March 3, 2024

Maurice Cunningham: What the Globe Left Out of “MTA Exerts More Power”

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Once again, Maurice Cunningham has to correct the Boston Globe. Reposted with permission. 

The Boston Globe is messing with my Golden Years and I don’t appreciate it one bit. I really want just want to play some Sudoko and  rest up for the blue plate special but then the Globe goes and prints something like MTA exerts more power amid a wave of teacher strikes, generating praise and scorn and I figure, why not correct the record before morning nap?

In the Globe‘s world, MCAS and other education “reform” measures are wonderful achievements, and the greedy teachers are trying to repeal it because it makes them look bad. That’s the standard Globe approach but it’s wrong. The value of standardized testing is highly contested, and I’m not qualified in that area, but my friend Dr. Diane Ravitch is. Diane was a Research Professor of Education at New York University from 1995-2020 and is a historian of education. She is the Founder and President of the Network for Public Education (NPE).

So here is a recent post in which Diane introduces yet another peer reviewed study on the uselessness of high stakes testing and explains how she went from advocating testing to opposition, in five reasons.

First, as a seven-year member on the governing board of NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) she saw questions that have more than one right answer.

Second, “the scores were highly correlated with socioeconomic status.”

Third, she then noticed the “correlation between family wealth and test scores” and

I wondered why we were spending so much money to tell us what we already knew: rich kids have better medical care, fewer absences, better nutrition, more secure and stable housing, and are less likely to be exposed to vermin, violence, and other health hazards.

Fourth, her reading of scholarly literature (citations in original) persuaded her that tests are useless.

“Fifth, when I realized that the results of the tests are not available until the late summer or fall when the student has a new teacher, and that the tests offer no diagnostic information because the questions and answers are top-secret, I concluded that the tests had no value.”

So that’s the stuff Diane is an expert on and I’m not very qualified but having followed the money on Massachusetts education privatization I do have a few thoughts about the Globe union piece.

Here’s a few quotes from the Globe.

The flurry of activities represents an ideological shift that has reshaped a union — once known as a conciliatory behind-the-scenes dealmaker — into a more populist workers’ rights movement.

A revolt within the MTA over the direction of the union and a desire to more aggressively fight state and federal education policies began brewing around 2011. Many teachers were fuming about new state rules that mandated routine job evaluations and potential inclusion of student MCAS data in those assessments, raising concerns that many teachers might be found wanting and told they must improve.

Some members also were upset the MTA brokered a deal a year later that gave up some seniority rights in exchange for a national advocacy organization agreeing to withdraw a state ballot question that would have further gutted seniority rights and also would have given the state even more power over teacher evaluations.

I wrote a lot about this in Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization. Here’s what happened. The “national advocacy organization” was Stand for Children a billionaire front underwritten by the big 3 of school privatization, the Gates Foundation, Broad Foundation, and Walton Family Foundation. SFC was never “national.” It topped out at 12 state chapters, boasted it would have 20 by 2020, and quickly sunk to 8 states. It left Massachusetts in 2019. In 2010 SFC proposed a ballot measure to expand charter schools and empower management, which the MTA leadership compromised on before it reached the ballot. In 2011 SFC proposed to go to the ballot in 2012 with a measure to slash bargaining rights including seniority. MTA compromised again.

The Globe continues:

Seizing upon those emotions, a progressive and more rebellious faction of the MTA known as Educators for a Democratic Union in 2014 elected as president Barbara Madeloni.

Oh those emotional workers! If only they could accept the cold, hard business school logic of getting screwed over every time the billionaires behind privatization declare some new snake oil “reform.” But any emotions would be justified. The MTA leadership, “a conciliatory behind-the-scenes dealmaker’ in happier times for the Globe, did turn to Barbara Madeloni. Barbara fought. Subsequent presidents fight. (The “conciliatory” MTA president went on to draw his paychecks from privatizer organizations).

Back to money because as I also write in my book, these organizations require local funders, and I showed that the locals were almost all Boston financial industry execs tied in to a local philanthropy named Strategic Grant Partners. It was their money in 2010, their money in 2012, and their money in 2016—mostly dark money.

Boston billionaire Amos Hostetter was a donor to the 2009 ballot committee, the Committee for Charter Public Schools: $32,500. In 2016 Hostetter donated $25,000 on the record to the pro-charter Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee and $2,000,000 in dark money through Families for Excellent Schools. Hostetter’s philanthropy, the Barr Foundation, is now the largest underwriter of pro-privatization not-for-profit interests in Massachusetts, $14,130,000 from 2017-2022. Barr also funds the Globe’s Great Divide coverage, $1,400,000 from 2019-2022 (last available figures). The Globe relies on funding from Barr for its education coverage, and Barr is effectively an interest group. This conflict is not disclosed in MTA exerts more power amid a wave of teacher strikes, generating praise and scorn. It is rarely if ever disclosed.

Back to the Globe:

The union’s success in defeating charter school expansion in 2016 turned into the most costly ballot campaign in state history at that time, with opponents and supporters collectively spending more than $40 million.

The union, which relies on teachers’ contributions, spent $15,000,000 to defeat Question 2 of 2016. The pro-charters side spent $25,000,000 and over $17,000,000 of that was in dark money (most from three of the Strategic Grant Partners). The pro-charters side, through the (since) collapsed-in-corruption Families for Excellent Schools non-profit, spent at least another $10,000,000 from 2014-2106.

Back to the Globe:

Multiple parents are trying to seek damages for the academic and social harm inflicted upon their families during the teacher strike as part of a lawsuit the state and the Newton School Committee filed against the Newton Teachers Association.

And who is behind several of the “multiple parents”? I covered this in Christian Nationalists Attack Newton Teachers Association.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

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