Diane Ravitch comments on the Edelman tape from the Aspen Ideas Festival... 'Stand for Children' is an astroturf organization, not a grass roots group

[Editor's Note: The following was posted on July 14, 2011, at Living in Dialogue /07/diane_ravitch_on_edelmans_astr.html and is published here at Substance with the permission of both Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. Readers who have not yet done so are urged by the Substance editors to get a copy of Diane Ravitch's book The Death and Life of the Great American School System and make it their summer beach (or other) reading].

Historian Diane Ravitch (above, at podium) gave a talk to a standing room only crowd in Chicago on March 12, 2011. In the photo above, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis is holding a copy of Ravitch's book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Diane Ravitch on Edelman's Astroturf Enterprise

By Anthony Cody on July 14, 2011

Yesterday I shared some reactions to a video making the rounds, in which Jonah Edelman describes the way his non-profit organization, Stand For Children, maneuvered to get legislation enacted in the state of Illinois. This seems to represent the sort of money-fueled policy that education historian Diane Ravitch has been warning us about, so I asked her for her thoughts.

AC: What do you think that Jonah Edelman's remarks reveal about how education policy is being shaped in states across the country?

DIANE RAVITCH: I attended the Aspen Ideas Festival but did not go to Edelman's session, which was titled "If It Can Happen There, It Can Happen Anywhere: Transformational Education Legislation in Illinois."

Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker (above, at the June 22, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, to which she was appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) was one of those who created Stand for Children's checkbook political action in Illinois. On December 29, 2011, according to Illinois records, Penny Pritzker wrote a check for $50,000 to Stand for Children. Other members of the Pritzker family also wrote $50,000 checks to Jonah Edelman's group on December 29, 2011, two days before Illinois law made such huge donations illegal. The Pritzkers who helped create Illinois Stand for Children included Penny's sister Margot ($50,000), sister Gigi ($50,000), brother Thomas ($50,000), husband Bryan Traubert ($50,000) and brother-in-law Michael Pucker ($50,000). The $300,000 from the various Pritzkers was added to a half million from Chicago Hedge Fund mogul Kenneth Griffin, several others, and $450,000 from several members of the wealthy Crown family of Chicago (whose mansion is across the street from Penny Pritzker's home on Chicago's north side). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Edelman shared the billing with James Schine Crown, a financier in Illinois. I watched the video and read the transcript. Edelman was very candid in describing the hardball political tactics that Stand for Children used to push through legislation that diminished the collective bargaining rights of teachers. But above all, he used a massive financial political kitty to woo friends and allies to his side.

This is not merely an interesting anecdote about Illinois politics, but reveals tactics that are now being employed in states and districts across the nation by small numbers of very well-funded people. Groups like Stand for Children, Education Reform Now, and Democrats for Education Reform are connected to some of the wealthiest individuals in our society; their boards include a disproportionate number of Wall Street hedge fund managers.

I don't know why hedge fund managers are so interested in controlling education policy, but there is no doubt about their eagerness to commit large sums of money to get rid of due process, seniority, and collective bargaining, and to tie teachers' evaluations to test scores. There is nothing inherent in being a hedge fund manager or a successful entrepreneur that would make one an education expert, yet these guys seem determined to revise state laws as they relate to teachers. The part I don't understand is why they think that what they are doing will improve education.

AC: What do you think of the policy agenda embodied in the legislation his group was able to enact?

DIANE RAVITCH: The intent of legislation like that pressed by Edelman is to make the job of teachers contingent on the test scores of their students, to remove job protections, and to turn teachers into at-will employees, who can be fired if they displease their principal.

This approach will of course make test scores even more important than they are now. More teachers will teach to standardized, multiple choice tests. Untested subjects, like art and music, will get less time or disappear, unless tests are devised for everything. More resources will be diverted to test preparation. Unfortunately, there may be more Atlantas, as teachers and principals try to save their jobs. It is really a very wrongheaded understanding of education. I wonder if people who support legislation of this kind ever taught in a public school, ever attended a public school, or ever enrolled their own children in public schools.

Although Stand for Children's national Chief Executive Officer Jonah Edelman (above, rear, second from left) was invited to sit with the most important dignitaries at the June 13, 2011 signing of Senate Bill 7 in Maywood Illinois, he was not asked to speak and maneuvered mightily to get himself into the photographs when Governor Quinn began signing the legislation and distributing the ceremonial signing pens. Above, left to right (front): U.S. Department of Education attorney Charlie Rose (originally from Chicago), U.S. Department of Education deputy Jo Anderson (formerly of the Illinois Education Association), Gery Chico (former President of the Chicago Board of Education) and Illinois State Rep. Linda Chapa La Via. Behind Chapa La Via and to her left is Jonah Edelman of Stand for Children. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.ANTHONY CODY: Stand For Children, his non-profit, describes itself as an "innovative, grassroots child advocacy organization." What do you think about the role groups like this are playing in education policy?

DIANE RAVITCH: Stand for Children, like Education Reform Now, Democrats for Education Reform, TeachPlus, and various other "reform" organizations are committed to a course that is anti-education.

They are not grassroots organizations. They should be described as "astroturf" organizations. Look over their board of directors, and you will see a large number of Wall Street executives, high-tech entrepreneurs, and others who have little or no experience in public education. I don't understand their animus towards one of our society's most vital public institutions, nor do I think they realize that they are responsible for creating public hostility to the teaching profession. If they understood it, why would they do it? It makes no sense. Some of these groups are funded by the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation, so what we are really seeing is a well-planned and well-executed effort to change public education by the wealthy and powerful.

ANTHONY CODY: How can teachers and parents have an impact in the policy arena when confronted with this sort of machinery at work?

DIANE RAVITCH: Those who, like Jonah Edelman, are currently having a huge impact on state laws and federal policy are doing this because of the enormous wealth that they can summon up for political campaigns. But what they don't have is grassroots support. They don't have the support of teachers, whose lives and professions are being impacted negatively by their actions. And they certainly don't represent the children or parents. They represent the monied elite, whose resources are essential to political campaigns.

The only way to respond and have an impact is to inform the public about the real consequences of these laws, and about the money that is behind the changes. Parents and teachers must work together and mobilize to save public education and the teaching profession from those who are now using their wealth to pull the levers of power. They have no evidence to support their agenda, nor do they have the will of the people.

The largest single check to bankroll Stand for Children's attack on the Chicago Teachers Union, in the amount of $500,000, was written by Chicago hedge fund (Citadel) chief Kenneth Griffin, who appears in the photo above at the far right, being sworn in during a November 2008 congressional hearing. While Griffin wants to micro-manage teacher performance in Illinois, he resists any accountability for his own work. The Guardin (UK) reported as follows on November 14, 2008: "In a rare day of public scrutiny, the billionaire bosses of five leading hedge funds appeared before the House oversight committee to answer charges that their unregulated bets on financial markets have destabilised the global economy. George Soros, Kenneth Griffin, Philip Falcone, Jim Simons and John Paulson — who have an estimated combined wealth of $29bn (£20bn) — faced grilling over their low rate of tax and their funds' minimal level of transparency..." Above, left to right: George Soros, Jim Simons, John Paulson, Philip Falcone, and Kenneth Griffin. During the testimony, some of the hedge fund moguls said that if they were faced with additional regulation in the USA they would simply move out of the country to a more favorable location in the global economy.ANTHONY CODY: Diane Ravitch will be joining us at the next Save Our Schools Teach-in, scheduled for 8 pm Eastern, Thursday, July 21st. We do not have any big corporate donors - or small ones for that matter, so we are going to do a day-long fundraiser for the Save Our Schools March - which is just around the corner. You can register for free - and slots will be reserved for those willing to organize house parties of five or more to participate. Sign up here - and kick in a donation to a genuine grassroots movement on behalf of our students.


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