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NEA, AFT, Common Core, and VAM

November 9, 2013

I have been wondering about “the unions”– the two major national teachers unions– the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). I have been told that “the unions” are the major forces on the side of classroom teachers in this fight against the corporate takeover of American public education.

I want that to be true– but I cannot ignore what I am seeing.

I have been told not to question the unions– that my doing so could hinder their effectiveness in fighting “against reform.” I have been encouraged to “play nice.”

However, it seems that the line between national union and corporate reform has become a multi-million-dollar blur. Blurred lines between union and privatizer I find particularly disturbing.

I have been told that critically and publicly questioning the unions and union leadership  (dare I say, holding them accountable) is akin to crippling the unions in the fight against corporate reform.

My questioning the unions does not cripple them. The decisions of union leadership– especially their decisions tied to reformer dollars– are surely more powerful than any questions I could ask.

I am concerned about the unions’ accepting millions from billionaire reformers like Bill Gates.  I have been told that in their associations with corporate reform, the unions are just trying to “secure a seat at the table” in order to fight for teachers.

I am not so sure about this. Apparently neither are all who are “internal” to AFT; in this November 5, 2013, Education Week article, AFT President Randi Weingarten admits experiencing “pressure” from AFT’s receiving Gates funding:

Top union officials have faced internal rebukes for taking foundation cash. Ms. Weingarten especially, who hosted Mr. Gates at the AFT’s 2010 convention, has publicly sought to distinguish her union’s relationship from other Gates-financed teacher groups, noting that the foundation’s support amounts to just 1 percent of the AFT’s annual budget.

Nevertheless, she conceded, “At one point or another, maybe the pressure will be so great we won’t be able to do it anymore.”

It is one thing to have a seat at the bargaining table. It is quite another to accept millions in reformer cash and so closely resemble reformers in action that the unions become complicit in the destruction of American public education.

The question is, how close is too close?

In my continued efforts to answer such a question for myself, here I consider involvements of both AFT and NEA in what I am sure each would argue is its “place at the table in the fight against reform” regarding two major issues: The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and value-added (VAM) usage in teacher evaluation.

Common Core

First, a quick consideration of AFT and NEA support for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Both NEA and AFT support CCSS but maintain that they want a moratorium from the CCSS tests. Both received millions from the Gates Foundation in order to implement CCSS. Both have conducted surveys in which they frame the results as clear evidence of teacher support for CCSS. Even Gates offers his own pre-released, partial survey result in support of CCSS.

In this May 2013 Huffington Post blog, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel heartily endorses CCSS and its implementation:

Students across the nation are counting on us to help them learn and reach their dreams by getting the transition to Common Core State Standards right. To do that, teachers, parents, administrators and communities must come together and develop sound implementation plans, put those plans into place, and evaluate how well they work for students.

In this April 2011 AFT press release, Weingarten unreservedly supports the pro-CCSS, Gates-Pearson alliance:

The AFT welcomes this development in the implementation of the Common Core standards: the creation of digital course materials, professional development and curricula that will help teachers integrate the standards into classroom practice. We appreciate the interest the Gates and Pearson foundations have taken in ensuring that teachers’ voices are central to the design and implementation of these tools, and that is why we have agreed to work with them in this important effort. ….

Let us not forget that Pearson ultimately depends upon profits, as is all too evident in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), billion-dollar iPad fiasco. Pearson CCSS software is already on those overpriced iPads– but the license lasts for only three years. Then LAUSD– which substantially dipped into its construction bonds to begin this money-suck– will have to ante up again in order to renew the Pearson CCSS software.

CCSS is a top-down orchestration tied to Race to the Top (RTTT) funding and that requires the approval of only two individuals– neither of whom has a livelihood connected to the classroom. Van Roekel writes of NEA input into CCSS. However, “input” is not “development.”  Development is foundational; input is not.

“Input” need not even be heeded. “Input” could be nothing more than cosmetic involvement.

CCSS development belonged to ACT, College Board, Achieve, Inc., and Student Achievement Partners.

Both AFT and NEA want CCSS. Neither AFT nor NEA offers any critical analysis of CCSS. Both assume CCSS is a major, indispensable education solution– period.

Just like Bill.

Value-added Modeling

As for the use of value-added modeling (VAM) in teacher evaluation: Both NEA and AFT were represented on the newly-formed Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) task force that decided over Labor Day Weekend 2013 that VAM should be used to determine the “effectiveness” of teachers in training. Not only that: Both AFT and NEA presidents are members of the CAEP board of directors. Thus, what we have are both national unions endorsing the usage of VAM to “grade performance” of those attempting to legitimately enter an increasingly-reform-eroded profession.

In 2010, AFT President Randi Weingarten issued a press release in which she endorsed the view that VAM is “inappropriate for high-stakes decisions about individual teachers, students, and schools.” In 2011, NEA Today carried an article in which it notes that Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project results in favor of VAM were “dangerously misinterpreted.”

In 2013, Gates released its MET finding in favor of a “three-pronged approach” that includes VAM. In this article, Weingarten does not repeat her 2010 denouncement of VAM as “inappropriate for high-stakes decisions about individual teachers.” In contrast, her position in 2013 regarding Gates’ MET is noticeably forgiving of VAM usage:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the findings from the Gates study “reinforce the importance of evaluating teachers based on a balance of multiple measures of teaching effectiveness, in contrast to the limitations of focusing on student test scores, value-added scores or any other single measure.”

As for NEA’s Van Roekel: He offers this paper in which he writes of the need for change from how teacher evaluation has been conducted in the past; however, he avoids mentioning VAM. What is telling is that his paper is one of many featured on the Pearson website– a site that clearly favors VAM. Pearson is already tied to both teacher-in-training evaluation and CCSS prep. Let’s keep adding to it: Pearson is also deeply connected to CCSS via both testing consortia, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

So, where are both AFT and NEA when it comes to VAM?

Let us consider actions over words. Both NEA and AFT endorsed VAM usage for evaluating teachers in training. Neither AFT nor NEA has acted publicly to curtail the CAEP decision.

It appears that in action, both national unions support the concept of grading teachers using student test scores.

In Closing

The actions of AFT and NEA regarding both CCSS and VAM raise an important point regarding “the unions”:

The decisions of the state and local unions do not necessarily complement the decisions of the national unions. For example, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) sued the state over the April 2012 Act 1 legislation, a major component of which involves the tying of teacher evaluation to student test scores. In March 2013, a state district court declared Act 1 unconstitutional for its including too many items. The case has gone all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which decided to send it back to the district court. The case is scheduled to be reheard in district court on December 20, 2013.

Rather than join LFT in the lawsuit against ACT, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) has decided to use its resources to “pursue legal challenges [associated with Act 1] on a parish by parish basis.”

As for my local union, the St. Tammany Federation of Teachers: It is in the spotlight for having joined with our local school board in supporting a formal resolution against both CCSS and PARCC. Whereas the resolution has no legal teeth, it clearly communicates to district parents and other community stakeholders St. Tammany Schools’ steadfast position against CCSS and against the testing-dependent so-called “reform” that has been thrust upon it.

The actions of the national unions regarding the high-stakes issues of CCSS and VAM-based teacher evaluations demonstrate the comfortable distance between national teacher union leadership and the local classroom teacher.

Van Roekel and Weingarten will never directly experience the impacts of CCSS and VAM on their lives. Must they in order to be effective national teachers union leaders? I don’t think so. But I do believe they need to distance themselves from the likes of Gates and Pearson and from reformer millions.

How close is too close for the national unions to be to reformer millions?

Not sure where the “true line” is. Likely it is somewhere in past millions. However, when it comes to CCSS and VAM, it appears that both national unions have clearly crossed it.

21 Comments
  1. George Buzzetti permalink

    Unions, except as far as I now know CTU, do not protect their members or have their best interests at heart. UTLA is an example. They allow for a long time, since before 1995, their members to be falsely accused of child abuse, I have the State Audit on that one, Oct. 1997, 96121. They do not care if their members lose jobs as there are not the 117,000 students who do not come to school everyday. Divide 117,000/30 students/classroom = 3,900 teaching jobs + subs, for you substitute teachers. Not including all of the other jobs necessary to maintain and supply the classrooms, teachers and materials for those students. Stupid and bought and sold is the only answer for this.

    How are teachers supposed to teach when they are afraid if they do anything they will lose everything including their sanity. How many of you have dealt with mass quantities of teachers ready to blow off their heads as a result of this? Want to deal with tragedy? I have done it for too long. If I did not have one of the most beautiful settings and houses in the world as people have said who know, I would be in trouble also. I have privacy, a huge pool and the living setting. This allows me to think under pressure. My best friend and mentor,Richard Arthur, is one of the founders of UTLA and the best educator in this country as he has the creds. Turning around the most criminal and violent high school in the U.S. at the time and founding one of the highest performing public high schools in the U.S. for over 25 years Whitney High School and no one, except me, listens to him. This is the insanity and corruption of the unions, school districts, County and State Offices of Education, Universities, academics, governments, staff, superintendents, board members, consultants and all the rest of the losers and bought and sold cheaply participants in this fraud now led by the insane rip off of $167,000,000,000 in electronic devices which will bankrupt all school districts so they can be privatized. This is the game plan. Now, what are you going to do? I am already in action. Your decision now.

  2. 2old2tch permalink

    As far as I am concerned , you are just highlighting an uncomfortable truth of large organizations. The further the top is from those “in the trenches” the less well the trenches and the duties of the foot soldiers are understood or even taken into account. It becomes a strategic game to those with power. Thank you for looking out for the little guy.

  3. you have helped me in the past and I will help you back…I am old and retired. To put it succinctly, the unions are in bed with the corporate …at least in my state ..The dept of ed is pushing the new CC standards and PARCC…and the teachers on the front lines don’t want it here

  4. Joseph permalink

    Received this from Susan Ohanion. This could be a tipping point when Catholic Scholars come out against the CC to their Bishops.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/11/02/catholic-scholars-blast-common-core-in-letter-to-u-s-bishops/

  5. Harlan Underhill permalink

    A marvelous and disturbing peace, but not one describing a unique situation with unions, given how the Detroit Big Three auto companies got in bed with the auto unions and agreed to unsustainable wage, pension and benefit packages before Japanese competition brought two of them to bankruptcy, and the third to a much smaller size. The union concept is fine, but union practice is everywhere dependent on the integrity of the officers. This VAM issue is the final straw in my opinion. It’s as if the Capitalists rather than the Bolsheviks are manipulating the Russian soviets to take over the income stream of education. I personally see no way to stop privatization it as long as both teachers and citizen school boards live by such short term thinking. The St. Tammany parish resolution is a sign of hope, but much too small a one.

    • Joseph permalink

      It pits labor against the Church. Time for an encyclical ike Pope Leo did supporting the dignity of Labor. It will never come from the union. They really don’t care about working conditions. Randi was honored by that bastion of conservative education, Harvard. She must be doing something right to please them.

  6. Joseph permalink

    I understand that the Pope is going to name an Irish woman as Cardinal.
    I did not realize that Cardinals do not have to be priests.

  7. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    Unions are part of the problem, but the money behind the CCSS would put them in place even if unions objected. In April, 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a collaboration with the Pearson Foundation.
    “One of the central pieces of this work [aligning resources and instruction to the CCSS] is developing full curricula on a digital platform, and we’re excited the Pearson Foundation has taken a leadership role in leveraging new technologies. Pearson is developing digital courses in math and English language arts that will help teachers and principals implement the stan-dards, with printed materials and online courses using video, interactive software, games and social media. We are pleased that through our partnership with the Pearson Foundation, four of these courses—two in math and two in English language arts—will be available for free online.” Phillips, V. (2011, April 27). Cutting-edge tools to help teachers in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/foundationnotes/Pages/vicki-phillips-110427-cutting-edge-tools.aspx
    What this announcement did not reveal is the fact that this collaboration between two foundations is supporting the development of 24 courses, making four available free, but leaving 20 available for sale by Pearson. Pearson is the world’s largest publisher of educational materials with operations in 60 countries. Moreover the key persons involved in designing these courses also led the teams who wrote the CCSS. Pearson thus ends up with a nicely branded line of products marketable as internationally benchmarked. Coincidently, Microsoft is expanding its relationship with Pearson in the inter-national marketplace for online education. Gewertz, C. (2011, May 11). Gates and Pearson partner on Common Core. Education Week, 1, 20.
    The “through-put of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to the Pearson Foundation is one of many examples of a new form of market-based philanthropy. The resources of deep-pocket non-profits are mobilized for organized agenda-setting campaigns through “partnerships” with other foundations, a host of professional organizations, and interest groups organized as lobbies. These complex arrangements among non-profits are legally structured to secure government contracts and to generate commercially viable products or services.Global Philanthropy Forum, (2011). Annual conference program: Ten years hence. Retrieved from http://www.philanthropyforum.org/forum/2010_Annual_Conference.asp?SnID=1807066400

    In 2010, Pearson was the most profitable educational publish-ing corporation in the world, with revenues just shy of $6 billion dollars. As one indication of the seamless relationships between commercial interests, higher education, and the highest level of policy formation, one of the directors of Pearson International, serving in 2009 for compensation at about $98,000, was Susan Fuhrman, president of Teachers College at Columbia University and president of the National Academy of Education.a The Pearson/Gates digital course development was being lead by Judy Codding, former President and CEO of America’s Choice and coordinated by Susan Sclafani, former counselor to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. The substantive leaders of the Gates’/Pearson curriculum also led the College and Career Readiness Standards Work Groups on mathematics (Phil Daro) and English/language arts (Sally Hampton).b As another example, Pearson sponsors international “summit“ conferences, co-hosted by the CCSSO. The first was in Singapore (2008 on science and mathematics education), followed by Finland (2009 on teacher quality), and London, (2010 on digital technologies). After each conference Pearson publishes a Report and Policy Recommendations for Education Leaders.c Pearson owns SchoolNet and its “Service partner” iSphere. Both provide multi-platform services (web, internet, mobile) to schools engaged in alignment studies, reporting on students skills needing improvement, school performance measures (with Kaplan K-12 learning services), staff performance appraisals, and more.d
    a Retrieved from http://www.pearson.com/investor/ar2009/governance/remuneration-report.html
    b Retrieved from http://www.pearsonfoundation.org/pr/20110427-pf-partners-with-gates-foundation-to-create-digital-learning-programs.html
    cRetrieved from http://www.pearson.com/responsibility/cr_report2009/citizenship/foundation.html
    d Retrieved from http://www.pearsoned.com/2011/04/26/pearson-acquire-schoolnet/

  8. Joseph permalink

    Some things just can’t be digitalized such as the writing process, or using outside library books to do a project, or cooperative learning, or shared reading, or knowledge obtained through field trips, or children helping other children. All of these are lost with the Common Core.

  9. George Buzzetti permalink

    Do not forget Chicago Teachers Union who seems to be standing alone for students, teachers and community. At the last UTLA elections we were told in a private dinner by a just elected UTLA official that the N.Y. city teachers union, CTU and UTLA were going to join together. Did not happen only CTU did the right thing. Do not forget that. If later they stab in the back OK, but not now, not until that ever, and I hope it does not, happen. Never condemn until they do it, not on speculation. Otherwise you are no better than the crooks with ethics and the truth.

  10. RampartStreet permalink

    Unions lose their way when their top leadership becomes an aristocracy divorced from the day-to- day experiences of their members. That process is accelerated when unions’ leaders are seduced by the diverse trappings of power, such as salaries multiple times greater than the wages of those they represent and cozy, cooperative relations with those who are the adversaries of their membership. That has evidently now happened to AFT.

    I have followed but not previously commented on Mercedes’ Schneider’s line of pointed questions to Randi Weingarten, followed by Weingarten’s evasive responses and the subsequent ad hominem attacks on Mercedes Schneider by Weingarten’s allies. When power becomes corrupted it is not disloyal or counterproductive to point out that fact, and those who have criticized Mercedes Schneider on those grounds have betrayed the weakness of their position in doing so. Mercedes Schneider asks direct questions which could elicit direct, factual responses, but these are not forthcoming. Instead their response has been a long stream of evasion, diversion, and personal attacks. What this faction of AFT’s national leadership evidently fails to understand is that Mercedes Schneider never writes without researching thoroughly first, and from what I can see she has a mind like a steel trap and the tenacity of purpose to match. She isn’t afraid to speak truth to power, whether that power is represented by Bobby Jindal, Arne Duncan or, sadly now, Randi Weingarten.

    I am an AFT member of nearly 30 years standing and I trust my local, but I do not trust the national AFT. they have been co-opted and bought out by those they should be ethically bound to oppose, and Randi Weingarten and her toadies in AFT’s leadership are in the process of rapidly selling out we, the dues-paying members of AFT.

    Is it time for a new union to replace the one which has lost its way? Without a rapid shift away from their alignments with Gates, Duncan and the corporate interests which drive CCSS, that day may not be far off.

    • I am LPEA/LEA/NEA.
      I think that a “new union” could be considered.
      However, we do not have the resource of time on our side right now.
      We don’t have time to do the work necessary to raise a Phoenix from the ashes when we have a Presidential election in a year and a half and
      When every time we cut the head off the privatization “snake”, like Medusa’s “do” beau coup spring up in the place of one.

  11. George Buzzetti permalink

    The Catholic Schools do not have to follow the Common Core as they produce competent students as they cherry pick and have proper teaching methodologies. If they want to be bought and sold like Judas for some silver not gold shame on them. Are people really that crazy?

    • Yes. I teach in a Catholic School. My school system might as well be married to Pearson and we are using the Common Core State Standards. Technology is all the rage.

  12. Reblogged this on Schools of Thought – NY and commented:
    I have been wondering about “the unions”– the two major national teachers unions– the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) and where they stand on common core.

    Unions and Core, friend or foe?

    This blog attempts to answer that riddle.

    Comments from teachers in response are greatly welcome and appreciated!

  13. 1) I call on fellow union members to call the national leadership to account on this one.
    Unacceptable!
    2) These corporate raider reformers are like roaches when you turn off the lights … They come out of every nook and cranny! (No, I don’t have roaches!)
    We have to stop “cutting off the heads” of the snakes (personal attacks/ridding of individual proditeers) bc they just grow 12 more in the stead!
    Did you count how many names were listed up there?
    To rid us of these “robber barons”, we have to strike at the “body”.
    What would that be?
    The funding source? The biggest one?
    It would have to be strategic and surgical. Swift as well.
    I am not promoting violence, by the way, but strategy.
    NPE a week away, y’all.

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