Teachers union disavows internal memo endorsing deception of parents

Published August 5, 2011

American Federation of Teachers officials have disavowed an internal report after it was posted on the union’s website following its annual conference, embedded on each of its 19 pages with the union’s logo and signed by a union official.

The report, titled “How Connecticut Defused the Parent Trigger,” was replaced on AFT’s website with a note saying “we have received complaints about these materials and have removed them because they do not represent AFT’s position.”

Education activist RiShawn Biddle copied the report before it was removed from the AFT website. The report describes in detail AFT’s strategy for subverting school reform legislation in Connecticut, a strategy that relied greatly on deceiving legislators and interested parents.

The Parent Trigger proposal originated in California and was adopted by education reformers in Connecticut last year. The proposal empowers a majority of parents with children attending a persistently failing school to force education officials to either close it, convert it to a charter school or replace its staff.

The union was blindsided when thousands of minority parents thronged in the Connecticut capitol to support the measure. Many of them expressed concern that their state’s public schools posted the biggest gap in the country on standardized test scores between minority and Caucasian students.

But where California teachers unions lobbied to block the bill in their state legislature and state education department, AFT’s Connecticut affiliate began an offensive that ultimately neutered the bill.

And, according to the now-disavowed report, they succeeded because the proposal’s “name is a misnomer,” since school governance councils “are advisory and do not have true governing authority.”

The bill approved by Connecticut legislators allows the councils of elected community members only to advise school officials rather than empowering them to force needed reforms.

The report also touts as “karma” that “the chief legislative proponent of the original parent trigger bill lost his re-election in November 2010” and “the House Co-Chair [who allowed the bill to move forward] lost his race for Majority Leader and has a thorny relationship with the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on education issues.”

The report also makes clear AFT officials must be hoping Biddle’s discovery does not become more widely known because it destroys the union’s carefully erected image as reform-minded partners who love to “collaborate” with parents and communities.

Though the union’s biggest concern is not serving children or parents, it cannot have the public aware of this, or that its strategy includes the “absence of charter school and parent groups from the table” during political shenanigans that simultaneously target lawmakers with lobbying pressure while appearing to “[discuss] shared concerns” with parent and reform groups.

The union says it learned from past “mistakes” to avoid “inflammatory rhetoric” and the appearance of “saying ‘no.'” So, instead, it preaches “collaboration” and “allowing teachers to have a voice,” while working behind the scenes to make sure no one but the union does.

It’s a sad truth, but one Americans must understand: Teachers unions don’t fight for children. And that’s not why teachers join them. Teachers, as much as they love children and their jobs, know unions provide excellent job insurance.

Unions know that to increase their political influence, they must respond to the self-interest of dues-paying members, not some altruistic concern for children or teaching excellence.

At the same time, because it’s more socially palatable and protects their true interests, unions must pretend to care for ridding schools of bad teachers, squeezing the most out of taxpayer dollars, and other public concerns.

Of course the disavowed report represents AFT, just not its public position. Being honest about that would destroy the union.

Joy Pullmann ([email protected]) is an education research fellow and managing editor of School Reform News at The Heartland Institute.