Stand for Children: Advocates for kids or corporations?

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by Ed Augden (retired Denver Public Schools Teacher, community activist)

This fall, Stand for Children (SFC), a national advocacy organization for “education reform”, will try to elect to the Denver Board of Education a slate of candidates –Happy Haynes, Anne Rowe and Jennifer Draper Carson – dedicated to reform (high stakes testing with rote learning to prepare for testing, teacher evaluation tied to student testing, privatization of public education and the same old authoritarian governance model).

Voters may want to know more about SFC – its board of directors, principal benefactors and donors and principal local supporters. While it began in Portland, Oregon as a legitimate child advocacy organization, unfortunately when wealthy donors became contributors, its mission changed to advocating for corporations and wealthy donors and against the interests of children, especially poor children of color.

A group of Chicago African American clergy recently met with SFC members and complained they seemed disinterested in students’ issues and more interested in promoting Waiting for Superman (a film that advocates for reform and bashes teachers’ unions as reform opponents). According to an article by David A. Love, Executive Editor of Blackcommentator.com, the film “…did not fly…” in Chicago.  While the clergy advocated for more school books, SFC lobbied the Illinois legislature for “union busting” legislation.

SFC’s national board of directors includes venture capitalists and private equity investors, no educators and no “grassroots” parents. Its donors and benefactors include Bain Capital, once headed by Mitt Romney. This same firm acquired a manufacturing plant in Indiana, fired its workers and rehired them at lower wages. New Profit, Inc., a private equity firm and SFC supporter, has ties to a firm that, according to Love, has been “…running Muammar Gaddafi’s PR campaign…”

Other wealthy benefactors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation and other organizations dedicated to privatizing public schools, breaking teachers’ unions and, in my view, perpetuating the status quo these reformers claim they want to change.

Locally, SFC supporters include Van Schoales, former head of Education Reform Now, and now executive director of A Plus Denver, another advocate of “education reform.” Rupert Murdoch paid his salary as head of Education Reform Now. A Plus Denver should be counted on as a supporting organization. Certainly, Tom Boasberg, Denver Public Schools (DPS) superintendent, whose sister, Margaret, was an original SFC board member, must be counted as a supporter.

Mentioning Boasberg’s name prompts another question. Why aren’t his children enrolled in DPS so they can gain from the “education reform” measures he’s instituted? Perhaps they could be enrolled at Montbello or North High Schools?
They might help integrate Kepner Middle School which has a 95 percent Latino enrollment.

If Stand for Children and other “education reformers” truly are serious about upgrading the quality of education for all students, they will demand that equity and justice be achieved for all students, not just the privileged and the lucky. They will demand that a comprehensive education be available at every neighborhood school that includes art, music, physical education and that the community be meaningfully involved in school governance.

Those folks familiar with Denver North High School since the 1970s know that problems at the school were prevalent since that time. Yet, various administrations either couldn’t find solutions to the dropout problem, to teenage pregnancy, drugs and on and on or they didn’t try. Nevertheless, those problems existed in the 70s, 80s and 90s. They didn’t suddenly emerge in 2007. The “redesign” that occurred that year didn’t solve any those problems. In fact, student achievement declined, the dropout rate increased and student population declined. The only period of measurable success since Joe Sandoval was principal in the 1990s occurred under Dr. Darlene LeDoux who was principal just before the “redesign,” the attempted quick fix.

To contend that this nation’s schools and DPS are failing is in 60s terminology, a “cop out.” Our nation’s public schools are a reflection of our society. If they are failing, it’s because we’ve failed as a society and as a community to hold ourselves accountable. Until that happens, “education reform” will be just another failure.

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