I would highly recommend reading this article in full at Rethinking Schools.

For or Against Children?

The Problematic history of Stand for Children

By Ken Libby & Adam Sanchez

Last October, a friend called with a question: “What do you know about Stand for Children?” The advocacy organization, based in our hometown of Portland, Ore., was expanding into his state of Illinois, and he hoped to glean some insight into the kinds of reforms the group would support. Just two months later, Stand’s Illinois branch had amassed more than $3 million in a political action committee and unveiled an aggressive teacher evaluation bill.

“Have they always been like this?” he asked.

The short answer: no.

Stand for Children was founded in the late 1990s as a way to advocate for the welfare of children. It grew out of a 1996 march by more than 250,000 people in Washington, D.C. The aim of the march was to highlight child poverty at a time when Congress and the Clinton administration were preparing to “end welfare as we know it.” Jonah Edelman, son of children’s and civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, co-founded the group and continues to serve as CEO. Stand’s first chapter was in Oregon, but the group now operates in eight additional states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

According to Susan Barrett, a parent volunteer who recently left Portland’s Stand chapter, Stand started with a genuine focus on improving the lives of poor children:

[Stand] worked on smaller issues with positive impact, such as after-school program funding and emergency dental care for uninsured kids. Many parents like me who joined Stand a while back still remember how it was an organization fighting for the Portland Children’s Levy, which provided funds for early childhood education, foster care, child abuse prevention programs, and a variety of other programs centered on children.

Here is a snapshot of Stand’s agenda during that period:

  • Health coverage for uninsured children
  • Monitoring the impact of welfare reform
  • More money for affordable, high-quality child care
  • Safe and productive after-school activities
  • Schools that have small classes, well-trained teachers, high standards, and involved parents.

Fifteen years later, Stand seems to have morphed into something quite different. For Oregonians, the first public indications that Stand had made a striking 180-degree turn in its politics was its support for Race to the Top legislation and its active promotion of the antiunion, anti-public school film Waiting for “Superman.” Stand led a well-financed, intensive campaign for the film, organizing special invitation-only showings for various constituencies.

According to Barrett:

This past year, Oregon Stand staff wanted us to press our legislators to pass a “bipartisan education package,” which basically tied the release of much-needed school funding to the expansion of charter schools, online learning, and other so-called “reforms.” Stand also pushed to lower the capital gains tax.

For Tom Olson, another former Portland Stand member, the final straw was the appointment of a new executive director for the Oregon chapter:

We were appalled that [Sue Levin] had virtually no experience leading grassroots organizations. Instead, we were told that she had a truly impressive background as an “entrepreneur” (a phrase we began to hear [CEO Edelman] use quite frequently during [his] transformation during 2009–10). Levin had been the founder and CEO of a women’s apparel company, Lucy Inc. Prior to that, she had been a women’s sports apparel VP at Nike Inc. Grassroots leadership experience? Absolutely none. Connections with millionaires? A whole bunch.

For Stand’s Portland chapter, where the organization is headquartered and one of the few places where it has a significant history of grassroots activism, the changes in Stand’s role have clearly been traumatic for parents and community members who had a very different image of the organization. This is clearly not a local phenomenon. As Stand has expanded, it has followed a similar pattern: In state after state, Stand has made the corporate-driven agenda of expanding charter schools and tying teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores their top priority.

To be sure, Stand has maintained some vestiges of its original focus on children. Stand recently supported bills in Colorado and Oregon that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state colleges; in both states, conservative activists expressed hostility to these measures. The Colorado chapter opposed a proposition and two statewide amendments that would have gutted education funding. The Arizona chapter supported a temporary 1 percent tax increase that avoided significant cuts to public schools. The Tennessee chapter fought an English-only amendment that would have negatively affected schools and families, supported changes to suspension policies that hurt children, and pushed for more pre-K funds.

But, unfortunately, the dominant impact of Stand, everywhere it has a presence, is much more pro-business than pro-children. This was certainly the case in Illinois, where Stand for Children played a part in crafting what they are touting as their biggest victory yet: Senate Bill 7.

To read the article in full, go to Rethinking Schools.