Moving On From Latest Charter School Showdown

The dust is finally settling on the latest showdown between EdSec Betsy DeVos and AFT President Randi Weingarten on charter schools, their history, and their potential. The rhetoric earlier this month got ugly. But it can provide a real opportunity to look at school choice in a meaningful way … and to use charter schools as a channel for driving school improvement on the whole. Sorta like what was conceived decades ago (and supported by Weingarten predecessor Al Shanker). 

We explore the dust up and the potential on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. 

Some PR Advice for the EdSec

It’s been four months since the start of the Trump Administration. Three months since EdSec Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing. Yet most are still waiting for DeVos to take control of the ED bully pulpit like her predecessors did. And waiting. And waiting.

Over at the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, Michael Petrilli offers some advice from PR pros on how DeVos could, or should, up her comms game. There are some valuable thoughts there. Then there are some insights offered by yours truly. You may be right, Eduflack may be cray-cray. But I do think it would be a master stroke to have DeVos ask Randi Weingarten if she can address the full AFT at its summer gathering. 

Give the full article a read. You won’t be disappointed.

I Don’t Have to Like You, But …

It’s very easy for the two sides in public education to just hurl attacks, virtriol, and brickbats day after day after day. School improvement discussion have devolved into hand-to-hand combat, with each side trying to best the other … consequences be damned.

Despite all of this fighting, last month EdSec Betsy DeVos and AFT President Randi Weingarten found the time to come together and actually spend time with each other in the same school at the same time. No, we shouldn’t expect a major sea change or detente to come out of the Ohio visit, but maybe, just maybe, it can provide some guidance on how we can look to collaborate more and shout a little less.
I’ve been fortunate to work on both sides of the debate. What has always surprised me was how the two sides actually have far more in common than in disagreement. Sure, we will focus on the areas of departure, but we can use those places of commonality to try to and work together. On the latest episode of TrumpED on BAM! Radio Network, I applaud both DeVos and Weingarten for at least giving it a try. Give it a collegial listen!
 

DeVos, the Teachers Unions, and Political Cartoonists

While not endorsing the message of the below cartoon, Eduflack was fascinated by the following piece that appeared in the Tampa Times last week (the newspaper of record for Eduflack’s parents during winter time). 

I recognize that far too many people are looking to sources like Saturday Night Live and the Daily Show for their news these days. But what was most interesting was that the DeVos confirmation rose to the level of a syndicated political cartoon (particularly one distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group) and that the cartoon would differ so strongly from the editorial content that the Post was publishing on the same topic. 

Any sightings of this in other newspapers? If so, please share.

AFT’s New Battleground

Earlier today, AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a barn burner of a speech at the National Press Club. In remarks that were clearly crafted to go after Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos before her confirmation hearings later this week, Weingarten also laid our her “four pillars of public education,” spotlighting the importance of promoting children’s well-being, supporting powerful learning, building capacity, and fostering collaboration.

While one can (and should) quibble that much of the four pillars seem to focus on the the adults in the room, and not the kids receiving said public education, the speech is an interesting read. 

Dear ol’ Eduflack feels the need to question the title of the remarks, and the entire setup. In speaking under the banner of “Four Pillars to Achieve Powerful, Purposeful Education … Or Reigniting the Education Wars,” Weingarten posits that the education wars were put to bed after the passage of ESSA in late 2015, even noting, “despite the extraordinary political divisions in the country, and after the damaging failures of policies like NCLB, we finally reached a strong bipartisan consensus on a way forward to improve public education in America.”

Clearly, I’m spending my time on a different battlefield. With continued, harsh rhetorical battles on everything from Common Core to testing, teacher evaluation to technology, school choice to alt cert, bathrooms to the Pledge, it seems quite a stretch to suggest that the education wars were ever extinguished. For a speech that is almost entirely inside baseball, are there any individuals who attended the speech or might read the remarks who can honestly say we believed the education wars were continually burning in some way, shape, or form?

Regardless of your perspective, the speech is worth the read. You may agree with all of it, you may see it as a blueprint to understand how others will attack all you hold near and dear. 

So I ask you to join with us as we stand up for the well-being of all children. For powerful learning. For capacity building for teachers. For community collaboration. Please join with us as we stand up for the promise of public education, and for the public schools all children deserve. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten, January 9, 2017

A Surprising Backer of “Fair Share”

As just about everyone engaged in education policy knows, today the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing Friedrichs v California Teachers Association. For those who need the Cliffnotes, the case is about whether a public union (California’s NEA affiliate) can require those who choose not to be union members to still pay agency fees for the collective bargaining benefits they receive.

Or even more simply, if you are a school teacher who chooses not be part of the teachers union, should you have to help pay some of the costs for all of the work that goes into negotiating your salary and benefits and that provides you the job guarantees you expect, whether you hold a union card or not?

Longtime readers of Eduflack would probably assume that I come down on the side of Friedrichs, joining with many other reformers in a supposed effort to stand up to the unions. But you’d be wrong.

I believe in the “fair share” arguments that the CTA and their supporters are making. I believe in the editorial stance that the Los Angeles Times took this morning. I believe that since Friedrichs benefits, she should pay her fair share for the collective bargaining rights she enjoys. She doesn’t have to pay the full freight of being a union member if she doesn’t want to, but we have to acknowledge that fair is fair.

My reasoning for such is simple, and quite personal. Twenty five years or so ago, I watched as my mother, and NEA member and high school teacher in West Virginia, walked the picket lines for better pay and better rights for teachers. Most of her fellow educators walked with her, as did most of the educators across the entire state. They did so against great threat. Striking teachers were told they would not be paid. They were told they would be punished for their actions. They were sued in court.

In my mother’s school, there were two or three teachers who chose not to strike, as is their right. They went into school each day during the strike, sitting in empty classrooms and drinking coffee. These teachers would be paid. And then they would receive the pay increases, improved benefits, and greater protections that the striking teachers fought so hard for.

None of the risk, all of the reward. Those teachers who chose to cross the picket lines of their fellow teachers were in a win-win. They didn’t jeopardize their careers, nor did they have to wonder how they were going to pay their rent that month. And then they received all of the benefits that they themselves refused to ask for. They got it because the teachers union negotiated it. Everyone benefits or no one does. That’s what a union and collective bargaining is all about.

At the time, my mother explained to my younger sisters the importance of unions and of collective bargaining. Her father was a lifelong member of the Teamsters. After dropping out of high school, he joined the Army. The Army taught him to drive a truck. And the Teamsters turned that skill into a profession. Because of his union, he was able to provide for his family of seven. When he cast a vote as a Teamster, it was always what was best for the group, not what may be best for him personally. They were a brotherhood, believing a rising tide lifted all boats.

I realize that many believe the Court will side with Friedrichs and determine that “fair share” is unfair for those not wanting to be in the union. I hope that isn’t the case. Yes, it is the right of every worker to determine whether they want to be full members of a public union or not. Yes, it is the right of a teacher to not want to pay for lobbying or political activities if they choose so. But it is also the obligation of that teacher, if he or she benefits from collective bargaining, to pay their fair share of the costs of said bargaining.

 

Is It Really Spying?

This week AFT President Randi Weingarten was in London. She wasn’t there to enjoy the sights and sounds, though. She was there for the Pearson shareholders meeting. And you can see her full remarks here

It should come as no surprise that she spoke out against high-stakes testing and the sheer number of assessments going on in classrooms across the country. But she also focused in on one of these themes ther has been popular on social media these days–cyber spying on students. 

Specifically, the issue is tracking what students on social media platforms are saying about Pearson and about the tests Pearson is responsible for. The story has become its own beast, and WaPo’s Emma Brown had one of the more level-headed stories on it. 

Granted, student privacy and cyber stalking are big issues right now. But the whole topic begs an important question. Is social media monitoring really spying?

Every student who posts to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (though not so much FB, as there is more for his or her parents) does so because they want people to see it. They want attention. They want the clicks. They want the eyeballs. If folks aren’t watching, it might as never even happened. 

So when you put your views, even about testing, out there for all the world to see, should we get worked up when the testing company you are writing about is watching? Should we be surprised there a multi-billion-dollar company is taking note of what is said about their product?

Personally, I rarely post about companies on Twitter. Instead, I focus on education issues. But this month, I praised one company and shamed another. I offered laurels to Wicked Good Cupcakes because they offer a great product and even better customer service. I swung brickbats at Frontier Airlines because of the opposite (just awful customer service). Both were clearly monitoring Twitter. Wicked Good responded right away. It took Frontier the good part of a day to respond with a CYA response. 

I offer it as reminder that all watch social media. That’s sorta the point. So why get all worked up when companies are found to actually watch and respond to socials media? That’s what we are looking for. That what everyone who makes a post hopes for. Social media is for the attention seeker. 

Student privacy is a serious issue. It demand real policies and careful oversight. But we cheapen the issue, and risk losing control of it, when we throw the label on all sorts of issues that don’t deserve it. 

Social media monitoring isn’t a threat to student privacy. It is just good business. The threat is students who share too much information in the first place. If we don’t want testing companies to know what students are thinking, we need students to stop posting about their tests.