By Joy Resmovits
(From Huffington Post, June 21st, 2012)
The day after Michelle Rhee’s education lobbying group, StudentsFirst, got dumped by progressive petition site Change.org because of intense pressure from teachers’ unions, StudentsFirst waved a thorny olive branch of sorts at the nation’s two largest such unions.
On Wednesday afternoon, StudentsFirst, along with other education groups such as Democrats for Education Reform, Students for Education Reform and Hispanic CREO, wrote a letter to Dennis Van Roekel and Randi Weingarten, presidents of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, asking for a “new opportunity to collaborate to improve public education for kids.”
The letter, provided to The Huffington Post by StudentsFirst, points to recent education legislation in Connecticut that ultimately created a teacher evaluation system that grades teachers in part on their students’ standardized test scores; a “commissioner’s network” that allows the state to take over some failing schools; and increased funds for charter schools. Despite the attack ads that appeared during the legislative process, StudentsFirst’s letter to the unions acknowledges that both groups have claimed victory in establishing these policies — in some cases even going as far as to call them a “national model.”
But, the letter notes, the NEA’s and AFT’s state affiliates outside of Connecticut continue to protest similar policies. The Alabama Education Association recently sponsored a successful lobbying campaign against the creation of charter schools there. Unlike most arguments against charter schools, which characterize them as the tools of conservative privatizers, the Alabama campaign made its case by linking charters to such liberal causes as LGBT and President Barack Obama. “They sent out mailers saying Michelle Rhee is a left-wing Obama liberal who is trying to bring her policies here,” Rhee told The Huffington Post at the time.
This spring, the Missouri Education Association opposed a successful bill that expanded charter schools, and defeated a measure that would have tied teacher evaluations to test scores. Similar stories played out in Iowa, California and Pennsylvania.
While the national AFT and NEA outfits don’t have total control over their state affiliates, the reform groups hope Weingarten and Van Roekel “will speak up in support of these important reforms.” But Weingarten didn’t readily grab the olive branch, if that’s what it was.
“No one who’s serious about really doing education reform for kids would also engage at the same time in the union busting and the demagoguery of teachers that StudentsFirst engages in routinely,” Weingarten told HuffPost.