Imagine my chagrin this morning when I awoke to find a new and rather unholy alliance had been formed between Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. This alliance took the form of an anti-voucher op-ed in the LA Times.
Here’s a little taste of the nonsense:
We believe taxpayer money should support schools that are accountable to voters, open to all, nondenominational and transparent about students’ progress. Such schools — district and charter public schools — are part of what unites us as a country.
Yes, apparently Randi has morphed into a charter champion and Jonah believes that our district schools are “open to all, transparent, and accountable to voters.” Why see La La Land when I can just read and re-read this op-ed?
I always become immediately queasy —nauseous actually —when I see education reform leaders and/or their organizations partnering with Randi Weingarten because it reinforces Howard Fuller’s spot on observation about relationships within the educational and political landscape:
There are no permanent friends. There are no permanent enemies. There are only permanent interests.
While there is nothing surprising or inherently wrong in what Fuller has observed, it always serves as an important reminder that a friend on Monday can be an enemy (or at least an adversary) on Tuesday. While many of my own friends and colleagues seem comfortable working within this dynamic and are ready and willing to embrace union leaders when it suits them, I simply refuse to go there.
Unions exist to put the interests of adults first. As a former member of the teachers’ union, I have seen it first hand. Randi Weingarten’s primary responsibility is to her members and those members all happen to be grown ups. So when the interests of children and the interests of the grown ups are at odds, which happens very often in education, Randi will adhere to her job description and protect the adults. At the expense of kids. Every single time.
Randi Weingarten parachutes into city after city and inserts herself into the latest (and loudest) fights against charter schools and school turnarounds. She throws on the T-shirt of the day and shouts into a megaphone about “democracy” and the “public good” when what she’s really doing is blocking poor families, mostly of color, from having educational options. And since every single poll shows that those very same parents want more choices of where to send their children to school, Randi is essentially saying that she, a New Yorker who earns half a million dollars a year and has no children, knows what’s best for these parents from New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Philly.
Sharif El-Mekki observed this first hand in Philadelphia:
It is a little more than alarming to continuously have Weingarten parachute into our neighborhoods and identify schools that have been ineffective at best and oppressive at worst as “gems” and “beacons” of achievement and success—all surmised from an hour-long tour. It demonstrates that she and others are disconnected from the actual lives of students and the impact that failing schools have on Black, Latino and poor communities.
It is the height of condescension and arrogance and it is a self-serving attempt to hijack the power and agency of parents to suit her own agenda. And Randi will be the first to condemn those she opposes for swooping into communities that aren’t theirs to play the role of “white savior” —even though she does the exact same thing, every time, without fail.
Randi Weingarten says she cares about kids and then throws her voice, her influence, and millions of dollars into protecting lousy and mediocre teachers while excellent teachers lose their jobs. She supports LIFO (Last in, first out), full stop. It’s about protecting jobs and never about protecting children.
Randi Weingarten knows that all collective bargaining is political and that her organization forces its members to pay dues to support policies with which they vehemently disagree. She teamed up with another reform group (Educators for Excellence) to fight the Rebecca Friedrichs case —temporary friends, permanent interests — in the hope that she could protect her war chest while dismissing the deeply held beliefs of rank and file union members.
Randi Weingarten cares about equity until she doesn’t. She doesn’t support equitable dollars in the form of human capital going to our schools and instead stands by policies that keep the highest paid, most experienced teachers in the most affluent communities and the least experienced teachers in our highest need schools. Wouldn’t want to ruffle the feathers of those members teaching in the green leafy burbs while urban and rural children languish in classrooms that desperately need an influx of high quality instruction.
I don’t know much about Jonah Edelman but I am familiar with his reform organization, Stand for Children. Has he ever been a parent desperate for an escape hatch from the school to which his own child is zoned? I don’t know. Did he ever attend a dropout factory or a school that graduated students who couldn’t even read? Judging from his impressive Yale and Oxford pedigree, I kind of doubt it.
I would caution reformers who are foolishly dazzled by Randi’s star power. She is using you to say, “see, even your own people hate this.” And if you ever need her support on an issue that’s important to you, be sure to remember Howard’s words because more likely than not, you’ll be an enemy again by then.
So while Randi hops from being Senator Lamar Alexander’s best pal in perpetuating inequity, to praising the Heritage Foundation on Twitter, to partnering with E4E to fight the Friedrichs Supreme Court case to co-authoring an op-ed with Jonah Edelman against vouchers, I’m going to keep calling out these unholy alliances that reek of hypocrisy and do nothing to empower parents or students.