'Stand for Children' leader insists he's not a union busting kind of guy... Jonah Edelman 'apologizes' to just about everybody for Aspen Institute remarks
Less than a week after holding forth at the Aspen Institute about how Stand for Children's strategy in the Illinois General Assembly resulted in a sweeping victory for "Stand," Stand for Children's Chief Executive Officer Jonah Edelman on July 10, 2011, sent a sweeping apology to dozens of people who were named or involved in the activities that he talked about in Aspen. Edelman told the recipients that he also posted the apology on "Fred Klonsky's blog" (it was not sent to Substance by Stand for Children), so here it is since it has been made public. The following is verbatim what Edelman wrote to the people named in the distribution list.
From: Jonah Edelman Date: Sun, 10 Jul 2011 16:47:07 -0500
To: Audrey.Soglin@ieanea.org; Mitch.Roth@ieanea.org; Jim.Reed@ieanea.org; email@example.com; Lewis, Karen G.; Chris.Koch@isbe.net; DREISBER@isbe.net; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Aballingerfirstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Erika@ed-red.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; JohnLuczak
Cc: email@example.com; Jessica Handy; Mary McClelland
Illinois Education Leaders:
After watching the fourteen minute excerpt and then viewing the whole video of my hour-long session in Aspen, I want to very sincerely apologize to all of you but particularly to Audrey Soglin, Mitch Roth, Jim Reed, Dan Montgomery, Steve Preckwinkle, Karen Lewis, Robin Steans and the Advance Illinois Team, and Darren Reisberg.
My shorthand explanation in the excerpt of what brought about the passage of Senate Bill 7 had a slant and tone that doesn’t reflect the more complex and reality of what went into this legislation, nor does it reflect my heart and point of view in several ways:
–It left children mostly out of the equation when helping children succeed is my mission in life, as I know it is yours,
–It was very unfair to colleagues leading Illinois teachers’ unions, and,
–It could cause viewers to wrongly conclude that I’m against unions (Note: I said later in the session – not in the “juicy part” — that I do not view teachers’ unions as the problem. If that were true, I said, schools in states whose unions are less powerful would be among the nation’s best rather than some of the nation’s lowest performing.)
Stand for Children and I share a common commitment with teachers and teachers’ union leaders to ensuring the most qualified individuals choose the teaching profession, that teachers have the preparation, tools, support, and school climate they need to do their best work, that teachers should be compensated at a level that reflects the high skill and intense effort required by the teaching profession, and that evaluations of teachers need to become more meaningful and useful. We share a common commitment to ensuring adequate resources for schools and early childhood education. And we share a common commitment to ensure school districts and schools have effective administrators that create healthy work cultures within which teachers are respected and can be creative and innovative.
You wouldn’t know that from excerpt and that’s my fault.
There are quite a few things that I want to take myself very strongly to task for and which I’ll learn from and improve upon in the future, but first
I want to emphasize how Senate Bill 7 will impact students and teachers.
–After the improved teacher evaluation framework stipulated by the Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010 is developed through a collaboration of the state board of education, teachers’ unions, management groups, and advocates, Senate Bill 7 will make performance rather than seniority the basis for granting tenure and it will make performance the primary criterion for layoff decisions (with seniority being a tiebreaker in situations of comparable performance ratings). In addition, based on advocacy by teachers’ union leaders during our negotiations, with which I wholeheartedly agreed, tenure will be granted on an accelerated basis to teachers with three excellent ratings in a row and teachers with tenure who switch districts will be able to earn tenure in their new district within two years.
–The dismissal process for teachers with tenure with poor performance or conduct maintains due process while being substantially streamlined and improved to ensure that consistently ineffective teachers or teachers with poor conduct are not teaching children in Illinois. Before the dismissal process can proceed, based on advocacy by teachers’ unions, with which I again wholeheartedly agreed, a second evaluator must corroborate that dismissal is warranted. This will ensure fairness and should cut down on conflict and cost in the subsequent dismissal process.
–There will be more transparency in the contract negotiation process statewide, which will hopefully lead to fewer divisive conflicts and better, more student-centered decisions, and Chicago Public Schools’ will be able to lengthen its school day and school year in order to give teachers more time to help students learn and to plan and collaborate.
For committed, capable teachers throughout Illinois, all of these changes are incredibly good things, and it made complete sense therefore for teachers’ unions, who were at the table shaping Senate Bill 7, to back Senate Bill 7. Also, by virtue of negotiating in good faith for four months, Illinois teachers unions, management groups, and advocates achieved a much better law than Stand and Advance Illinois’ original Performance Counts proposal.
This leads to my self-critique, which is fairly harsh and extensive.
First, in a session I approached from the perspective of being brass tacks and blunt about politics, I deeply regret that I had an “us vs. them” tone. That tone contradicts my deeply held view that key aspects of the current education system are the problem, not teachers’ unions, and that the us vs. them far too often prevents real dialogue that results in better solutions like Senate Bill 7. As I said throughout the session (but not during the excerpt), my colleagues at Stand and I are always looking for opportunities for win-win rather than win-lose scenarios. That’s why I’m disappointed in myself for the way I framed the Senate Bill 7 story – a framing that does not reflect the good-faith and substantive negotiations that drove this process on all sides.
Second, I was wrong to state that the teachers’ unions “gave” on teacher effectiveness provisions when the reality is that, indeed, there were long, productive negotiations that led to a better outcome than would have occurred without them.
Third, I was wrong to make assumptions or comments about the unions’ political strategy. In future presentations, whether on video or not, I will refrain from supposing why a particular party made a particular decision. Having watched the video, reflected on it a lot in the past couple of days, and discussed it with my wife and colleagues, that was not only presumptuous but, in this particular case, wrong and ungenerous. I know from conversations with Audrey Soglin, Jim Reed, and Dan Montgomery that Illinois’ union leaders are deeply committed to teaching and learning, that they have exhibited that consistently in the past, and that they exhibited that commitment in spades throughout the negotiations on a series of Senate Bill 7 provisions that will improve teaching and learning. I want to apologize specifically to Audrey Soglin, Ken Swanson, Mitch Roth, Jim Reed, Dan Montgomery, Karen Lewis, and the other capable union leaders who represented their membership and negotiated creatively and seriously to help craft a bill that addressed tough issues in a fair and thoughtful way.
Fourth, the way I talked about the endgame wasn’t fair. I said we decided the fine print regarding the way the dispute resolution process will work in Chicago going forward but the specifics are that we submitted our proposal late at night on April 12th, Senator Lightford was receptive to it, got feedback from all sides over the next 24 hours, and made several changes based that feedback. The end product was similar to our proposal only because all sides judged it to be acceptable.
Fifth, and finally, I deeply regret what I perceived in watching myself as an arrogance in my tone. This underlies the other critiques and is the most difficult thing to admit, but it’s also the most important thing to hold myself accountable for if I’m to be worthy of the leadership role I’m fortunate to have. I was raised to be humble and respectful and reared on stories of my grandfather and grandmother’s service within the African-American community in their small South Carolina town, service which my mother always reminded my brothers and me is “the rent we pay for living.” Based on that upbringing, I view my role and the opportunity it provides for positive impact on children’s lives as a blessing and a privilege. Also, I am constantly aware and readily admit that I don’t have all the answers. I seek counsel from outstanding educators about what works in their experience, read as much as possible about what’s happening in all corners of the country and world that appears to be working, and have shifted my perspective on many issues as a result. Humility and respectfulness are hallmarks of effective leaders and I will ensure going forward that my tone always reflects the humility and respectfulness with which I seek to live my life.
Last thing – a word of apology to my wonderful colleagues at Stand, whose hearts, motivations, and approaches to the work in no way resemble the flaws I apologized for above. I fully understand your judging me harshly but I hope you’ll continue to engage them with openness.
P.S. I posted a slightly modified version of this apology on Fred Klonsky’s blog a few hours ago.