Students First NY InJect Racial Politics Into Battle over Common Core

December 11, 2013

It was with deep and increasing sadness that I read the steady stream of emails coming in real time from my colleagues attending New York State Commissioner of Education’s John King’s Common Core “listening tour” which set up base in Brooklyn last night. The sadness did not stem from the fact that my colleagues were essentially silenced by a calculated maneuver by Michelle Rhee’s Student First NY organization to ensure no voice but theirs was heard by bussing people in early in order to gobble up all of the speaking slots, even as they reportedly repeated the same lines over and over again.
I expect such anti democratic machinations from all corporate education reform front groups, that much the more from anything associated with a ruthless monster like Rhee. What saddened me was the conscious injection of race into what us is ostensibly meant to be an airing of pedagogical policy. The line of thinking I read about again and again and again was that if you opposed the Common Core Standards – presented somehow as a matter not of pedagogy but of civil rights — it was because you are a racist and you did not want children of color to succeed in school.

That’s it.

This is very, very ugly and purposely divisive stuff. Indeed, it could scarcely get uglier or more divisive.

But in a way it makes sense: an ugly, brutal and suicidal sense but sense anyway. It is a kind of toxic combination of cynicism and desperate hope, one in which you have the city systemically starving schools in impoverished and minority neighborhoods and the predatory cunning of the corporate education reformers of which Common Core is a crown jewel preying off of that poverty.

For when you ram into existence, by some of the most insidious and antidemocratic processes possible, a billionaire backed experiment on the children of an entire nation; an experiment created by some of the most arrogant and ruthless souls on earth (Bill Gates, David Coleman); an experiment based on nothing but endlessly repeated rhetoric and slogans (“making kids college and career ready”) and one that that has been greeted by parents and teachers alike with incomprehension and disgust, you would do well to have evidence of the amazing success you claim such an experiment brings.

But since the creators of the Common Core — in an act of unprecedented and unconscionable hubris — did not even bother to field-test the thing, there is no evidence to be had of anything anywhere.
So what do you do when people start asking questions? How can you defend the indefensible? How do you support something with no evidence to support it with?

You can’t.

But you can try to change the argument. Ergo: the problem with the Common Core is not with the Common Core (which is perfect at conception) but with anyone and everyone who opposes it for any reason, no matter how sound. According to the New York Times, people oppose the Common Core is because they are Tea Party nut jobs or left wing conspiracy nut jobs. Or because they want teachers to coddle their kids. According to Arne Duncan opposition stems from the fact that suburban moms just can’t handle the reality that their kids are dumb and their schools sucks as badly as they really do.

All of this is ugly but it also silly. To introduce the element of race into this discussion in a nation where racism has been its most disgusting and perhaps most permanent reality is anything but silly.

Such a move is meant not to promote dialogue but to end it. No decent person wants to be called a racist or to be accused of promoting racist policies, which is what many at last night’s “forum “ apparently claimed opponents of the Common Core are doing. This line of thinking has no more credibility that those of Arne Duncan or Joe Bruni or Bill Keller and it should be given no more credibility. What is credible and what must be heard is the very real anguish and near despair that produced such thinking. It did not come out of nowhere.
In a few hours John King will hold another “forum” in downtown Manhattan.
I have no idea if Students First NY or some other billionaire backed front group will attempt to pull a similar stunt but this time around I will be in attendance, as will many of my friends and colleagues and I hope to speak to the issue at hand and not be drowned out by confusion and ugly corporate sponsored obfuscation.


4 Responses to “Students First NY InJect Racial Politics Into Battle over Common Core”

  1. Jack Says:

    On the bright side, you should all
    know that it’s possible for an E4E teacher
    to “wake up,” quit, and take a public stand
    against this group… or E4E’s ally, Students First.

    Case in point: a long-time, Los Angeles
    Educators for Excellence (E4E) teacher
    and supporter, Lisa Alva Wood, has
    written a blistering article detailing
    how and why she has broken with E4E and
    other such groups after waking up
    to their true intent, and the true intent
    of their backers:

    In an eavesdropping moment,
    Lisa listened in on a “corporate reform”
    conference call that was originally
    supposed to be about one topic,
    but the news of corporate reform-backed
    LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy’s possible
    resignation changed the purpose of the
    conference call.

    This caused Lisa to freeze up and not answer
    the conference call’s “roll call.” Thus,
    the rest of the corporate reform
    astroturf participants were unaware that an
    actual union (UTLA) teacher was on the line (albeit
    one who also belonged to E4E, as back then she
    attempted to keep ties to both UTLA and
    corporate reform groups.) What Lisa then
    heard finally got her to “wake up” to
    the truth about E4E and other such
    groups, and write the article linked
    to above.

    However, I just was poking around
    on E4E’s site, and a video of Ms. Alva
    Wood gushing about E4E is still there:

    It’s also still on YouTube:

    I’m familiar with Ms. Alva Wood, having spoken with
    her before her defection where I attempted to enlighten
    her about E4E. She was in denial, and wouldn’t
    accept anything I was telling her, saying that she
    could participate in all groups—UTLA, and
    the corporate reform astroturf orgs (E4E, TeachPlus, Teachers for New Unionism, etc.)… and
    help the cause of education and teachers.

    Well, now we all know how well THAT turned out.

    Thankfully, that contradiction just
    came to a head, and she’s
    cutting all her ties with corporate
    reform (except for her participation
    in a holiday educator-recognition
    event sponsored by United Way,
    which will be the last thing
    she will do with this group.)
    Lisa goes into detail about
    “Road to Damascus” conversion
    experience, and how it
    happened during the “corporate
    reform” astroturfers’ conference
    call that planned the
    demonstrations to save Deasy
    that are described by Ellen Lubic
    in another blog post:

    Here Ellen describes the astroturf
    rally that this conference call led to.
    This pro-Deasy Rally was a grotesque
    circus that played out much the same
    as the first Common Core “public forum”
    that was held in Manhattan:

    Here’s Lisa describing the call
    as a reason for her quitting:

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    “I QUIT. I had to.

    “Hopefully, you’ve never picked up
    the telephone and felt the hair
    stand up on the back of your neck
    as you realized who was on the
    phone and what they were talking
    about, felt your heart empty out
    and felt dread and despair flooding

    “I have, twice.

    “The first time, it was my ex-husband.

    “The second time, it was the United
    Way of Los Angeles. I phoned into
    a conference call that wasn’t what I
    expected, and it ended my
    relationships with the Partnership for
    Los Angeles Schools, Teachers for
    a New Unionism and Educators for
    Excellence, and put some others
    in the doghouse.

    ” … ”

    “All of this (the LAUSD Ipad fiasco) is
    chronicled in the press, but I mention
    it to set the stage for a little feint that
    John Deasy pulled on October 24,
    2013, right after the I-Pad scandal and
    right before he was going to be called
    in for his own job evaluation.

    “It was the last straw. Although I
    had publicly stuck up for him after
    a UTLA poll of 16,000 educators
    rendered a 91% ‘no confidence’
    vote, I lost all faith in him with the
    iPad situation, and had to face
    some very hard realities about
    reform groups in LA.

    “The call confirmed some of the
    most discouraging talk I’d heard
    or read, and some of my most
    disappointing experiences. After what
    I heard, I couldn’t stay any longer.”

    – – – – – – – – – – – –

    The conference call Lisa described
    was originally supposed to be a
    discussion about Local
    Control Funding, but instead
    was about “Saving Dr. Deasy:

    – – – – – – – – – –

    “When I called in, I heard a roll call
    of 51 educational, community or
    political groups whose sole
    purpose on the call was to support
    John Deasy in his fight to keep his

    “The news that Deasy was
    threatening to quit had changed
    the topic and galvanized the group.
    These good people were planning
    to skip school to show support at
    the October 29 Board meeting.
    They were bringing students and
    teachers to testify in his favor.

    “I was… flabbergasted. I didn’t
    have the heart to even make the
    roll call. By the time they got to
    ‘anyone else?’ I was too intimidated
    and overwhelmed to say, ‘Here.’
    I didn’t know what affiliation to claim.

    “Long story short, these folks made
    a huge showing outside the morning
    Board meeting, while 35,000 union
    members were busy serving the
    needs of our youth.

    “It was a much needed wake-up call.

    “I began to realize the extent of the
    ignorance and hubris that fuels many
    ed-reform decisions, as well as the
    extent of my own ignorance. The
    addition of businessmen and
    socialites to a board I sat on made
    sense suddenly, as did their
    posturing and pronouncements.

    “If you’ve ever heard people mis-
    speaking about things you know
    intimately, or talking about you when
    they thought you weren’t listening,
    you know how pained I was and still
    am. I couldn’t speak then and have
    just found the words, now.

    “Some of the groups in the pro-Deasy
    rally – Students First, Green Dot,
    KIPP LA – were to be expected,
    although they have no business in
    LAUSD’s superintendent evaluation.

    “Others made me gag in wonder –
    Goodwill of Southern California?
    Inner-City Struggle? LA Education
    Partnership? I thought we were

    One of the key things that turned
    off Lisa is that this astroturfers
    were engaging in wholesale slander
    against UTLA, whose teachers are
    contractually forbidden from
    attending this rally during school


    “They weren’t talking about me,
    personally, but they clearly saw
    themselves as supporting their
    hero, a hero whose arch-enemy
    is my union, UTLA. It was, and
    is, very difficult to understand
    why they need to draw a
    protective circle in the sand
    around John Deasy. (Speculation
    is rampant, but facts are hard to
    come by).

    “The bottom line for me personally
    is that there are too many good
    people distracted by too many
    superfluous groups. The best
    place for an educator to protect
    and promote public education is
    the teachers’ union. Over time,
    for better or for worse, the union
    is the educators’ bastion and it
    is set up via a democratic
    process in which any member
    can participate. If UTLA needs
    to be more positive and
    professional, we need to make
    it that way ourselves, but that’s
    another story.”
    and on her piece goes…

  2. ellen keaey Says:

    You go Patrick!!! Wish I could be there to hear you speak.
    Your cousin, Ellen

  3. NYCUrbanEd Says:

    Thanks for having the guts to publicly say what not many others (myself included) did: This was a destructive use of the race card in order to achieve a political gain.

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