MEDIA WATCH: 'Stand for Children — or Stand for Profit?'... Radio investigation exposes Stand for Children's well-funded campaign to bust the unions and privatize public schools in the USA

As we pass the first anniversary of the infamous appearances of "Stand for Children" before the Illinois House "School Reform Committee" (which was held in Aurora on December 16 and 17, 2011), it's nice to know that Stand for Children was actively promoting the corporate school reform agenda, charter schools, and union busting agenda beyond the borders of Illinois over the past couple of years. Additionally, the Stand for Children agenda of union busting and privatization of public school assets has stretched far beyond the expanse of the infamous SB7, the Illinois law that Stand for Children brags makes it impossible for the Chicago Teachers Union to strike.

What follows is a radio show that added to the growing exposure of the hypocrisy of Stand for Children.

Stand for Children or Stand for Profit?

Above, Mary Anderson and Juan Jose Gonzalez (above, left and right) wait in line to enter the Chicago Board of Education's October 26, 2011 meeting. After a purge of the Stand for Children Illinois staff during the summer of 2011 (Etoy Ridgnal, who had headed the Stand for Children work in Chicago was sent to Washington, D.C. despite the fact that as late as April and May she was attending community forums telling everyone she had he own child in a public schools and was fiercely committed to CPS), Anderson was made head of Illinois Stand for Children. An attorney, Anderson brought considerable new clout to Stand for Children: her job before working for "Stand" was with Lisa Madigan in the Illinois Attorney General's office. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.On December 16, 2011, ironically for public school advocates in Illinois, the first anniversary of the infamous Aurora "School Reform" hearings, Education Radio aired an hour-long show called "Stand for Children or Stand for Profit?"

The show is the most comprehensive expose of the hypocrisy of Stand for Children and shows how Stand for Children constitutes one major part of the enormously well funded corporate "school reform" juggernaut which promotes charter school expansion, attacks on teacher unions, untested merit pay proposals, and initiatives like Chicago's "Longer School Day" campaign that have little or no basis in what parents want and children need in Chicago.

Since Chicago is one of the key places where the struggle for public schools and social justice is being waged today (evidenced most recently by the Peoples School Board during the December 14, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education), everyone who is organizing for public schools in Chicago should take the time to listen to this well researched hour-long analysis. The story not only outlines the history of Stand for Children and its corporate billionaires' education program, but links to the various state and local struggles that have come since Stand for Children began its push for charter schools and the corporate agenda in education.

The URL for those who cannot access a hotlink is:

Public Education Radio's summary:

On this week’s show we take a look at Stand for Children, an organization that defines its mission as one of grassroots advocacy for public education. According to a recent Rethinking Schools article by Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez: “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.”

Stand for Children’s claim, that they are a grassroots organization that stands for access to quality education for all students, is appealing to many parents and educators. A closer inspection, however, reveals a very different agenda, one that is driven by vast amounts of corporate money and dangerous, ideology-driven notions of education reform. In this program we take a close look at Stand for Children and their controversial activities.

We hear stories from two Massachusetts school committee members who were former Stand members, but who left when they saw a significant shift in Stand’s approach: Roger Garberg (Gloucester) and Tracy O’Connell Novick (Worcester). We hear from the president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Paul Toner, on a controversial ballot initiative that Stand is pushing in the state. We also share a clip of Jonah Edelman, Stand co-founder and CEO, candidly speaking at the Aspen Institute about Stand’s true agenda to destroy the power of teachers unions. Then, we talked with the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, about her reaction to this clip and to Stand for Children.

Finally, we feature an interview with David Love, former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and current Executive Director of Witness to Innocence, an organization that works with death row exonerees, about the larger social justice implications of Stand for Children’s activities. David is also the Executive Editor of The Black Commentator.

The links from the show at their link are also all worth reading. One of the most important consists of the candid comments by Jonah Edelman about how he worked with Rahm Emanuel, CPS officials (especially attorney James Franczek) and the anti-union forces in Illinois to divide the unions, pit the Illinois Education Association (IEA) against the Chicago Teachers Union, and produce what is now the infamous "SB7" which, Edelman brags, makes it "impossible" for Chicago teachers to strike and forces Chicago teachers to accept the "longer school day."


UPDATE: We just received a transcript of the whole session here.

Recently we posted the observations of Susan Barrett, a disaffected parent member of Stand for Children, which started as a grassroots organization in Oregon that has now gone nationwide; and, as Susan argued, changed its goals, governance and tactics along the way.

Jonah Edelman, its founder and the son of children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman, has raised millions of dollars in funds from the Gates and Walton Foundations, as well as many top business executives, and now pursues policies central to the corporate education agenda, including support of charter school expansion, the evaluation of teachers based on test scores and the elimination of their seniority protections.

Edelman spoke on a panel at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival (June 27-July 3, 2011) about how the organization, aided by the millions of dollars they raised from top Chicago corporate executives, was able to influence Illinois state legislators to get SB7 passed, landmark legislation that severely curtailed teachers’ rights and job security, and that has been hailed by Arne Duncan and other corporate reformers as a model for the nation.

During his remarks, Edelman boasted that his organization and other well-funded allies will be able to replicate this success in states throughout the country. After Aspen Institute posted the video of this session, so many people blogged and tweeted about it that it was taken down, though it is back up here. In case they take it down again, a key excerpt is still posted on Fred Klonsky’s blog here.

Edelman has since apologized for what was a remarkably frank account of how power politics worked to their advantage in Illinois, when you have millions of dollars and the mainstream media on your side. The rest of the country should be forewarned. Caroline Grannan transcribed the key 14-plus minutes of Edelman’s talk, while omitting some minor asides, indicated with ellipses:

… when Bruce Rauner [apparently Chicago venture capitalist Bruce V. Rauner] … asked, after seeing that we passed legislation in several states including Colorado, that we look at Illinois, I was skeptical. After interviewing 55 different folks in the landscape – the Speaker of the House, Senate President, minority leadership, education advocates … I was very surprised to see that there was a tremendous political opening that I think Bruce wasn’t even aware of.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers, still inexplicably, went to war with Speaker Madigan [Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, Speaker of the Illinois House], who Jim cited as a very, very powerful figure – speaker for 27 years with the exception of of a couple years … over an incremental pension reform. And Jim [James Schine Crown, Chicago financier and member of Aspen Institute Board of Trustees, who is at the speakers' table with Edelman] and many others are diehard advocates for pension reform in Illinois, and the pension reform that happened in 2010 is not the reform that’s needed in Illinois, but it was a first step, only affecting future employees.

The union could have – well, probably should have – thanked Madigan for not going further. Instead, they decided that the $2 million they had been giving him reliably for election campaigns – they would take that away … that they would refuse to endorse any Democrat who voted for that legislation, even those that had been loyal supporters for years. They went to the AFL-CIO trying to get them to do the same.

So, a major breach … You’re starting to see that in other states where Democrats who are still in control are having to address these terrible fiscal issues, and in so doing, there’s often conflicts that are arising.

… We decided to get involved in midterm elections, which many advised us against doing. … My position was we had to be involved to show our capabilities, to build some clout. … While there were a lot of folks, I think, who thought the Republicans were going to take over in Illinois, our analysis was that Madigan would still be speaker. … That wasn’t what I think a lot of our colleagues wanted to hear. …

So our analysis was he’s still going to be in power, and as such the raw politics were that we should tilt toward him, and so we interviewed 36 candidates in targeted races. … I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals – and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans – and tilted our money toward Madigan, who was expecting because of Bruce Rauner’s leadership … that all our money was going to go to Republicans. That was really an show of – indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn’t have worked well in Illinois – Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work.

After the election, Advance Illinois and Stand [for Children] had drafted a very bold proposal called Performance Counts. It tied tenure and layoffs to performance; it let principals hire who they choose; it streamlined dismissal of ineffective tenured teachers substantially – from two-plus years and $200 thousand-plus in legal fees on average to three to four months with very little likelihood of legal recourse. And most importantly, called for the reform of collective bargaining throughout the state, essentially proposing that school boards would be able to decide any disputed issue and impasse – so a very, very bold proposal for Illinois and one that six months earlier would have been unthinkable, undiscussable.

After the election we went back to Madigan, and I confirmed – reviewed the proposal that we had already discussed and I confirmed the support. He said he was supportive. The next day he created an Education Reform Commission and his political director called to ask for our suggestions who should be on it. And so in Aurora, Ill., in December, out of nowhere, there were hearings on our proposal. In addition, we hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders, and seven of the best minority lobbyists – preventing the unions from hiring them. We enlisted a state public affairs firm. We had tens of thousands of supporters. … We raised $3 million for our political action committee. That’s more money than either of the unions have in their political action committees.

And so essentially what we did in a very short period of time was shift the balance of power. And I can tell you there was a palpable sense of concern, if not shock, on the part of the teachers unions in Illinois that Speaker Madigan had changed allegiance and that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats the same way pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier. In fact, the pension reform was called Senate Bill 1946, and the unions started talking to each other about “we’re not going to let ourselves be 1946′d again,” using it as a verb.

And so in what’s called lame duck session in January – called lame duck session because some lame ducks are allowed to take a last vote for politically difficult topics – proposals … we made an attempt to do just that, and we weren’t able to move our proposal, and my analysis … was that it went a little too far for Illinois. But as you’ll see in just a second, it was an effective starting point because we started extreme and gave ourselves some room to come back. Sen. Kimberly Lightford [D-Westchester], who’s been a reliable supporter of unions and in the middle of education policymaking, intervened. She has a lot of clout in the Senate … and she forced groups to the table. The unions were thrilled to come to the table and discuss things that, again, nine months earlier they would not have been willing to discuss.

And so over the course of three months, with Advance Illinois taking the negotiating lead … and Advance and Stand working in lockstep – and that unity’s so important, that partnership … they essentially gave away every single provision related to teacher effectiveness that we had proposed.

Everything we fought for in Colorado down to the last half hour in the legislative session, they gave us at the negotiating table [in Illinois]. Not irrationally, not idealistically – it wasn’t a change of heart. It’s because they feared that we were able to potentially execute our collective bargaining proposal … And unions are very logical. They’re concerned most about their dues and their membership, and then next up collective bargaining and pensions are somewhere right around there, and then teacher effectiveness issues, tenure, layoffs, compensation – that’s tertiary for them, so if you show them the capability to actually enact collective bargaining reforms they’re logically going to give on everything short of that to pull back the barricades.

And so this was the strategy led by the IEA. The Illinois Education Association … has a history of pragmatism and they led on this negotiation. They really kind of brought the other unions along. Jo Anderson, the former head of the Illinois Education Association, now works with Arne Duncan in the Department of Education, and his son Josh is the head of Teach for America in Chicago, and the new [IEA] director, Audrey Soglin, is very pragmatic. I doubt this tape will ever get to her, but I would say that I’m interested in talking about whether or not she at the end of the day was happy to get these issues resolved. I don’t think she liked defending a seniority-based system.

So in the intervening time, Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor … and he strongly supports our proposal. Jim [apparently Crown] … talked about the talking point that we made up and he [Emanuel] repeated about a thousand times, probably, on the campaign trail about the Houston kids going to school four years more than the Chicago kids. That was another shoe that dropped, and it really put a lot of pressure on the unions, particularly on the Chicago Teachers Union because they didn’t support it.

So here’s what ends up happening at the end of the day. April 12 we’re down to the last topic of collective bargaining. It’s been saved for last – it’s the hardest topic. We fully expected that our collaborative problem-solving of three months would end and we would have an impasse and go to war, and we were prepared – we had money raised for radio ads and our lobbyists were ready. Well, to our surprise and with Rahm Emanuel’s involvement behind the scenes, we were able to split the IEA from the Chicago Teachers Union.

And in January, just after we hadn’t gotten our proposal through in the lame duck session, I’d worked with a labor lawyer named Jim Franczek who’s absolutely brilliant … and his partner of counsel Stephanie Donovan on fall backs. And Jim and the other supporters had approved fall backs from our initial proposal, essentially isolating Chicago and calling for binding arbitration or or a fact-finding process that wasn’t binding but would have a high threshold for unions to approve. We came with a fall back of binding arbitration when we saw that the IEA was willing to do a deal and just focused on Chicago. They, interestingly, pressured the Chicago Teachers Union to take the deal. Karen Lewis, the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, who’s a diehard militant, was focused on maintaining her sense of her members’ right to strike. Her sense was that binding arbitration was giving away the right to strike.

But our next proposal – next best, which was a very high threshold for strikes, for whatever reason – tactical miscalculation on her part — was palatable. Rahm pushed it; Kimberly Lightford pushed it; we’d done our homework – we knew that the highest threshold of any bargaining unit that had voted one way or the other on a collective bargaining agreement on a contract vote was 48.3%. The threshold that we were arguing for was three-quarters, so in effect they couldn’t have the ability to strike even though the right was maintained. And so in the endgame, the Chicago Teachers Union took that deal, misunderstanding, probably not knowing the statistics about voting history – and the length of day and year was no longer bargainable in Chicago. And we insisted that we decide all the fine print about the process – she was happy to let us do that.

With the unions then on board, the IEA and the IFT were relieved to have a deal. They came out strongly in support of this agreement, which was this wholesale transformational change, and with that support there was no reason for any politician to oppose it. So the Senate backed it 59-0, and then the Chicago Teachers Union leader started getting pushback from her membership for a deal that really probably wasn’t from their perspective strategic. She backed off for a little while but the die had been cast – she had publicly been supportive – so we did some face-saving technical fixes in a separate bill – but the House approved it 112-1. And a liberal Democratic governor who was elected by public sector unions – that’s not even debatable – in fact signed it and took credit for it. So we talk about a process that ends up achieving transformational change – it’s going to allow the new mayor and the new CEO [of Chicago schools] to lengthen the day and year as much as they want. The unions cannot strike in Chicago. They will never be able to muster the 75% threshold necessary to strike. And the whole framework for discussing impact – you know, what compensation is necessary – is set up through the fine print that we approved to ensure that the fact-finding recommendations, which are nonbinding, will favor what we would consider to be common sense.

… We’re talking about an opportunity now for transformational change across Illinois in that principals will have the power to dismiss ineffective teachers, that they’ll be able to hire who they want, that they’ll no longer be forced to accept teachers they don’t want in their buildings, and that when layoffs happen, they’ll be able to let people go based on performance, not just seniority – and in Chicago they’ll be able to lengthen their day and year which has been just a horrible inequity for decades.

And all this with the narrative of union leadership because it was a fait accompli and the unions decided the smart way that they would pursue a win-win we gave them the space to win. We’ve been happy to dole out plenty of credit and now it makes it hard for folks leading unions in other states to say these types of reforms are terrible because their colleagues in Illinois just said these are great. So our hope and our expectation is to use this as a catalyst to very quickly make similar changes in other very entrenched states.

Transcribed by Caroline Grannan, San Francisco, July 11, 2011


by Susan Barrett I recently stepped down as a volunteer co-leader of a Stand for Children (SFC) team in Portland Oregon, the headquarters of this organization. Being a SFC member has meant fighting for the needs of children and better public schools for all students in this state (see this pdf.) However, things have started changing here in Oregon, and I worry that SFC is headed down the path that disaffected parents, like me, identify as the corporate reform movement.

I was prompted to write this piece for a couple of reasons: One, I have seen characterizations of SFC as one of the “astroturf” organizations that have recently sprouted up like weeds, generated by the fortunes of billionaires and hedge fund managers to push their particular preference for implementing business strategies in education, attacking teachers and their unions, and promoting privatization. SFC is not astroturf, and that can make them perhaps more deceptive if we are not paying attention.

This leads to my second reason for writing this: I want to make sure that people pay close attention to who is on the SFC board, where their money is coming from, and think critically about whether or not the agendas they are promoting will bring the results parents and community members hope for in public education.

As I read blogs and articles from across the nation, it seems that many people have already determined that SFC has a top-down, corporate reform type agenda. Here in SFC’s home state, it is not that simple to classify the organization. SFC holds a special place for many activist parents and community members in Oregon. You have to understand that they didn’t storm into the state with millions of dollars to influence election outcomes like they did in Illinois. Here, they had far more humble beginnings.

The organization was inspired by a Stand for Children Day Rally in 1996 in Washington, D.C. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, enlisted the help of her son, Jonah Edelman, to help organize this event. With over 300,000 people attending, Jonah wanted to keep the spirit alive and continue to work on issues attendees were passionate about. He and a co-founder set up a home base in Oregon, and 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 SFC 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.

Because this is part of the organization’s history, it makes it that much harder to believe how much it has changed. Parents and community members most likely do not know that SFC now has private equity investors and venture philanthropists on the board, making decisions for the organization as it grows new chapters. And, grow they will, as they have announced the need to hire a National Expansion Manager, having raised over a million dollars in funding from the Walton Foundation, and over three million dollars from the Gates Foundation.

My fear is that unwitting parents and community members will join SFC because they want to rectify the problems they see every day in their children’s public schools, such as underfunding, lack of arts programs, large class sizes, and cuts to the school year, only to find that they get roped into very different goals. With SFC inspiring many of its members to run for school board seats, and the funding it gives through its PAC, I worry we will lose a truly democratic discussion and action on education weighted in favor of corporate reforms.

Before I go further, let me just clarify, that those of us who are not on board with the “corporate reform agenda” don’t think everything is just peachy. We are not “defenders of the status quo” as we are often accused, but we just don’t see how the Arne Duncan and Bill Gates-type reforms are providing tangible, worthwhile outcomes for kids.

I first became familiar with SFC in 2001 when I worked in affordable housing and community development. Our organization’s parent network was invited to be the first SFC team in Portland. It was an incredibly powerful experience for the low-income parents we worked with to feel like they could band together to make changes for quality, affordable childcare. SFC was not working on school issues at that time.

When my oldest child started kindergarten in 2007, I looked at the myriad of ways to be an involved parent. I decided to join our school SFC team because I wanted to put my efforts into a cause that would improve the education of all schoolchildren in Oregon. Since I had familiarity with the group from my past work, I felt this was the right choice.

When I joined, SFC fought for more school funding and endorsed pro-education candidates for elective office. Our elementary school parents were passionate about lowering class sizes and enhancing our crumbling school facilities. A “grassroots” organization like SFC was the perfect fit for parents like me who wanted to work on these issues. Team members grumbled when some decisions seemed to come more from the top than from the bottom-up, but since those decisions were articulated as “standing for children” it was hard to put up a fight.

About three years ago, some team leaders at my school became uncomfortable when they were asked to engage in what they considered to be tacky conversations with teachers around hiring practices. When a fellow parent and I were asked to take over as the new team leaders for this school year, we were cautioned about this, but otherwise, we all assumed SFC was working to enhance public education, and this was just a minor mistake along the way.

Well, SFC definitely knows they made a mistake because they recently commissioned a consulting firm to work on better “teacher messaging” which provided them with a list of what to say and what not to mention when talking to teachers (such as, “Don’t reinforce that there are not many teachers involved with Stand chapters.”) That was a red flag, but now as I look back and connect the dots, I see so many more.

I think about the visits from the Policy Director of the New Teacher Project, and the former aide to New York City charter operator, Eva Moskowitz, who said she was moving to Portland and trying to set up a chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, the pro-charter, hedge-fund driven organization. I think about their push for Oregon to submit a Race to the Top application, (which the state did initially, but it failed); and how the organization acted as the “social justice partner “of Waiting for Superman. and urged parents to attend the film. Only recently did I come to realize that the SFC Portland Director, Tyler Whitmire, is the daughter of Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, a book lavishing praise on Michelle Rhee.

This past year, Oregon SFC staff wanted us to press our legislators to pass a “bi-partisan 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.” SFC also pushed to lower the capital gains tax in exchange for “kicker” reform. (The “kicker” is an automatic tax rebate that significantly restricts state revenue that could be used to improve schools.) Reforming the “kicker” has been a long-term goal of SFC Oregon members, but apparently SFC now has to compromise, by supporting the goal of lowering the capital gains tax at the same time, which would considerably reduce or eliminate the revenue gained by repealing the kicker.

This stance is a great departure from what people would normally expect of SFC, and only makes sense when you see the wealthy investors on SFC’s National Board of Directors, and how billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates and the Walton Family Foundation are now funding and driving the organization’s agenda.

What is even more frustrating than the reforms they are pushing is what they aren’t pushing for anymore. Oregon has one of the shortest school years and lowest education spending in the nation. All of this has taken away from a focus on working for meaningful improvements in our schools. Even though SFC’s membership has risen over the past decade, Oregon’s per pupil spending has continued to drop. I can’t blame SFC for the economy, but where is the concentrated effort to address this? And, now that they have a national presence, they could actually try to create a national movement around funding an equitable and quality education for all. One of the most prominent charter schools featured in Waiting for Superman was the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academies. These schools have very small class sizes, amazing facilities, and wrap around services for students. Those are the kind of “reforms” we should have for all students in our public schools.

Perhaps if SFC replaced their Board Chair, Julie Mikuta, who is also partner at New Schools Venture Fund, which finances charter schools, with someone who has actually made meaningful improvements in public education, they could inch their way back to this work. They could also replace Emma Bloomberg, the daughter of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire charter school supporter, as well as Steve Jobs’ wife, and two other board members who are private equity investors, in exchange for people who are stakeholders with a broader perspective and real experience in education.

You would think that with my current frustration I would have withdrawn my membership from SFC. No. I am holding onto it, as I feel at this point I need to keep an eye on them. Interestingly, as I share my concerns with others, I am finding that I am not the only parent who is remaining a member for this reason, and I admit I still hope they will change their path. But I don’t want to waste my advocacy time in this way, so I look forward to banding together with other parents and community members willing to make meaningful improvements for all kids in our public schools and work for real reform. Anything else, I just can’t stand for.

Any parent in the Portland, Oregon area who is interested in working with Susan on positive, progressive educational change, please email her at


For or Against Children?. The Problematic History of Stand for Children By Ken Libby and Adam Sanchez, Rethinking Schools, Fall 2011

By Ken Libby and 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." (1)

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. (2)

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." (3).

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.

Standing Against Illinois Teachers

SB 7, which passed the Illinois Senate in a unanimous vote and the General Assembly with a single dissenter, undermines seniority as the basis of teacher job security and specifically singles out the Chicago Teachers Union by severely restricting its right to strike.

Chicago has become a testing ground for corporate education policy. Recent CEOs of Chicago Public Schools have included Paul Vallas (1995–2001), who later became the architect behind the union-busting and charterization plan in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; and Arne Duncan (2001–08), who privatized Chicago public schools at a rate of about 10 per year before becoming Barack Obama’s education secretary. The policies pushed by these corporate reformers have been touted as “miraculous” by business leaders, but have created a horrendous environment for Chicago teachers.

Intensive and strategic organizing in the face of layoffs, increasing attacks on teachers, and school closings led to last year’s victory for the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE), which swept the 2010 Chicago Teachers Union elections, winning every single seat. But CORE came to power in the context of an economic crisis in which workers are being forced to bear the brunt of economic sacrifice. The city’s elite became even more determined to break the teachers’ union.

Bruce Rainer, a Republican venture capitalist, recruited Edelman to come to Illinois and help with this task. Thanks to a speech caught on video and posted on YouTube, we now know the intimate details of how Stand for Children helped shape Illinois’ latest anti-teacher legislation. Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, billionaire James Crown and Jonah Edelman caused an uproar with their comments about SB 7.

Their panel discussion, titled “If It Can Happen There, It Can Happen Anywhere: Transformational Education Legislation in Illinois,” began with Crown painting a picture of an all-powerful teachers’ union that consistently blocks education reform and has a stranglehold on Illinois politics. Crown was particularly angry that teachers in Illinois had maintained their right to strike. “In 45 of the 50 states, there is no right to strike by teachers,” he protested. “So this was an incredibly strike-permissive environment with these other efforts by the unions, and so forth, that created an unsustainable structure in our school system.”

Following Crown, Edelman gave a step-by-step account of how Stand for Children worked to undermine teachers’ union rights in Illinois. After explaining how Stand essentially bought a handful of Illinois legislators with campaign contributions—most crucially, Democratic Assembly Speaker Michael Madigan—Edelman explained Stand’s strategy:

"After the election, Advance Illinois and Stand had drafted a very bold proposal we called Performance Counts. It tied tenure and layoffs to performance. It let principals hire who they choose. It streamlined dismissal of ineffective tenured teachers substantially—from two-plus years and $200,000 in legal fees, on average, to three to four months, with very little likelihood of legal recourse.

"And, most importantly, we called for the reform of collective bargaining throughout the state—essentially, proposing that school boards would be able to decide any disputed issue at impasse. So a very, very bold proposal for Illinois, and one that six months earlier would have been unthinkable, undiscussable. . . .

"We hired 11 lobbyists, including the four best insiders and seven of the best minority lobbyists, preventing the unions from hiring them. We enlisted a statewide public affairs firm. . . . We raised $3 million for our political action committee between the election and the end of the year. That’s more money than either of the unions have in their political action committees.

"And so essentially, what we did in a very short period of time was shift the balance of power. I can tell you there was a palpable sense of concern, if not shock, on the part of the teachers’ unions in Illinois that Speaker Madigan had changed allegiance, and that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats, the same way the pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier."

Edelman’s comments produced outrage among union and education activists. He issued an apology, saying he regretted that he “left children mostly out of the equation,” and that the speech “could cause viewers to wrongly conclude that I’m against unions.”

For their part, the leaders of Illinois’ three main education unions blasted Edelman in a joint statement:

"We heard a lot from Jonah Edelman about power in politics, power over unions, and management power over teachers. Sadly, we didn’t hear anything in that hour-long session about improving education. . . . What’s worse is that these false claims clearly show an organizational agenda that has nothing to do with helping kids learn.

"It’s clear from Edelman’s remarks that Stand’s effectiveness is reliant on a public perception that it represents the interests of parents. But in fact, Stand’s agenda is now closely aligned with those who call for privatization, charters, vouchers, and an end to teachers’ unions."

This is true throughout the country. For example, Stand’s most significant work in Colorado was their support of Senate Bill 191, a landmark piece of legislation that bases 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student achievement data. As Dana Goldstein explained in a recent American Prospect article, this may lead the state to test every student, in every grade, in every subject—including art, music, and PE. The poisonous debate around the bill vilified those in opposition and demoralized teachers across the state. One teacher, recalling the negotiations over the bill, told Goldstein, “I’ve chosen a profession that, in the public eyes, is worse than prostitution.”

Stand’s Colorado operations are funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation and the Daniels Fund, two right-wing philanthropies that have pushed for vouchers and charter schools.

Stand entered Texas in early 2011 as the state wrestled with a budget shortfall that could be as high as $27 billion. The dramatic cuts to schools in the Lone Star state will undoubtedly harm children, yet Stand put their might behind a campaign to evaluate teachers. Texas Senate Bill 4 and the companion bill in the House call for basing from 30 to 50 percent of teacher evaluations on test score growth. In addition, Stand supported legislation that would aid Texas charter schools.

To further this agenda, Stand hired nine lobbyists with ties to the Republican Party, including three lobbyists from Delisi Communications. The firm’s president, Ted Delisi, purchased Karl Rove’s consulting and direct mail company when Rove joined the Bush presidential campaign in 1999, and ran the Bush/Cheney fundraising and mailer campaign the following year.

Stand set up shop in Indiana in early 2011 and began advocating for changes to teacher evaluations as Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Republican-controlled legislature passed the most expansive state voucher program in U.S. history, expanded charter schools, restricted collective bargaining, and made serious changes to teacher evaluations. Stand’s advocacy for test-based teacher evaluations included statements that were blatantly false, including: “Studies show that a teacher’s influence on student achievement is 20 times greater than any other variable, including class size or poverty.”

How Did This Happen?

What happened? How did Stand morph from an organization with a focus on children’s health issues, nonschool factors, and research-based school improvements to an organization that pushes core elements of the corporate destruction of public education?

Stand has seen an enormous influx of corporate cash. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began by offering a relatively modest two-year grant of $80,000 in 2005. In 2007, Stand for Children received a $682,565 grant. In 2009, the point at which Stand’s drastically different political agenda became obvious, Gates awarded a $971,280 grant to support “common policy priorities” and in 2010, a $3,476,300 grant.

Though the Gates Foundation remains the biggest donor to Stand for Children, other players in the world of corporate education reform have also begun to see Stand as an effective vehicle to push their agenda.

New Profit Inc. has funded Stand since 2008—to the tune of $1,458,500. According to its website, New Profit is a “national venture philanthropy fund that seeks to harness America’s spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship to help solve the country’s biggest social problems.”

The Walton Family Foundation made a 2010 grant of $1,378,527. Several other major funders are tied to Bain Capital, a private equity and venture capital firm founded by Mitt Romney.

In a similar time frame, Stand’s National Board of Directors has seen dramatic changes. Lauene Powell Jobs joined the board of Stand for Children in 2006. She also serves on the board of Teach for America. Both Powell Jobs and Julie Mikuta, who joined the Stand board in 2007, are integrally involved with the NewSchools Venture Fund. NewSchools is a venture philanthropy firm, started by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and financed by many of the same donors who give to Stand for Children—Bill Gates, the Walton Family—as well as Eli Broad and Gap founder Donald Fisher. NewSchools Venture Fund pours money into charter schools and “human capital” projects with the aim of using market models and corporate management to drastically reshape the education system.

In 2010, Emma Bloomberg, daughter of billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, became the newest member of Stand’s national board. Emma Bloomberg is a program officer at the Robin Hood Foundation, another venture philanthropy organization, whose board of directors is dominated by corporate titans like General Electric CEO Jeffery Immelt and JP Morgan CEO Jes Staley.

Marian Wright Edelman is no longer a board member. In fact, 11 of the 14 board members of Stand for Children and the Stand for Children Leadership Center have joined the organization since 2006.

The education policy environment has changed significantly during the past 10 years. Particularly since the onset of the economic crisis, teachers have increasingly been blamed for “failing public schools.” Major foundations have spent millions in efforts to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores, make it easier to hire and fire teachers, and restrict teachers’ rights to due process and to strike. Co-opting organizations like Stand for Children Reshapes the public face of corporate education reform and helps make anti-union and privatization schemes more palatable to liberals and progressives. It’s clear that conservative foundations and corporate-backed operatives recognize that organizing parents is a promising way to further their agendas (see David Bacon’s “Trigger Laws: Does Signing a Petition Give Parents a Voice?” ).


There is a legitimate concern for teacher quality, how layoffs are handled, and the need for greater parent and community involvement in teacher contract negotiations. These are serious issues for low-income families and other marginalized communities, but Stand’s approach fails to bring parents, teachers, and communities together, and instead embraces policies favored by historic opponents of public schools and teachers’ unions.

As Susan Barrett explains:

"My fear is that unwitting parents and community members will join Stand because they want to rectify the problems they see every day in their children’s public schools, such as underfunding, lack of arts programs, large class sizes and cuts to the school year, only to find that they get roped into very different goals. . . I worry we will lose a truly democratic discussion and action on education weighted in favor of corporate reforms."

We agree. There is a need for a parent- and community-driven organization that is not directly tied to teachers unions. An organization that pushes for quality early childhood education, adequate funding for the public education system, and attention to childhood health issues would certainly represent a kid-first agenda. It is even possible to critique teacher training, hiring, and firing in such a broad agenda. But putting kids first is no longer the focus of Stand for Children.

Ken Libby ( a graduate student in the Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Adam Sanchez ( is a substitute teacher based in Portland, Oregon.

August 2009: It was an emergency. The Massachusetts Stand for Children director said a decision must be made immediately—that very day.

She was pressing the two dozen local leaders holding their statewide meeting to get on board with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s education “reform” bill, which called for more charter schools and the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.

That would be a big shift. Until then, Stand had been all about getting more money for schools. In previous years, the group had brought as many as 2,000 parents and other activists to the Statehouse to lobby for more money for children in the budget.

The staff had also taught Stand chapters how to run funding campaigns in their own communities. “They helped us divvy up call lists and organize meetings to get the city to adopt an optional meals tax,” says Sharon Guzik, a former Stand activist in the Boston suburb of Medford. “We were very new and very grateful.”

But at the August meeting, the state director said Stand must change, and fast.

Why the rush? Gov. Patrick was trying to win a huge federal Race to the Top grant, working on a tight schedule. His “reform” bill was the key to the money. If Stand helped, it would get a seat at the table.

There was no mention of the big bucks that corporate foundations were starting to pour into the Stand national organization that year as it swung around to match the corporate agenda all across the country.

Some chapter leaders at the meeting refused to go along. They had been battling proposed charter schools in their communities that would suck money from their school budgets.

But the majority deferred to the staff. “Most of the people there were newbies,” recalls Roger Garberg from the town of Gloucester, where an intense charter school fight was under way. In the end, he and his allies were outvoted.

After the meeting, Stand lobbyists worked hard to pass the governor’s bill, but some members continued to resist. Tracy Novick, an activist in Worcester, got parents together to write their legislators, as Stand members, in opposition.

“Well, that blew the top off,” she says. “We had the statewide chair out for meetings, it was a circus.”

Not a fun circus—friendships broke up as the Worcester chapter fell apart.

Garberg is still angry, but he understands why some Stand leaders and staff wanted to change course. Before, he says, “year after year, after budget season, we [Stand leaders] would put the budget under a microscope to identify our successes. You have to have a story that tells members their efforts were worthwhile. But it was becoming harder and harder.”

“A seat at the table” must have been very alluring, especially combined with the prospect of serious money for the organization. “That made it easy to adopt a rhetoric with a civil rights cast to it about closing achievement gaps,” he says. “The problem is, the rhetoric and reality were completely at odds.”

For Worcester, Gloucester, Medford, and other big Stand chapters, the organization’s turnabout was the end of the line. Within a few months, they folded, unwilling to toe the new line.

But flush with funding and new staff, Stand is very much alive in Massachusetts. The group is building chapters in Boston and other communities, including a new one in Worcester.

Recently, the state commissioner of education publicly thanked Stand for supporting his new teacher evaluation formula, which includes student test scores.

Now, Stand is pushing out ahead of Gov. Patrick with its corporate agenda. It supported a business-backed bill that will supposedly “save” municipalities $100 million by restricting bargaining on health benefits for teachers and other public employees. Patrick softened the bill before he agreed to sign it. And Stand announced it will push for a statewide ballot initiative to put teacher “effectiveness” ahead of seniority in determining layoffs or transfers. Patrick’s education secretary immediately said it’s too soon to talk about doing that because the state’s brand-new teacher evaluation system has yet to prove itself.

But with plenty of corporate money to pay signature gatherers, there’s little doubt that Stand will get its petition onto the 2012 ballot, setting off a battle that will pit this formerly progressive group against many of its own ex-leaders and supporters.


Barrett, Susan. “Stand for Children: A Hometown Perspective of Its Evolution,” Parents Across America website:

Goldstein, Dana . “The Test Generation,” The American Prospect. April 11, 2011: articles?article=the_test_generation.

Olson, Tom. “Another Former Stand for Children Member Speaks Out,” Parents Across America website: member-speaks-out.


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