Sunday, August 19, 2012

Supporters of Parent Trigger Film "Won't Back Down" Come Under Attack

Over the years, the teachers’ unions have indeed guarded tenure protections and last-in-first-out layoff practices to a zealous degree that could at times seem indifferent to the welfare of schoolchildren. “We bear a lot of responsibility for this,” Weingarten told me in a phone interview on Friday. “We were focused — as unions are — on fairness and not as much on quality.”  -- Frank Bruni on "Won't Back Down" in NY Times
There she goes again. Randi straddling the line instead of using an opportunity to educate the press and the public about what is really going on.

Given my history of frustration with the union and my own maverick tendencies, the idea of teachers and parents voting to overturn the bureaucracy is appealing. In fact, in the late 90s I went to Randi Weingarten and proposed the UFT set up a charter school support system for teachers to work with parents to take over NYC schools one school at a time saying, "The people running the schools are just awful and we will never make progress until we have some control of the system." She responded, "You're probably right, but how can we trust....." and she stopped there. I know she was thinking, "How can we trust just any teachers?"

I had been so frustrated at the joint union and district oppression in my district and if there were a genuine trigger movement I might have gone that way too. I want to stress right here that the film does show a teacher fighting back and I will see the film before saying it out and out sucks.

But we always have to put films like "Won't Back Down" in context. Who is backing it? The same "Waiting for Superman" gang. The parent trigger concept in the hands of the people pushing it is extremely dangerous. And of course the union is evil in the film. But then again how often to I feel that way from the other side of the fence about our own union after fighting the Unity machine for over 40 years?

I will give the film credit for waking up some of our colleagues to the dangers while our union leadership seems to be asleep at the wheel. Or worse, collaborating on the other side, but not collaborating enough according to DFER and right wingers. Which makes my point -- why collaborate at all and not go all out?

The Frank Bruni article in today's New York Time about "Won't Back Down" made some interesting points about  unions and how they are vilified for not being willing to give when in fact Randi has been the gift that keeps giving. My response to Bruni would be how tenure protects kids and how the alternative is so much worse --- why doesn't he touch on the states where there is no tenure or effective union? Why doesn't Randi hammer this home in every interview and every tweet? Because you know my feelings: she is a neo-liberal lawyer with serious ed deform tendencies, not a teacher.

Here is a comment on the Bruni piece from Leonie Haimson:
As usual, treats this as solely a battle between union and “reformers”, and interviews Micah Lasher and Joe Williams. Dreadful piece. Micah Lasher claims “Democratic executives say “‘I’ve devoted all the resources I can, why can’t I get better results with the resources I have?’” With the largest class sizes in 13 years? Go leave a comment and tweet him at @frankbruni; he also has a Facebook page. He writes: I invite you to visit my blog, follow me on Twitter at and join me on Facebook. Please DO!
Teachers on the Defensive - -
Diane Ravitch on the Bruni column. Here's an excerpt:
I am not going to write anything substantive about the movie celebrating the so-called "parent trigger" until I have seen it.
But the stories about it continue to miss the point about  why parents and teachers think it is a corporate-conceived and corporate-driven idea, for the benefit of corporate charter chains. Why not mention the Florida parents' fight to stop this so-called "parent empowerment"? If it really empowered parents, why did parents oppose it?
Here is the latest example. Frank Bruni, usually a thoughtful writer, has an article in today's New York Times. He sees the movie as part of the ongoing (and at least partially justified) critique of teachers unions. He never mentions that the two states that enthusiastically endorsed parent trigger laws (after California did it first, during the Schwarzenegger years), are right-to-work states, Texas and Mississippi. Nor did he mention the role of the rightwing group ALEC in promoting the trigger idea as a way to hasten the privatization of public education.
Diane links to another critique by Larry Ferlazzo, a prolific blogger and Sacramento teacher, calls Williams on his line about finding and rewarding the best teachers.

More from Diane: A Parent’s Letter to Frank Bruni of the New York Times

Save Our Schools Takes a Stand

Here is the 6 page document they produced regarding the film and the Teachers Rock concert. You can download it here.

Press Release Teachers Rock Documents


Mona Davids jumps on the movie bandwagon

In this war we are in those who try to straddle the line don't make friends on either side. See one Randi Weingarten. Thus, some activists in NYC were disappointed to learn that Mona Davids of the NYC Parents Union has jumped on the bandwagon with her support of the film. The press release from Parents Unions in 4 states used the ed deform buzz words (adults and children to define which side you are on:

 putting aside politics and adult self-interests by putting children first
Words that could come right from the pages of Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee.

Tne NYC Parent Union press release with links to the movie FB and Twitter feeds. (Note the WBD FB page is censoring comments.)

Now, Mona has been an ally over the past few years and had a role in our film criticizing charters despite her being a charter supporter. I can't even tell you how much help she was and she has taken flack for her support of the film.

She had gotten off to a pretty bad start when I first met her in the summer and fall of 2009 when she supported Joel Klein and then showed up from her Bronx home at a hearing at PS 15 over PAVE charter school in Red Hook Brooklyn to charge the teachers at the school with being interlopers from outside the neighborhood. I dubbed her "Moaning Mona." Some of the videos I shot were pretty funny.

But Mona began reaching out early in 2010 and over the years everyone made nice despite differences and I began to refer to her as "Magnificent Mona." And she has been a stalwart lining up with anti-corporate ed deformers on many issues, including helping lead the assault on the Cathie Black chancellor case.

Now I should point out that Mona has been pushing her own version of a parent trigger law here in NY State, which has caused some people to take issue with. But as I say, in the overall context of her work, many of us didn't get our underwear in a knot over it.

But her signing onto the film did bother me and some others. I feel that by supporting this film at this time of a general assault on unions and public education by the right, Mona's support for the film puts her in the public perception on the wrong side of the line. Here is a comment from someone associated with the national Save Our Schools Movement -- a person who doesn't know Mona or her work:
We MUST do all we can to fight this. Note the name of the group, "Parent's Union." Someone said at at our meeting that the right wing is taking over our terminology, so no one knows who is on what side.
Mona's hard work being branded by someone in SOS as a right wing front group which is not true. Another parent wrote:
Has she suddenly flipped sides? She quite publicly tweeted her thanks to Campbell Brown as well.
That is the danger Mona faces in linking the NYC Parents Union with a film being pushed by the right wing, DFER and all the other ed deformers. Emails have been flying around about this behind the scenes and there is a renewed wariness about Mona and her motives. I'll wait and see and give her the benefit of the doubt, for now. It might be fun to see her at the premiere of the film on Sept. 28 if we manage to hold some protest rally over the message of the film.

Mona and I had a bit of a testy interchange yesterday over her support for the film after I asked her if "Moaning Mona" was returning. She said she wanted people to see the film and make up their own minds. Hey, Diane Ravitch is also saying she won't comment on the film until she sees it. But I pointed out this point from her press release:
The “Won’t Back Down” movie displays a beautiful partnership between parents, teachers and the community to improve a low performing school.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

FAQ re the movie “Won’t Back Down” and the Parent Trigger 



  1. Norm,

    a letter I sent to the editor of the NY Times, (comments closed on-line)

    ”Not one tenured teacher was quoted for this piece. Actual working teachers are hardly ever asked for ways to improve the educational outcomes of students.

    Randi Weingarten spent how many years in a classroom? Arne Duncan’s educational background; a degree in Sociology. Would we tolerate a Surgeon General who was never a doctor? Yet we continue to listen to people who have never taught in a classroom long enough to earn tenure, tell us what is best for our schools.

    I would also ask, “What is the voter turnout for school board elections, mayoral elections, any election?”

    To Ms Weingarten being upset about how the Union is portrayed, attend a Union meeting and see if, “The union...has lost its way, resisting change, resorting to smear tactics and alienating the idealists in its ranks.” This may be the only realistic part of the movie.“

    hard to put everything in 150 words!

  2. Very surprised by Mona's comments.

    Yet, why have many of our political allies turned against us?? Money!! I am not saying Mona's organization is getting a big dose of contributions, but that's what turned many others around.

    As for Randi, I am not surprised and that's why I emailed you about it. She also has DFER written all over her.

    Even if this film is well-written and directed and shows the majority of teachers caring, it is still funded by people who want support for the Parent Trigger Law. I expect this film to be warm and fuzzy and well acted, but unlike you, I will not go see it.

    1. Who said they were allies? We have few allies. Politicians go where the money is. The UFT in today's world where money is to be made out of education can no longer compete. I just saw the trailer for the first time it it is powerful. I don't see easy ways to attack the film itself because it comes across as pro-teacher and anti-union which may be antithetical in reality but the deformers have an aim to divide the rank and file from the union -- see E4E. People like us who are also crticial of the union are in a very funny position.

    2. At one time we did have allies both in the city counsel and state legislature until GatesBucks made it into their coffers.

      Thank you for your response.

      What you describe is so different from the trailer I saw. The mother was begging the teachers and principal for help and not receiving it. The reality is that teachers in the small California town did petition the principal and district for more services. This I doubt is in the film.

      Randi continues to put us up against a wall by embracing what she calls "change" when in reality, these reforms based solely on testing are not good for the student or teacher. While reformers are calling for larger class sizes in the public schools, charters are "selling" the fact they have smaller classes.

  3. Look up Randi in the dictionary and you will see the definition: "SELLOUT".

  4. Actually, if you look up Randi - you will be directed to the Broad gang.


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