Exposing Teachers Union Front Groups Against Minority Kids

Hope remains eternal — at least among those who want Congress to pass a reauthorized version of the No Child Left Behind Act being considered by the Senate this week. Even as the likelihood of passage remains as unlikely as it was back in March, when House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline’s plan was kiboshed amid opposition from movement conservatives within the Republican majority, there are still some who think that the version under consideration now could pass if Kline’s colleague, Lamar Alexander, can get his plan into conferencing. The fact that conservative Republicans are no more interested in supporting Alexander’s plan than that of Kline (and that there will be pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to reject the entire measure without a single thought) doesn’t seem to factor into their thinking.

But the low likelihood of No Child reauthorization hasn’t exactly stopped Beltway players from the usual gamesmanship that has been a feature of past efforts. This includes the American Federation of Teachers, with the help of another group of so-called social justice players to lobby against the accountability and standardized testing measures that have helped more children gain high-quality education.

Three minority children

Earlier today, a group calling itself Journey for Justice Alliance released a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat leader Harry Reid demanding that they pass a version of No Child that eliminates “regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing”. Echoing arguments made last month in the pages of the Hill by Schott Foundation President John Jackson, Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project and wishy-washy education professor Pedro Noguera, Journey for Justice declares with no evidence that testing and accountability has somehow harmed poor and minority kids as well as supposedly “narrowed curriculum” (an argument that has been proven false by research from the likes of the U.S. Department of Education and Quadrant Arts Education Research’s Robert Morrison). As far as the group is concerned, the Senate should pass a version of No Child that eliminates any kind of accountability and spend even more money on a grab-bag of programs that includes “restorative justice coordinators” to reduce overuse of suspensions and expulsions.

Certainly Journey for Justice hasn’t paid much real attention to the Alexander plan for No Child. If they did, they would know that Alexander’s plan would all but solidify the Obama Administration’s move over the past few years to eviscerate No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provisions, which have exposed the failure of traditional districts to provide high-quality teaching, curricula, and school cultures to poor and minority children (as well as those condemned to the nation’s special ed ghettos). One can easily argue that the Alexander plan, like the one offered up by Kline, is a roll-back of strong federal education policy back to the bad old days when states and districts were allowed to educationally abuse children black and brown with impunity. For families, especially from poor and minority households, the Alexander plan’s evisceration of accountability makes it harder for them to gain high-quality data on how schools (and the adults who work in them) are serving the children they love.

But none of these points matter much to Journey for Justice’s signatories. Why? Because they are acting on behalf of AFT. This is because nearly all of them are dependent on the union’s financial largesse. And as you expect, this inconvenient fact goes all but unsaid by Journey for Justice in its letter.

As Dropout Nation noted last month, AFT, along with National Education Association, is struggling to gain support for its efforts against accountability (and, more-importantly, standardized testing) from civil rights groups such as Education Trust and NAACP. In order to buttress support for its goals, the union and other traditionalists have had to cobble together a motley crew of progressive groups and social justice outfits almost-totally dependent on its dollars.

The list of AFT vassals signing onto Journey for Justice’s letter such main members of the group as Alliance for Quality Education, which picked up $200,000 from the union and its New York State affiliate, NYSUT, in 2013-2014 alone. Other members include the Philadelphia Student Union (which collected $20,000 from AFT last fiscal year and whose board includes Anissa Weinraub, a flunky with the union’s City of Brotherly Love local), Youth United for Change (another Philadelphia-based outfit which picked up $60,000 from the union last year), and ACTION United, the beneficiary of $49,120 in AFT largesse for helping the union stall systemic reform of the traditional district there. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform, a recent beneficiary of AFT largesse (in exchange for opposing the expansion of charters) to the tune of $49,963), is one of Journey for Justice’s “allied organizations, as is AFT.

Look further down the list of signatories and you see AFT dependents all over the place. One of them is Center for Popular Democracy, which not only received $60,000 in 2013-2014 from the union, it even has union president Randi Weingarten serving on its board. As Dropout Nation readers already know, Popular Democracy has helped AFT in its effort to weaken efforts to expand public charter schools (as well as conceal the fact that the union’s opposition to them is spurred in part by the failures of its Big Apple affiliate to run one properly). Other AFT dependents include the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (which picked up $5,000 from the teachers’ union last fiscal year), Pride at Work ($5,000 in 2013-2014), New York Communities for Change ($10,000 in AFT funding within the last year alone), and Pride at Work.

Remember: Many of these groups do little when it comes to education policy, advocacy, and institution building — other than feast upon the dues AFT often-forcibly collects from teachers regardless of their desire for membership.

As you would suspect, Schott Foundation, which has become the favored ally of AFT (as well as NEA) in its efforts to condemn poor and minority kids to low expectations, is also a signatory on the letter. Befitting its eagerness to earn every one of the $480,000 it has collected from the Big Two in 2013-2014, Schott’s Opportunity to Learn campaign is also heavily promoting the letter through social media, calling the signatories civil rights groups even though just three such outfits — all affiliates of NAACP (which is supporting accountability and testing) — have signed onto the document. But hey, why let some inconvenient facts get in the way of spin?

Also signing the letter: Ten of AFT’s affiliates and locals — including the United Federation of Teachers and United Teachers Los Angeles. As you probably guessed, they also corralled their vassals to sign onto the claptrap. Chicago Teachers Union, for example, managed to convince its cadre of dependents — including the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Pilsen Alliance — to back the anti-accountability letter. UFT brought along the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (to which the union gave $6,550 in 2013-2014), Citizen Action of New York ($5,500), and Make the Road ($5,000 from UFT to the outfit’s political action wing).

The closer you look at the list of signatories, the more you realize that Journey for Justice is just another AFT front group for the union’s other villeins, giving the union (and other traditionalists) cover. All of this for the union on the cheap. Sadly, this isn’t surprising. Given that many of these nonprofits lack the financial wherewithal (even such resources as printers, copying machines, and conference space) to hold meetings and conduct business — and that reformers often fail to extend their considerable resources to help them — it is easy for them to go to AFT and its affiliates for help and even easier to support the union’s agenda in return. That some of these groups are led by middle-class black political and social leaders, who are often more-concerned about defending their pockets and their allies within teachers’ unions (while often refusing to send their kids to the failure mills they are protecting) also factors into their willingness to do work for AFT and other traditionalists.

Yet by supporting AFT’s efforts to eviscerate accountability and standardized testing, these groups are essentially declaring that they care not one bit about the futures of the very black, brown, and poor children for whom they proclaim concern. By siding with AFT, these groups are perpetuating the educational genocide that has wrecked havoc on our children and communities, and have hobbled efforts to end the racialist policies such as overuse of suspensions and expulsions (which many AFT locals, along with those of NEA, vigorously defend).

Your editor would say that Journey for Justice and AFT should be ashamed of themselves. But that would be a waste of breathe. After all, shame requires having a conscience and being willing to turn down money for advocating against poor and minority children.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

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