Connecting the dots… Yet another ed reform Astroturf organization emerges out of nowhere

A new Astroturf group has just emerged in Tacoma, WA, that sounds a lot like the one that was fabricated in Seattle last year, with the same mission: to influence the upcoming teacher’s contract negotiations. More specifically, its goal is to impose an outside corporate ed reform agenda on teachers by tricking them into believing there is broad public support for these (discredited) reforms when in fact there isn’t.

Astroturf alert!

This latest entity is called the “Vibrant Schools Tacoma Coalitionand it emerged in late April.

Just like in Seattle, someone hired an outside marketing company (EMC Research) which apparently conducted a push-poll that pushed the same union-weakening, ed reform agenda we saw touted in Seattle, disguised as “teacher support.”  Out of this it created a “platform” and has been announcing itself to the Tacoma media, all in an effort to influence the teachers’ contract negotiations.

The initial VSTC press release has a misleading headline that implies the purpose of the group is to help teachers: “Community coalition seeks increased support for teachers as part of Tacoma teacher union negotiations.” In fact, the purpose of the organization is to seek increased  influence by national political lobbying groups like Stand for Children and others at the bargaining table in order to weaken the teachers’ contract. A Stand for Children member/teacher is even quoted in the release.

Though these surveys include a few positive suggestions like promoting more collaboration time for teachers, if you dig a little deeper you see that what it’s really pushing is for a new evaluation system that ties teacher pay to student test scores, and the elimination of seniority.  In other words, what entities like VSTC are really supporting is the elimination of job security and arguably, due process, for educators — hardly an act of “support” for teachers.

So far, the Tacoma media seems to have failed to investigate the origins of this effort. (For example, who hired EMC Research to conduct that survey?) They really should take a closer look.

Here’s why.

This scheme was attempted here in Seattle in 2009/2010 when the Alliance for Education hired political marketing firm, Strategies 360/DMA Marketing (for about $10,000) to conduct a push-poll “survey” which pushed for elements of the corporate ed reformers’ wish list,  including bringing  short-term, crash-course Teach for America, Inc. novices to Seattle to replace fully credentialed teachers.

DMA/360  also used an illegally obtained list of private contact information of 10,000 Seattle Public School children and teachers to conduct this survey which outraged many parents. See Should the School District Be Allowed to Give Our Kids’ Phone numbers, Addresses and Photos to Every Tom, Dick and Pollster?

(The Alliance for Education in Seattle claims to be independent, but is in fact heavily involved in school district policy. It manages grant money awarded to the Seattle School District from organizations like the Gates and Broad foundations to impose their brand of corporate ed reform on the school district. The Alliance has become increasingly and politically involved in influencing policy in the district, and allied with corporate ed reform forces. It acts as both a public relations extension and banker — arguably the corporate ed reform policy launderer — for the school district.)

Strategies 360/DMA then created a fake ‘coalition’ from this which it called the “Our Schools Coalition,” and tried to intimidate teachers into believing it represented the true voice and will of the community, when in fact it was a political contrivance of the Alliance for Education.

Just like the “survey” done by Strategies 360/DMA Marketing for the “Our Schools Coalition” in Seattle, the Tacoma survey was written in such a way as to direct respondents to the answers the pollsters wanted to get, in order to push a specific agenda. The questions aren’t even questions, but skewed statements.

See: Vibrant Schools Tacoma Coalition Survey Highlights.

See: Our Schools Coalition research.

Here are some sample statements from both surveys — note the similarities and biases:

(These statements target seniority, last in first out, and try to conflate budget-induced RIFs with teacher evaluations.)

VSTC survey: 24. Seniority is the primary factor for a range of decisions about teachers, including layoffs. That means a teacher who has been around longer would keep their job even if they aren’t as good. Evaluations should be the primary factor so we keep the best based on performance.

OSC survey: 6. Teacher performance, as opposed to seniority, should be the predominant factor in staffing decisions, including placement, transfers and layoffs.

(These  push for “alternative credentialing” of teachers = deprofessionalizing of the teaching profession, and open the door to short-term, crash-course Teach for America, Inc. recruits):

VSTC survey: 27. Teachers are found mostly through the college system. Tacoma should pursue new programs to recruit teachers, which will help increase diversity among teachers & bring teachers with new & different talents into our school system.

OSC survey: 9. The teaching profession in Seattle should be opened up to attract additional talent, including programs such as Teach for America.

(These statements push for merit/performance pay and linking teacher evaluations to student test scores  (aka “performance,” which = high-stakes testing):

VSTC survey: 23. School principal observations are the primary factor in evaluations. We should use a variety of ways to evaluate teachers, like assessments from other teachers, student performance, & parent feedback to identify our best & help all improve.

OSC survey: 5. Currently in Seattle Public Schools, principal observations are the primary factor in teacher evaluations. Instead, student academic growth should be used as the primary factor in teacher evaluations.

The VSTC survey (of a mere 501 people — a pretty small sample) is a little less blatant than the OSC survey. It doesn’t mention the controversial Teach for America as its endgame, for one thing. But the core goals, misleading wording and dishonest methods are the same.

There is nothing organic about these efforts. They are a concerted effort by outside forces to change the teachers’ contract, and part of a national union-busting trend that has made headlines in Wisconsin and Michigan and is supported by major ed reform players like Eli Broad and Bill Gates.

What’s more, the changes they support are discredited “reforms” that would be harmful to both the teaching profession and to kids.  For example, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores (“performance”) narrows curriculum, results in teaching to the test, and does not improve teaching quality — to the contrary.  Regarding seniority, keeping the most experienced and knowledgeable teachers on staff in times of budget-induced layoffs is the most stable solution and a common practice in other professions. If there are unskilled teachers on staff, it is the principals’ duty to address the matter as it occurs, and not wait for RIFs as an excuse to layoff an unqualified teacher.

Further revealing its corporate, anti-union bias,  “Vibrant Schools'” membership includes Stand for Children (an Oregon-based, national corporate ed reform, political lobbying enterprise, funded by Gates and others) and the League of Education Voters (a Gates-funded, pro-corporate ed reform group).

Tacoma public school teachers should not be bullied by this group into bargaining away their rights or believing that this new entity truly represents their community or genuine community support for these “reforms.”

It’s telling that these surveys do not ask honest questions that would allow respondents to truly think through both sides of each issue. If they did, and if a true sampling of actual parents, teachers and community members were taken, I doubt these organizations would get the answers and consensus they are looking for. That’s why they resort to manufacturing  consent through their dishonest push-polls.

See: Education Push Polls: 9 Fake Questions Versus 9 Real Questions

Also see: How to Create a Faux Grassroots Education Reform Organization

–Sue p.

SIDEBAR: The corporate ed reformers’ MOs for influencing teacher’s contracts and weakening the teacher’s rights and unions:

1. Hire a political marketing firm to conduct a “survey” that is in fact push-poll pushing a predetermined union-busting ed reform agenda.

2. Use the contrived “data” from this poll to create a “platform” or petition of demands.

3. Create a fake Astroturf organization with the name “alliance” or “coalition” in it, whose goals are based on this contrived survey.

4. Get other existing, preferably diverse, minority, organizations to sign on (who may or may not fully know what the organization truly represents). Also get local politicians with aspirations for higher office to sign on.

5. Pretend this fake organization/coalition represents a unified, grassroots community and public opinion and announce your presence to the media (be careful not to reveal the true genesis of your operation). Get some op-eds written by your “members” published in the local paper.

6. Then try to pressure the teacher’s union with this organization and its demands, to cow them into giving up their rights, like seniority or collective bargaining, and accept “performance” pay (and other discredited concepts).