I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Won't Back Down" Panels Snub Teachers

Around the country, there have been a slew of "special screenings" of Won't Back Down, the corporate reformers' latest piece of propaganda. As a special treat, StudentsFirst and other reformy organizations have been organizing panels of "experts" to discuss the film. Guess which experts have been excluded?

Newark (from the great education student and blogger Stephanie Rivera):
In addition to the movie screening, B4K provided a panel at the event. It was definitely an intense one. A lot of hostility, frustration, and anger:
Moderator: Tom Moran, The Star-Ledger
  • Junius Williams, Esq., Director, The Abbott Leadership Institute
  • Wilhelmina Holder, Director, The Newark Secondary Parents Council
  • Eric Stevenson, Executive Director, iReform
  • Derrell Bradford, Executive Director, B4K
Tampa, at the Republican National Convention:
2:00 PM Private Screening of Won’t Back Down
 Panel immediately following screening with:

Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Former Secretary of State

Jeb Bush, Chairman of Foundation for Excellence in Education

Michelle Rhee, Former DC Chancellor; Founder of StudentsFirst

Daniel Barnz, Director, Won’t Back Down

Campbell Brown, Moderator
Charlotte, at the Democratic National Convention:
The screening was sponsored by Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution, and StudentsFirst. A panel discussion followed the film and  included: Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento and ex-NBA star, Mark Johnson, the Producer, Michelle Rhee, Executive Director of StudentsFirst (and wife of Johnson), Ben Austin of Parent Revolution, Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform, Daniel Barnz, the Director, along with Campbell Brown, who moderated the panel. Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles and DNC Chairman, also spoke to the attendees. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, addressed a crowd attending a reception that followed the screening.
New York City (read the great Leonie Haimson's full review):
If I hadn’t been on a panel to discuss the movie afterwards, I would probably have walked out. 
The panel also included  Christina Grant, formerly the deputy Director for the DOE Office of Charter Schools and now head of NYCAN, a charter lobbying organization, and Kate Hayes, a parent with a Kindergarten child who has been shut out from attending her neighborhood public school because of overcrowding.  Hayes is also on the founding board of a prospective charter school called Great Oaks, which has applied to the state to open in the fall of 2013.
Let me see if I get this straight...

The primary villain of Won't Back Down is a "bad" teacher. The central theme of this film is that bad teachers, protected by unions, are the primary problem in American education.

But at all of these panels, no one thought it would be a good idea to talk to an actual teacher.

My fellow educators, we need to understand something: these people do not respect us. They don't put us on TV. They don't include us in their policy making panels. They don't have us advise politicians. They don't put us on the boards of their lobbying shops.

These people do not think we are professionals. They think that what we do every day for the children of America is somehow beneath them. They talk on and on about how important we are, yet they couldn't give a damn about what we have to say.

Michelle Rhee couldn't hack it in a classroom past her third year. Yet somehow she has become the primary authority for many in the media on what needs to be done to "save" our schools. No, the experts aren't the actual teachers who have dedicated their lives to children; the real "expert" is Michelle Rhee, a woman whose track record is mediocre at best.

A woman who commands enough resources to put together special screenings of a film that vilifies teachers at both national political conventions. And who has rigged the conversation so that real teachers - who do a job she could not do - are excluded.

Everyone OK with that?

Would you please stop bring up my record as an educator?!

ADDING: I stand corrected: there was a teacher participating in one of these panels:
That bipartisan appeal reaches down to the local level. Here in Las Vegas, the screening was co-sponsored by Nevada’s Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Las Vegas’ Public Education Foundation, the Nonprofit Community and Leadership Center of UNLV and the city of Las Vegas, along with the national “education reform” outfits StudentsFirst and Parent Revolution. Mayor Carolyn Goodman introduced the movie, while Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, a Las Vegas Democrat and school teacher, joined a panel that included a local public school principal, private-school teacher and a veteran of a “parent trigger” charter takeover of a California school. 
Some of the reforms sought by StudentsFirst and others were passed by the 2011 Legislature. One law puts teachers who receive negative job evaluations two years in a row on probationary status, losing the protection of tenure or seniority. Another law established a pay incentive program for teachers with positive classroom outcomes, makes it easier to fire teachers, and requires school districts to consider performance when making layoffs. 
Assemblywoman Diaz, during the panel discussion, noted that the changes, which she supported, are in place but it may take years to determine their effectiveness. [emphasis mine]
Ah, I see: teachers can participate in these discussions. As long as they are state-level politicians and agree with StudentsFirst's policies about eliminating teacher employment protections.

Good to know.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing my post! One of the panelists in Newark, Junius Williams, surprised everyone and asked if anyone on the panel was a union member. When the answer was no, he asked if anyone in the audience was a part of a teachers union and would be willing to come up. He said it was important that they are able to be in the discussion. An old teacher from the Bronx who came to Newark to teach because she believed Newark would be less f!@#ed up than NY came up. One of my favorite things she brought to light to the audience:

“Department of Education goes after good teachers and good principals. They find ways to fire you.” and “Unions are VERY necessary. Good teachers get caught in agenda where principals are forced to harass teachers.”

Duke said...

I thought your post was great, Steph. More to come on it.