A mental disorder has come to California, but for the afflicted — mostly teacher union types — it manifests itself in a partisan way.

Voters were not swayed by outsiders and their millions…The public wants Board members who will listen to the community—not be beholden to their billionaire benefactors.

So harrumphed an indignant and self-righteous Warren Fletcher, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. This was in response to the fact that New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg poured $1 million into the LA school board races which essentially pitted reform candidates against those supported by the teachers union. And Fletcher’s was hardly a lone voice.

On the Huffington Post, John Thompson, whose bio reads “Award-winning historian and inner-city teacher,” wrote a barely coherent, paranoid black ops rant claiming that some reformers’ theories “are so silly that many teachers worry that their real plan is to privatize schools.” He then goes on to say,

Anthony Cody, in “Yes, Virginia, There Really IS a Billionaires Boys Club,” wrote recently about the influx of cash being sent to Los Angeles by billionaires like Eli Broad and Mike Bloomberg. While it may be legal for billionaires “to, in effect, buy up local school board races,” Cody argues, it is inconsistent with the spirit of our democracy’s principles of public education.

For the uninitiated, Cody is a devout anti-reformer who has joined forces with the embarrassing teacher union BFF Diane Ravitch. Together they have just launched The Network for Public Education. Proudly touting the new organization, Cody wrote in Education Week,

We will support candidates willing to stand tall for our public schools. We will help them mobilize support on the ground to make sure that, as in Los Angeles, their message is not drowned out by TV ads bought by billionaires.

He then quoted a statement released at the organization’s launch,

We have had enough of school closures, and the rapid expansion of selective charter schools…High-stakes testing takes the joy out of learning. It crushes creativity and critical thinking, the very qualities our society needs most for success in the 21st century.

So testing, charter schools and billionaires – especially the outsider genus – are the problem, you see. And of course Ravitch, Cody and their ilk are against closing any public schools no matter how awful they are, no matter how empty they are because parents refuse to send their children there. How thoughtful and compassionate! (And talk about critical thinking, Cody and Ravitch may be critical, but come up way short on “thinking.” And as for “creativity,” they are of the Luddite variety.)

Ultimately, the real issue here is not the tired “anti-outsider” shtick, but that it is very selective in nature. The whine of every status quo-loving anti-reformer who rails against outsider money neglects the 400 lb. gorilla sitting at the head of the table – the teachers unions. To wit, the American Federation of Teachers, a D.C. based teachers union, gave $150,000 to one of the anti-reformers in the same election in Los Angeles that had Fletcher’s knickers in a twist. The same AFT gave over $4 million to the successful “Yes on Prop. 30” campaign, which raised taxes on all Californians. After Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature killed collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the D.C. based National Education Association sent its chief of staff, John Stocks, to the Badger State as a lobbyist. Both NEA and AFT insert themselves into state and local politics all over the country by throwing millions of dollars at candidates, initiatives and lobbying efforts that support their self-serving agenda whenever and wherever they can. But not a peep about this from Fletcher, Thompson, Cody or Ravitch. Outsiderophobia is indeed a partisan affliction.

With all the caterwauling about “outsiders,” finding a non-hysterical POV is difficult. But alas, in a Los Angeles Daily News op-ed, former LA school board members, Marlene Canter and Yolie Flores write,

When people with no vested, personal interest in the outcome try to help elect reform-minded candidates, they are branded as “outsiders” who are trying to “buy elections.” This is perplexing. These individuals have a longstanding interest in closing the opportunity gap for poor kids and kids of color, and improving educational achievement for all students.

Personally, they stand to gain exactly nothing if the candidates they are supporting get elected. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving education, and their participation is critical for leveling the playing field and keeping these school board races competitive. Yet, when “insiders” who do have a vested, personal interest in the outcome contribute significant funding, this is somehow seen as more acceptable. (Emphasis added.)

Let us address the most obvious issue in these elections: the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. Teachers have an absolute right to organize, to collectively bargain, and to make their case for who they believe the best candidate would be. However, they have historically often been the only voice determining who the best board member would be.

Precisely.

Mayor Bloomberg’s donation came from someone who has nothing personally to gain by the outcome of the school board election in LA. He gave the money because he is interested in furthering meaningful education reform. The teacher unions’ goal is to maintain the failing status quo, and child-centered education reforms are not a part of it. Despite the common sense shown by Canter and Flores, I’m afraid that selective outsiderophobia has taken root in California and will probably metastasize to the rest of the country.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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