Stand for Children, the Chicago billionaires' answer to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, loses all credibility at west side forum April 1
Stand for Children, the organization that raised more than $3 million from Chicago billionaires and tried to buy the Illinois General Assembly in order to pass a union busting law called "Performance Counts," hit another roadblock on Chicago's West Side on April 1, 2011. That evening Stand for Children was exposed to the community as a fraud during a forum sponsored by Chicago's Black Star Project and others. Before an audience of more than 60 people, most of them from the communities most hurt by the policies of Stand for Children's major donors, Stand for Children's claims about wanting to reform Illinois public education for the sake of the children and parents were exposed as the frauds they are.
Like most of the Tea Party and other heavily financed corporate front groups that have been sprouting like crab grass across the USA as wealth becomes more concentrated in the wealthiest coffers, "Stand," as it likes to call itself, claims to be a "grass roots" group.
Yet when standing in front of an audience of teachers, community leaders, and parents, "Stand" was unable to explain how it had developed a ruthless union-busting legislation while not talking to any parents, students or teachers. As the evening continued, it became clear that "Stand" had invested some of the millions of dollars it solicited from Chicago multi-millionaires and billionaires to bring carefully selected audiences to screenings of the privatization film "Waiting for Superman." Those individuals were subjected to some marketing techniques which then created poll results supposedly supporting the Stand for Children agenda. In selecting its audiences — and the carefully screened "teachers" and "parents" who serve from time to time as its public spokesmen — "Stand" deliberately ignored most of the thousands of elected parents and teachers from Chicago's local school councils. And "Stand" deliberately and completely ignored the 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union and the union's leaders.
Since its dramatic entry into Illinois in October 2010, when it donated more than a half million dollars to Illinois politicians prior to the November 2, 2010 election, Stand for Children has tried to push legislation through the Illiinois General Assembly that most closely resembles the union-busting Republican laws that are now being passed in states from Wisconsin to Ohio. Stand for Children's Illinois law, is called "Performance Counts." The 40-page document, in legislative format, attempted to make teacher strikes illegal. It would have barred the Chicago Teachers Union from negotiating over anything other than wage — the same objective that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been trying to achieve with his more general law attacking all public worker unions. As Karen Lewis pointed out during the forum, Stand for Children believed in December that it had bought enough votes in the Illinois House to get the legislation through the lame duck session of the Illinois General Assembly. Some observers also believe that Stand for Children believed the polls showing the Republican Bill Brady was about to be elected Governor of Illinois (Brady was far ahead of Pat Quinn as late as week before the November 2 election).
Like its counterparts and supporters (the Illinois Business Roundtable and Advance Illinois) in Illinois, Stand for Children spent thousands of dollars in creating the illusion of a "grass roots" organization in October and November 2010, then launched "Performance Counts" amid great fanfare in December. Hearings before the newly created "Illinois School Reform Committee" of the Illinois House were scheduled for December 16 and December 17, 2010, in Aurora at the Illinois Math Science Academy. Amid a flurry of last minute organizing similar to that which greeted the similar Republican attacks in Wisconsin, Illinois teachers unions (the Illinois Education Association, IEA; the Illinois Federation of Teachers, IFT; and the Chicago Teachers Union, CTU) quickly responded to the attack and after two intense days of lobbying delayed a House consideration of the "Performance Counts" bill. Prior to recent weeks, Stand for Children has been trying to hide behind a smokescreen that it is a "grass roots" organization whose only interest is what's best for public school children. But when confronted with the many aspects of "Performance Counts" that amount to straightforward union busting, the group retreated behind vapid talking points and pouting.
Stand for Children Illinois Director Letoy Ridgnal tried and failed to repeat the organization's cliched answers to major questions about the public schools, while Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis continued to emphasize facts that Stand for Children and its wealthy supporters are trying to dismiss or ignore.
The two-hour forum, which was chaired by Black Star's Phillip Jackson, was held at the ____ church on W. LeMoyne St in Chicago. In the blocks surrounding the church, dozens of boarded up homes testified to the destruction caused by the policies of the major donors to Stand for Children Illinois (see below for a complete list).
The most dramatic confrontation of the evening came when Letoy Ridgnal tried to repeat a false statistic that has been making the rounds among corporate school reformers, including Chicago Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel and former Chicago schools CEO Ron Huberman.
"In Houston, the average student gets..." Ridgnal began, preparing to recite the oft quoted claim that in 13 years of public school a student in Houston gets "four more years" of instruction than a student in Chicago.
Interrupted by CTU President Karen Lewis, who insisted that the facts be told about the falsifications in the "study" being passed around denigrating Chicago, Ridgnal began a series of interruptions, trying to stick to the general talking points Stand for Children has been repeating over and over since making its splashy entrance into Illinois politics in December 2010 with the attempt to rush "Performance Counts" through the lame duck session of the Illinois General Assembly.
Hovering in the background of the Stand for Children claims was a late summer and early autumn screening of the propaganda movie "Waiting for Superman" by Stand for Children. According to Ridgnal, the Waiting for Superman events, which consisted of selected parents and "teachers" attending the movie at the expense of Stand for Children, then answering surveys about why public schools and unions are bad, formed the basis for the Stand for Children claims that Stand represents hundreds of "teachers" and "parents." Yet when asked to name the Chicago public schools where "Stand" had a presence, Ridgnal kept repeating the names of only three schools: Morton, Melody, and Bethune.
As Substance has previously reported, Morton and Bethune are now under the control of another group finances by millionaires and billionaires — Chicago's "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL). Former Chicago schools chiefs Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman (who is now working for a hedge fund) handed over Morton and Bethune to AUSL as part of Chicago's "turnaround" program, which is now national policy under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top."
One of the noteworthy things about the recent Stand for Children events is that the group is unable to produce real Chicago public schools teachers and parents to stand up on its behalf. One person who asked a question that was favorable to the Stand for Children "Fire the bad teachers" position identified herself as a "teacher," but wouldn't say where she taught. Similarly, during the hearings in Aurora in December, lurid testimony from "former teachers" was entertained by the school reform committee, but none of the representatives on the committee asked the witnesses for Stand for Children where they had taught, when, and for how long.
One of the narrative tricks utilized by Stand for Children and similar groups is to emphasize personal biographies, often embellished like an Oprah Winfrey narrative, to lend what is supposed to be credibility to the Stand for Children pitch. Pioneered in Chicago by a number of charter school leaders, the "up from the ghetto" version of reality is somehow believed to justify the attacks on public schools and teacher unions that are contained in proposed legislation like "Performance Counts." Etoy Ridgnal, for example, can be counted on to remind audiences that her family neglected her as a child and that a public school teacher helped her out. At numerous public events, she has always failed to identify the public school she supposedly attended while suffering the supposed neglect, or the teacher (who was a member of the Chicago Teachers Union) who helped her when she was little. Ridgnal's associates on the Stand for Children staff (and those who serve as witnesses at public events) usually have similar stories to tell, while in most cases they are never checked for veracity.