Finding Common Ground: The Complex Task of Building Coalitions and Understanding the Difference Between Friends and Enemies

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Benjamin Franklin

Up early and on my bike for my morning ride along the East River. The sun glints off the waves stirred by a brisk wind, the Asian men fishing, the joggers plodding away, a soccer practice in progress, the Parks Department folk planting and fertilizing, a crisp November morning.

Bike helmet in hand I walk into my polling place – no lines – a steady flow of voters. I squint at the tiny print and bubble in my votes for candidates and constitutional elections; lots of neighbors wearing de Blasio pins. Yes!!

On Sunday, along with hundreds of other union members I celebrated Teacher Union Day, an annual event, always the Sunday before Election Day. The union recognizes its own: chapter leaders, political activists, fifty-year union membership and teams of principals and chapter leaders who collaborate effectively at the school level. Unexpectedly, candidate Bill de Blasio dropped in and gave a short rousing speech, hugged Michael Mulgrew and introduced his wife, a nice touch.

Randi Weingarten, unobtrusively sitting at a table, had a prescient column in the New York Times, “Will the States Fail the Common Core,”

Randi writes,

Instruction in many wealthier public and private schools is routinely aligned to such [Common Core] skills, often through project-based and hands-on learning. But between budget cuts and top-down accountability laws like No Child Left Behind—whose testing fixation promotes test-prep and rote memorization—poor kids have gotten less access to the well-rounded, rigorous education they deserve. Without standards aligned to what kids need to succeed in college, career and life, and ample supports to help them get there, that chasm will grow even wider.

And explains her support for the Common Core,

Common Core standards [are] not a silver bullet, and they’re not the only thing kids need for a great public education. But they have the potential to disrupt the cycle of increasing poverty and economic and social stratification by making essential skills and knowledge available to all children, not just some.

And goes on to slam the leadership at the State level,

But even good ideas can be torpedoed by bad execution. In New York, officials rushed to impose tests and consequences way before students were ready. And Louisiana, New Mexico and other states are skimping on or simply bungling implementation. If officials are trying to make these standards unattainable, they’re doing a great job. No wonder students, their parents and teachers are angry, anxious and demoralized.

Weingarten points to a number of accountability tools aside from standardized tests,

Speaking of testing, it is not anti-accountability to support measures of student learning other than standardized tests. That’s the essence of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, 39 diverse and highly successful public high schools that have received waivers from state standardized exams and so can emphasize higher-order skills, such as crafting and defending a college thesis paper.

Ironically at the same time that the AFT President is slamming states for their poor implementation of Common Core standards Randi agreed to respond to Mercedes Schneider, a snarky blogger in Louisiana. Diane Ravitch occasionally reposts Schneider’s posts, they are smart and passionate.

Strangely Schneider chooses to harshly criticize Randi for her alleged lack of full time teaching experience and her advocacy for the Common Core, and, Randi responds in detail.

About thirty or so commenters posted responses, Leo Casey, the leader of the Shanker Institute and former UFT High School Vice President overreacted defending Randi, the anti-Common Core folk joined in, the defenders of Randi were marginalized by Mercedes, who tells us she will not be posting comments from supporters/defenders of Weingarten.

Read Mercedes letter and Randi’s response plus the comments here

It distresses me that teacher bloggers would choose to attack Randi rather than find common ground to change the direction of education policy on the national scene. I do not see the Common Core as the “enemy;” as a high school teacher I see the Social Studies and English standards as aspirational targets, not that different than the last list of standards. The problem is the implementation, wholly based on testing and data-collection, is absurd. If the Common Core was decoupled from testing I do not believe we would be facing this enormous backlash.

The anti-Common Core coalition from the far right see the Common Core as part of the Obama plot to force gay marriage on our children, take away our guns, make May Day a national holiday and on the left seizing classroom decisions from the hands of classroom teachers.

Hey, it’s a democracy and what makes America wonderful, believe what you want, and blog about it if you choose.

Changing policies on any political level is about building coalitions of the like-minded. To me, the most comfortable coalition is teachers and their organizations and parents. Personally I could not ally myself with folks opposed to almost everything I treasure.

As a union representative I learned that I had to work with principals and superintendents, we could collaborate on some issues and “agree to disagree” on others. I worked with my superintendent on involving parents and teachers in school-budgeting and at the same time pursued grievances challenging the mandating the format of lesson plans.

Mercedes’ decision to refuse to post responses from commenters who disagree with her flies in the face of the open dialogue that the web enables. I welcome comments from the entire spectrum, I hope that readers can engage; I hope that my efforts will create a dialogue, perhaps I will influence, and perhaps I will be influenced.

Today, in New York City, we will be electing a mayor who seems to support much of the union educational agenda. Across the state parents, teachers and legislators are beginning to push back against the state over testing and the selling of personnel student data.

Organizations from around the city have spent months, initially supporting different candidates, now on the same side. Across the state Republicans and Democrats are coming together.

I would hope that the stalwart group of education bloggers can identify areas of agreement and use their substantial influence across the net to push back on the forces of evil.

Mercedes, Randi is not an enemy, and, unfortunately Michelle Rhee must be chuckling and privately hoping you continue tossing stones.

Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten are friends, they don’t agree on everything, they undoubtedly disagree on strategies and tactics, yet, at the last AFT Convention Diane was on the stage giving a powerful speech.

Let’s use Diane and Randi’s relationship as a model.

10 responses to “Finding Common Ground: The Complex Task of Building Coalitions and Understanding the Difference Between Friends and Enemies

  1. Poor Peter, you have a dilemma. You ask, why can’t Randi and Diane and Mercedes all get along? Well one reason is that Diane and Mercedes are doing everything in their power to bring down the Common Core and Randi asks the sensible question: What if they succeed? The answer, she knows,is a curricular wasteland, worse than we had before the Standards were written. Randi follows in the tradition of Al Shanker and American Educator. Diane and Mercedes march next to the tea parties and education leftists like Mike Klonsky, Susan Ohanian and Debbie Meier. Sometimes Peter, you can’t bridge all differences.


  2. Oh Sol, you will never learn. And after you’ve been so wrong on so much. And that old red-baiting never goes away does it? And Slander Debbie Meier, one of the great educators we’ve had? Have you no shame?
    One problem with Randi is that she has said she taught 5 periods a day for 6 years, so patently untrue. And her fibs and distortions, along with her support for so much of ed deform are behind the criticisms. And the autocratic one party union where 100% of the ex bd seats are Unity endorsed thus making Putin jealous.
    As for Peter, you were a district rep for much of your career. You taught one period a day for much of your career.


  3. How easily we who want what all children need can find a perch from which to disagree with each other. How many times has this incessant sniping from progressive toward progressive hurt the overall cause that all were fighting to achieve? There are powerful forces arrayed against us. The greatest forces since those from the beginning of the last century. See what the Bloomberg reign has accomplished in twelve short years? In the biggest fiscal crisis since the 1930’s.

    And with a mayor with little charisma in comparison to some of his predecessors! The power of the buck has gotten dramatically stronger with Citizens United. All across this country we see revolutionary changes in schooling, and a decades long investment in denigrating public schools bearing fruit. From sea to shining sea, from north to south, the last great American institution is under incredibly relentless attack. Surely it fails to be perfect, but should it be swept away?

    The right wingers have much more internal discipline. They quietly buy up media outlets, spend huge sums on elections, create ALEC, and the Broad Academy, create and foster an election mechanism that causes candidates to pander and seek their wealth to mount a campaign. They pull powerful strings. Yet they rarely pull each others hair in public.

    And what do the people of good heart do-the people who want each child to have the opportunity to achieve his/her potential-they beat each other up over old disagreements.

    Those who want to maintain the exclusivity MUST BE CHEERING ON OUR ATTEMPTS AT SELF DESTRUCTION-yet again.

    Please, please think before you unleash the vitriol! Try to keep the real goal constantly in your mind. Measure every word, every post, every utterance against the real goal. Especially now as the tide appears to be turning, as the flood appears to be receding, don’t fall into the old habits of chewing up your allies. We need our tiny teeth and meager claws to be constantly and properly directed or we will yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


  4. Let me respond here with a comment that I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

    Here is the question: “What would it take for me to believe in Randi Weingarten as AFT president?”

    If the president of a national teachers union cannot in a single sentence clearly delineate her teaching credentials, then I cannot believe in her. What I can believe is that some agenda prevents such a seemingly easy task.

    If the president of a national teachers union accepts millions from a noted corporate-reform-promoting, so-termed “philanthropist,” then I cannot believe in her. What I can believe is that the philanthropist’s agenda holds sway over the actions of such a president.

    Bill Gates has shelled out $173 million toward Common Core to date.

    If the president of a national teachers union expresses unswerving devotion to a set of “standards” despite the now-public numerous concerns over both the origins and effects of such, then I cannot believe in her. What I can believe is that some agenda other than teacher and student welfare truly holds her attention.

    In her response, Randi Weingarten demonstrated where she stands on the three issues above. Based upon her response, I now know that she is too much of the corporate reformer in union garb for me.

    There you have it.


  5. As to the redirect of pro-Weingarten comments from my blog to Diane Ravitch’s blog: Ravitch has 22,000 hits a day. Thus, the pro-weingarten folks– who were reluctant to post on such a public venue– now have more visibility. I wanted them out in the open.


  6. Finally, AFT sent messages “down the ladder” the day of my post in an effort to “rein me in.” I walked in on a phone call at school and learned of this. I wasn’t supposed to know since the locals were not going to pursue silencing me. The utter inappropriateness of AFT efforts to exercise its political pressure to silence one of its members speaks loudly regarding the AFT Weingarten is leading.


  7. Oh, Norm, the term “red baiting” as used by you is just a dodge to avoid talking about your comrades’ actual political and educational views. Don’t you know that calling someone who is an education leftist, an education leftist is no slander? Would you be happier if I called Debbie an education progressive? OK, she’s a progressive — just like you. And you should read Diane Ravitch’s book “Left Back” to learn about all the damage the progressives did to American education.


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  10. Pingback: NEA, AFT, Common Core, and VAM #stopcommoncore #commoncore #ccss #noccss | Stop Common Core Illinois

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