AFT Caught With Their Pants Down on Parent Trigger Battle
A document that brags about American Federation of Teachers’ efforts to undermine parent groups in Connecticut shows us what reformers are up against.
On August 2nd, RiShawn Biddle of DropoutNation uncovered a curious document on the American Federation of Teachers website. The PowerPoint presentation was titled “How Connecticut Diffused the Parent Trigger” and explained — at times, bragged about — just how the union did it.
The AFT, which has under the leadership of the charismatic Randi Weingarten positioned itself as a benevolent, kid-, community- and teacher-loving outfit that just happens to advocate here and there for its 1.5 million members, outlined its strategy to combat the parent trigger movement in Connecticut. They started with “Plan A: Kill Mode” and followed up with “Plan B: Engage the Opposition.” Plan B must have been difficult to execute, as the presentation mentioned how the AFT “Dragged [the] CEA kicking and screaming” into the fight because “teachers need to be united” — an accounting of the events that might shock Connecticut’s NEA affiliate.
They bragged — as much as you can brag in PowerPoint CliffsNotes language — about how their success was partly due to the “Absence of charter school and parent groups from the [negotiating] table.” That’s an odd statement from an organization that purports to bring together all relevant community stakeholders to improve education.
Biddle’s discovery snowballed into the presentation — ironically given the filename “damagingpres” — making the rounds in ed policy circles. It wasn’t long before the AFT pulled the file from their servers and started damage control.
This Week in Education’s Alexander Russo was first on the scene, pulling a response from Ms. Weingarten that disavowed the language of the presentation:
“The powerpoint didn’t represent AFT or my views, nor does it represent the Conn Fed’s views.”
A note has been placed on the AFT website that echoes Weingarten:
NOTE: We have posted all the presentations from the sessions to make the information available to all the attendees. However, the materials do not necessarily represent AFT’s position.
The presentation, it seems, was only the work of Jennifer Berigan, a lobbyist with the AFT’s Connecticut affiliate, and was for a panel discussion called “Damaging Legislative Proposals and What You Can Do to Fight Them!” This has undoubtedly been a tough week for Ms. Berigan, who, in addition to her normal responsibilities, now has a bus on top of her.
The message from Ms. Weingarten and the AFT is clear: We love the ends, but we can’t celebrate the means in public. Weingarten has issued a classic ‘non-apology apology,’ which should be familiar to anyone who has ever had a fight with a loved one. There’s a big difference between “I’m sorry” and “I’m sorry that you’re mad.”
Hannya Boulos, the Director of Buffalo ReformED — a broad coalition of parents and community stakeholders who this year attempted to bring parent trigger legislation to New York — represents just the type of reform organization that Weingarten and the AFT are trying to ‘damage.’ Ms. Boulous said the AFT’s presentation:
“… confirms the real reason they [the AFT] do not support efforts to give parents legal decision making power — they simply don’t believe parents should be at the table, because they see parental empowerment as a threat to the status quo.”
Ms. Boulos continued:
“The AFT demonstrated how they used their political clout and lobbying efforts to weaken the Bill from a measure that would give parents legal authority to turnaround their children’s failing schools, into a measure that created governance councils of parents and teachers at failing schools. These councils are glorified PTA groups that the AFT admits are a misnomer because “they do not have true governing authority.” Ironically, the only reason they were able to weaken the legislation is because they blocked parents from taking part in the negotiations, effectively shutting out the stakeholders the Parent Trigger was designed to empower.
AFT’s “kill mode” strategy unveils a leadership that is archaic in its approach, and adverse to reform. Rather than give parents a seat at the decision making table, or engage them in meaningful negotiations, they use back door deals and political might to preserve a status quo that consistently fails students and parents.”
Given the evidence, it’s hard to argue Ms. Boulos’ points — though the AFT will surely try.
The AFT — or just that rogue lobbyist, depending on your take — likes to tout to its supporters its living, ever-evolving experience in fighting the forces that it suggests are out to destroy public schools and our communities. The organization has learned from the on-going battle between Parent Revolution, the State of California and all the relevant union and non-union players, which they gleefully express in their PowerPoint.
But the AFT’s opposition is learning, too. Groups like Parent Revolution, Buffalo ReformED and a host of others — which Biddle aptly calls the ‘Parent Power’ movement — are learning along with the broader community what outfits like the AFT really think about their efforts. More importantly, they’re witnessing in detail just how organizations like the AFT go about opposing reform movements.
It was a great week for the independent education media, as Mr. Biddle showed how powerful a force a committed blogger, writer and researcher can be. It was a crummy week for Ms. Berigan.
The real losers were the AFT and its allies, who were caught with their pants down, albeit for a brief moment.
The real winners were parents and the organizations who represent them . It’s about time.
[The original presentation, which has since been taken off the AFT's servers, is available at DropoutNation: http://rishawnbiddle.org/outsidereports/aft_parentpower_guide.pdf]
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