The following is an article by Kristin, a founding member of Parents Across America Seattle, who will hopefully become a regular contributor to our blog.

Thanks Kristin for this great article.

Dora

All around the country, legislation is being introduced that would attack seniority by changing the “last in, first out” (LIFO) rule for teacher layoffs. There’s a corresponding meme going through the media
saying that there are a lot of bad teachers who need to be fired in order to make room for new and improved teachers. What’s behind this? Basically, a lot of billionaires and corporations with an agenda.

They’d like education to be run like a corporation, and they’d also like to bust up the teacher’s unions as part of a national strategy to bust public sector unions.

The billionaires are out in plain sight if you know how to follow the money, and the agenda is right there in plain sight too. This article takes a look at only one of the billionaire-funded organizations out there,
the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and showing how it is attacking public education.

Last In, First Out – What Does it Mean?

Most teachers contracts now specify that when there are layoffs, the last ones hired are the first to be let go. Those with greater seniority are protected. They don’t have “tenure” – teachers whose performance is deemed unsatisfactory can be and are let go – but they do have a reasonable expectation that they’ll have a job from year to year. Children benefit from having more experienced teachers, experienced teachers benefit from job security, and even new teachers benefit from having
good long-term career prospects.

But many billionaire and corporate “education reformers” are calling for an end to LIFO. Ending LIFO is bad news for children, because it means they have more teachers with less than three years of experience, who are still learning the ropes. It’s bad news for teachers, who lose job security. In the worst case, which is already a reality for some teachers, they are laid off each summer and may or may not get a job the next fall. This changes teaching from a profession to an assembly-line job. It’s even bad for new teachers, who are entering a career with no guarantee it will last. Some top-notch candidates will avoid the teaching profession altogether.

What the Fordham Institute Wants

The Fordham Institute, which supports research, publications, and action projects advocating “education reform,” is funded by billionaire foundations such as the Broad Foundation, the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund (the Fishers own the GAP clothing stores), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation (the family that owns WalMart). It also receives support from the Fordham Foundation, a charitable foundation for charter schools in Ohio.

It is a strong advocate of “education entrepreneurs” – that is, for-profit and nonprofit teacher preparation programs and charter school companies, organizations that are angling to get their hands
on public money for education. In the publication “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents,” the Institute ranks cities based on how friendly they are to these entrepreneurs. They advocate that state and local leaders “knock down barriers” to change such as “formal legal and regulatory obstacles, such as licensure provisions that make it difficult or costly to operate nontraditional teacher training programs, contract provisions that prize tenure over talent, and procurement arrangements that effectively prevent entrepreneurs from doing business with the district.” (By “nontraditional,” they mean programs that send teachers into the classroom, on their own, with only weeks of experience.)

Along with supporting education reformers/entrepreneurs, the Institute advocates ending “last in, first out” teacher seniority protections. The policy brief “Stretching the School Dollar: A Policy Brief for State Lawmakers” advocates ending “last hired, first fired” practices for crassly financial reasons – the newer teachers are cheaper, and on top of that, having younger teachers cuts health care and pension costs. This is straight-up age discrimination.

Meet Fordham’s Partner, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)

The Fordham Institute advances its education agenda through propaganda such as pamphlets on its site and in Education Next, a magazine it sponsors, but goes farther than that by funding and working
with organizations that influence school districts and states. For example, it partners with the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), which provides information for customers who want to institute
pro-business education reforms, including a massive database on collective bargaining units nationwide – and, as an added bonus, offers consulting services to groups aiming to change education policy.

The Fordham Institute and the NCTQ have these key connections:

1) The Fordham Institute helps fund the NCTQ, which also makes it one of the customers of the NCTQ.

2) The NCTQ and the Fordham Institute co-author a number of publications, and the Institute-sponsored Education Next promotes papers written by the NCTQ.

3) Chester E. Finn, Jr. president of the board of Trustees for the Fordham Institute and editor of Education Next, serves on the board of directors of the NCTQ.

The Modus Operandi of the NCTQ

The basic plan is outlined on the NCTQ “Scope of Bargaining” site. It explains that educational policy is shaped by such things as state law, contract negotiations, board policies, and the superintendent. Those, therefore, are the areas its customers can target in order to change policy. The massive database of union contracts is, of course, of great benefit to those customers.

Customers can also call upon the NCTQ for consulting services when it’s time for a teachers union to negotiate a contract with the district. The NCTQ is remarkably open about its manipulation of this
process, as you can see from its web site.

The consultants go into a city and influence it at every level. The web site says, “We partner with local community organizations in each city so that we have local buy-in and so that the community feels ownership of the report.” The word “feels” is really important here: the community feels ownership, but doesn’t actually have that ownership. They partner with – or, in other words, use – “organizations with a commitment to improving education for students.” They also contact the media, the district, and the teachers union – anybody who might help advance their agenda. Their agenda. Not ours.

The NCTQ has performed this service for its customers in the cities of Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Kansas City and Seattle. Studies are underway in Los Angeles and Miami. It has also conducted studies in Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

And who are its customers? That information is readily available on their Web site. NCTQ funders include the Fordham Institute, the Gates Foundation, and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund. Members
of the board of directors also include charter schools groups like the KIPP Foundation and the NewSchools Venture Fund, and teacher preparation groups like Teach for America, Inc. and the New
Teacher Center – all organizations with a financial interest in altering teacher contracts in order to create openings for new, low-paid teachers with less training.

Manipulation of Contract Negotiations in Seattle: A Case Study

Seattle provides a prime example of how the NCTQ operates. In October 2009, less than a year before contract negotiations, the NCTQ produced a report called “Human Capital in Seattle Schools.” This report was commissioned by the Alliance for Education, one of many local education funds (LEFs) around the country. Like the other LEFs, it takes money from prominent billionaires and local companies. It uses that money to influence policy in the Seattle Public Schools system, and then works closely with the district to make sure that policy is implemented.

NCTQ’s “Human Capital” report cost $14,000, and was paid for in part by the Gates Foundation. (The Gates Foundation has funded the Alliance,  NCTQ, and the report itself.)

Meanwhile, in April 2010, the Alliance, using Strategies 360/DMA Marketing, a political marketing firm, created the “Our Schools Coalition,” an Astroturf effort to influence the upcoming teacher’s contract negotiations. One of the goals of the “Our Schools Coalition”: for “teacher performance – not longevity – to be used to make staffing decisions, including layoffs.”

Partway through negotiations, the Seattle superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, who has since been fired as a result of financial scandals and mismanagement, suddenly introduced new provisions into the contract, with a disturbing similarity to the recommendations in the “Human Capital” report.

The NCTQ then wrote an analysis of Seattle’s contract proposals, including its “must haves,” and shared it with both the district and the union.

Although strong rank-and-file teacher opposition defeated most of Goodloe-Johnson’s provisions (called “SERVE”), every
single one of the NCTQ “must haves” made it into the contract.

And the NCTQ is not done here in Seattle. They wrote an analysis of the new contract and identified next steps for “education reformers,” such as monitoring the implementation of the contract and making changes to state law.

Manipulation of State Law

“Reform” organizations like the Fordham Institute and the NCTQ aren’t just manipulating teacher contracts – they’re trying hard to change state law too. As the Education Next article “Invisible Ink in Teacher Contracts” explains, the seniority rules for teachers are largely mandated by state law, rather than teacher contracts, and that to change
the seniority rule, you need to alter state law. It further points to teacher unions as part of the reason teacher-friendly legislation ends up in state law. The solution is “a growing legion of education advocacy
organizations,” which can advocate in opposition of teacher unions.

And guess what? Billionaires are, in fact, funding this growing legion. For a list of “Astroturf” or false grassroots organizations, and their funders, check the “Astro Turf Organizations” category on this site (Seattle Education 2010) and see the post “The Lines of Influence in Education Reform.”

The Ultimate Goal: Get Rid of Unions!

The ultimate goal of billionaires is to get rid of teacher unions altogether. The Education Next policy brief “The Long Reach of Teachers Unions” points out that teachers are “the most unionized segment of the U.S. economy” and complains about the lobbying dollars spent by teachers unions, which are used to influence education policy and also impacts legislation that goes beyond education policy, such as taxation – the real concern of billionaires.

A blow to teachers unions, therefore, would be a major blow to unions and left-leaning organizations nationwide – an important victory for billionaires and corporations, but a loss to the general public.

As a side note, the article also points out that the next-highest-spending union is a public employee union, the SEIU, which could explain in part the reason that the governor of Wisconsin is so keen to abolish public-sector unions entirely.

What are the Next Steps?

The Fordham Institute is planning a more in-depth study of teacher unions in the United States; according to their October 2010 newsletter, “What’s Cooking at Fordham,” the study ‘Teacher Union Strength in America’s―Laboratories of Democracy‘will examine teacher union strength, state to state, from multiple perspectives.” According to their 2010 annual report, the study will answer questions such as, “Where have the unions been most successful in defeating reform initiatives? Where do their political donations to legislators dwarf those of other major contributors?” This sounds like part of a military strategy to crush enemies, rather than anything to do with improving education.

That will come in handy for anyone who wants to bust unions.

Who Can Stop It?

Who can stop it? We can! Activists everywhere, who are passionate about public education, have been fighting to preserve our basic right to a quality education. Here are just a few examples:

*     Seattle teachers fought a bad contract, which would have given the superintendent broad powers to lay them off. Seattle parents have also been busy investigating alleged fraud on the part of the superintendent.

*     When the state legislature introduced a “teacher layoff” bill, which would have linked layoffs to performance rather than seniority, Washington citizens protested and stopped the bill.

We know what’s important – our education, our schools, our teachers, our children – and when we work together, we really do make a  difference!

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