As you walk past the gauntlet of pamphleteers at union meetings the various caucuses hand out their latest scree, individual teachers, obscure political parties, you can collect a pile of “appeals” before you reach the table with the agenda and “official” union handouts.
Teacher unions have a long history of active internal politics.
The UFT, the “United” Federation of Teachers was a merger of the Teacher Guild and the High School Teachers Association (HSTA). “Opposition” caucuses within the UFT have risen and fallen around issues – from the War in Vietnam to student discipline to contract issues.
At the Delegate Meetings the thousand delegates meet monthly to debate and set union policies. One caucus wears red shirts, caucus members frequently identify themselves as they speak at the microphone.
Diane Ravitch reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have granted Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) three million dollars.
Who are these guys and gals and why do Bill and Melinda like them so much?
E4E claims a membership of a thousand union members in New York City. E4E does not run candidates in union elections nor do they hold chapter leaderships or delegate positions, if they do, they never identify themselves at union meetings.
A couple of years ago at a meeting of a not-for-profit hosting many newer teachers I sat on a panel with Evan Stone – the E4E leader at that time.
Evan spoke for the organization which opposes current tenure provisions, opposes “last in-first out” seniority layoff rules (both in State law) and supports teacher evaluation by student test scores as one component – read the core principles here
E4E has chapters in New York, Los Angeles and Minnesota and appears to be building a chapter in New Haven. While the glossy website calls E4E a membership organization, they list the area leaders, who are full time staff as well as a list of other full time staff, the website does not list a Board of Trustees, or an Executive Board, or any evidence of an elected leadership.
E4E appears to be a “fifth column,” an organization within the union, funded externally, opposing local union policies. E4E issues press releases, claims to speak for new teachers, without, at least in New York, entering union election politics.
Do they have a thousand members? A hundred members? How do they define a member?
It appears as if the Gates folk are kicking in three million to try and influence internal union politics. The mayors in New York City and Los Angeles were/are battling with the teacher unions and E4E had easy access to the mayor. In New York State the Commissioner, John King, held a high profile meeting at an E4E meeting.
With a new mayor in Los Angeles and a new mayor coming in New York, both probably much closer to the teacher union it is likely that E4E as currently formulated will have less access to school district leadership.
On the national level the Gates folk have partnered with the AFT on a number of projects and on the local level the UFT worked with Gates on the Methods of Effective Teaching (MET) project.
Rather than Gates and their child, E4E, influencing union policies they probably have the opposite effect. Unions cannot be sanguine when an outside organization pours dollars into an organization within the union to influence union members.
My advice to E4E members: if you want to influence union policy get involved, run for chapter leader, run for delegate, join a caucus, make a one-minute speech at a twice-monthly Executive Board meeting, hand out flyers at union meetings, write a blog, all perfectly acceptable methods of influencing your peers.
As a teacher do you support the current emphasis on high stakes testing? Do you think your Growth Score accurately reflects your teaching ability?
If the answers are “no,” why do you belong to an organization that advocates these policies?
If the Gates policy wonks think that by funding oppositional groups within teacher unions they will somehow move unions closer to Gates core principles they are mistaken, actually they achieve the opposite. Union members see E4E as Quislings, advocating views antithetical to core union principles, and, embedding attitudes that the Gates Foundation is anti-teacher and anti-public school.
That three million could fund a dozen Community Schools in high poverty neighborhoods, or, provide extended school days in the lowest achieving middle schools, or, heaven forbid, scholarships for teachers to attend intensive university summer programs.
Maybe that former Teacher for America policymaker in Seattle isn’t making decisions in the best interests of the Gates Foundation. Angering the folks you want to influence just doesn’t make much sense.