the most recent example.
Stand was one group of many at the table when the new Massachusetts educator evaluation system was hammered out over several months last spring. Unions, principals, state officials, parents—all contributed. But when the new regulations were finally announced, one group walked away—Stand for Children.
Immediately, Stand filed for a ballot initiative and used some of their new corporate money to hire people to collect the signatures. It cost them $3 a signature, but they have plenty more. They are following the master plan revealed in Colorado by their national CEO, Jonah Edelman, a month before it was announced Massachusetts.
The proposed ballot measure attempts to blow up the collaborative work that created the new regulations last spring. It does nothing to improve teaching in our schools. What it does is put the careers of our teachers at the mercy of an untested rating system, violating the recommendations of the people who designed that system.
We fear the result would be to drive some of our best teachers away from the schools that need them most.
This ballot measure fits the ideology of its corporate sponsors, but it is not what we want for those who teach our children. Most of all, it is not what we want for our children.
Therefore we the undersigned, as former members and leaders of Stand for Children, urge Massachusetts voters to oppose this ballot measure.
The letter is then signed by 30 former members and staffers of Stand for Children.
I emphasized certain phrases because I want you to really understand the story. Stand for Children brought together all these pro-education elements, worked with them, helped them with their agendas to improve education. But when recent negotiations for reform were happening, even though it included many of the new corporate anti-public-ed elements they wanted to push for - Stand walked away from the table. Stand wants to totally dismantle that reform in exchange for extremist reform a la the sort of (constitutionally illegal) thing Scott Walker imposed on Wisconsin in his public union busting.
Now, I’d like to be optimistic and say that this shift in their goals, while provoking total whiplash, happened after they began their work with Massachusetts communities and advocacy groups. But my cynical side smells something fishy. We’ve had far too many of these sneaky initiatives - like ALEC, which has been in the news lately - funded by the very same sorts of very rich far-right ideologues who appear to be behind Stand for Children’s “shift” in policy goals.
It fits too neatly with the sort of attacks on our democracy that we’ve seen from the likes of the Koch brothers and ALEC and SuperPACS.
Perhaps the funding shift, which started in 2005, didn’t filter down to the statewide org until that moment that Stand walked away from the reform discussions. Perhaps not. But I suspect that on the national level, the shift occurred long before I had my coffee with the organizer they’d hired for Lowell. (Who, by the way, herself seemed genuine.)
Whatever the internal story of the organization is, however, one thing is very plain. Stand for Children is now as dangerous to our children as the poisonous chemicals beneath our sinks. If you want to protect our kids - and notice I do not say “protect our teachers” but our KIDS - then you must oppose their insidious ballot initiative. Far from solving anything at all, their sort of “reform” will only turn Massachusetts into a state with last-rate education. Since we’re number one in the nation right now, I think we’re doing just fine with the schools and the reform we have, a balanced approach that promotes success without further harming the very schools in the deepest trouble. (We might even find that even our reform went a bridge too far, but I guess the next few years of test scores and measurements will tell.)
You can, and you should, go sign the open letter here as well (I have). (Note that your comment with your signature won’t show up right away.) Even if you never were a member or a donor, please do. If you are or were a member or donor, though, you should especially sign. You should feel pretty angry that such an organization with such a great history has become one of the front line organizations promoting the dismantling of our state’s pretty stellar public school system.
Update: a video from Citizens for Public Schools:
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