The Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers has come under fire over a presentation detailing how the union undermined efforts to give parents more power to improve their children’s education.
The Powerpoint presentation, “How Connecticut Diffused The Parent Trigger,” concerns an ambitious school reform proposal, known as the “parent trigger,” which allows a 51% per cent majority of parents at a failing school to force administration changes or invite a charter school to take over.
The law was invented and passed in California last year and quickly inspired similar school reform proposals in 14 other states, including Texas and New York. But when a “parent trigger” bill was introduced in Connecticut this February, the AFT lobbied hard and succeeded in blocking its passage. The Powerpoint presentation outlines how the union achieved this legislative victory and how other AFT chapters could emulate Connecticut’s success.
The presentation was removed from AFT’s website last week after it was picked up by the blog DropoutNation, and later the Wall Street Journal, which called it an “illuminating look into union cynicism and power.” A note on AFT’s website says the materials were removed because they “do not represent AFT’s position.”
While the union may be embarrassed by the tone of the presentation, it is clearly on board with the content. The Powerpoint was first delivered at a national AFT political action meeting in a session titled “Damaging Legislative Proposals and How To Fight Them.”
While the AFT does not directly oppose charter schools -- it even runs a few of them -- the union believes they should be unionized.
'When this legislation is being driven by parents, that's good,' AFT President Randi Weingarten told Time magazine in June. 'But when it's driven by a group of people whose sole mission is to open a charter school, that's bad.'
California's 'parent trigger' law was passed as part of a package of legislation to qualify the state for federal Race to the Top funds.
The state's powerful teachers' union, the California Federation of Teachers, vehemently opposed the legislation. CFT president Marty Hittelman referred to 'parent trigger' as the 'lynch mob provision,' sparking outcry over the overtly racial tone of the reference.
The bad press, plus the union's unbending opposition to any of the reforms, helped turn public opinion, enabling lawmakers to pass the measure.
Minority groups have largely been behind the push to pass 'parent trigger' reforms through state legislatures. Minority children are disproportionately represented in failing classrooms.
California, for example, has 1,300 persistently failing schools 'that are chronically underperforming, and yet the school officials have done nothing to turn them around,' Gloria Romero, the former California lawmaker who sponsored the bill, told Time.
The union did not have to look far to find other educators threatened by the bill. Superintendents, administrators, and boards of education are the very people who would stand to lose their jobs if parents band together to shake up the management at chronically failing schools.
School boards have been some of the unions staunchest allies in opposing 'parent trigger.' LA Times columnist Jim Newton notes that, in Compton, Calif., the school board bullied, threatened, and resorted to legal technicalities to delay acknowledging a parent petition to overhaul a failing elementary school.
CommPACT schools are eight failing inner-city schools in Connecticut that have been taken over by a coalition of the state's education unions, including the AFT. Although the schools are still accountable to their local districts, the unions have the autonomy to make changes.
The references to 'key House proponents' and the Speaker of the House underscores how much power the AFT exercises in the Connecticut State Legislature.
The AFT notes that parents who supported the reform were simply 'not at the table.' It appears as though the union opted to bypass dialogue or compromise with the parties directly involved -- teachers, parents, and, by extension, their children -- in favour of pressuring lawmakers susceptible to union pressure.
The AFT notes that, in the end, the 'school governance councils' are 'advisory' and do not give parents any added power or authority over their kids' education.
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