Good day, CharterFolk.
A theme across my 30 months of writing here at CharterFolk has been that it is worthwhile for the rest of the nation to pay special attention to the strategies that the Establishment is using against charter schools in California because they are virtually certain to spread across the country.
Indeed, you could argue that the strategy used for the entire Biden Administration has been a virtual carbon copy of the attacks that have been directed at California’s charter schools over the past decade.
This week, we’ve seen four additional examples of California-originated attacks that warrant our national attention.
Each is addressed separately below.
The Next Shoe Drops in Educational NIMBYism
Last fall I wrote about how “Community Impact Report” requirements embedded in AB1505 were patterned after Environmental Impact Report requirements contained within California’s disastrously bad CEQA law. In this post …
… I described how housing opponents have used EIR requirements to initiate lawsuits to stop or delay thousands of proposed construction projects in California.
This week we saw confirmation that charter school opponents are using “CIR” requirements to oppose charter school growth in exactly the same way that NIMBYists use EIR requirements to block new housing developments.
A suit has been filed against California’s State Board of Education asserting that it approved a charter school appeal without taking into account all the CIR and other requirements contained in AB1505.
So now the Mayacamas Charter School developers will have to hold off yet another existential threat to their program.
Meanwhile, to all other potential developers in California, the word goes out:
“These are the new tools that charter school opponents have been handed to kill off proposed charter schools in California. And we fully intend to use them. Are you sure you want to waste all that time trying to propose that new school of yours?”
It was precisely the risk of this kind of nonsense spreading nationally that led so many of us to broken-record the need to ensure that no new “community impact report” requirements would ever be allowed to find their way into CSP regulations.
Fortunately, in that instance, we prevailed.
But this angle of attack is going to come back again and again.
So if ever you run into a CharterFolk who fails to grasp just how important it is that we fend off every effort to create CIR requirements, direct them to this story and tell them this is why.
The ABC’s of Villain Identification
Almost all of the specific new messaging strategies that the Establishment has used against charter schools across the country in recent years had their origins in California.
Even the messaging strategy that was used in Massachusetts to defeat Measure 2 in November of 2016 …
… had its debut in California.
Capital and Main is the California Teacher Association’s main publication. Once they publish under their own banner, they take their stories across the country, getting respected national figures like Bill Moyers to repost them under their own banners.
Look what Moyers let them post in the sub-headline:
Charter schools may offer better opportunities for students, but they also may hurt the education system.
Exactly the message CTA wanted to get out in the public square.
By the early 2010’s, CTA and their national allies had realized that it was a losing cause to argue that charter schools were not doing a better job with students than many traditional public schools. So they pivoted to a message that their focus groups and polling told them works better, one asserting that it doesn’t even matter how great charter schools are. The growth of charter schools makes all other schools worse. So they must be stopped.
It basically presents a parent’s decision to enroll a child in a charter school as a massive selfish gesture because, in so doing, the parent harms all other students.
It’s a really an unbelievably offensive thing to say to parents who don’t have quality options for their kids and to educators who are working so hard to provide those options.
It’s to cast these people … CharterFolk … as villains.
But as the post mortem study of the Question 2 election results clearly showed …
… in the game of blood politics, casting a villain is an incredibly effective strategy.
It has become in fact, the Establishment’s messaging “ABC’s.”
The beginning of the alphabet they use to drive their entire anti-charter school agenda.
Just how deeply their agenda is reflected in those ABC’s has been made clear in recent weeks.
I don’t know how many of you are followers of Abbott Elementary, a popular sitcom on ABC portraying the lives of educators working in a high need community in Philadelphia.
The linkage between the Hollywood-based creators of the show and the NEA …
… (and other status quo interests) …
… couldn’t be clearer.
From an NEA perspective the show is perfectly on script.
The teachers are all noble public servants. The school administrator is not evil, but is woefully incompetent. And the overarching problem is that the school needs more money.
The Villain in the show, as the character was explicitly named in a recent episode, is a representative of a “charter school company.”
He attended Abbott as a kid and now comes from an organization that has enough resources to run television ads whose sole focus is to criticize the poor performance of Abbott in hopes of getting kids to come to his charter school. (Has there ever been in the history of the charter school movement a paid television ad whose focus was to criticize the performance of an individual school?)
After the students and the teachers from Abbott go to the “Villain’s” charter and see for themselves that the school is in fact doing all sorts of great things that Abbott isn’t, some students leave. The show implies that the charter school is able to do these things because it somehow has access to more money than Abbott. It also insinuates that the school enrolled the kids it wanted using selective admissions.
It was enough that Jay Artis Wright, the Executive Director of the Freedom Coalition for Charter Schools, and past Contributor Columnist here at CharterFolk …
… issued an open letter pointing out the gross inaccuracies in the portrayal of charter schools and the new generation of educators who are leading them.
It’s a great letter. I encourage you to read the whole thing.
It made me think:
What would have been the response if “The Villain” in the show had been the local union rep?
Do you think the response would have been anything remotely like what we have seen come from the charter school community?
Of course, not.
It’s why ABC would never even consider portraying a union leader in a negative light, knowing that, if it did, it would face a backlash of immense proportion.
But it doesn’t think twice about doing the same to CharterFolk.
So, with those underlying power dynamics at play, CTA’s/NEA’s “villain message” makes it out into the public realm:
Charter schools may offer better opportunity to students, but they do so by making all other public schools worse.
It’s as simple as ABC.
Setting the Industry Standard For Deception
For the third theme I highlight today, the picture below the headline from this story tells it all.
Industry Standard Is Not Asking Much.
What the sign refers to is the fact that the union now negotiating on behalf of High Tech High faculty (full disclosure: I worked at HTH from 2005-2009) is insisting that a teacher who has been identified as under performing must have the right to appeal to a third party outside the school to determine whether he or she is actually teaching acceptably well.
And the rationale for making this demand is that it is an “industry standard.”
Thus, it isn’t much to ask for.
CharterFolk, there is just so much that could be said here. Let me try to be concise.
High Tech High was set up from the very beginning to be the antithesis of “industry standard.” The organization has completely different beliefs about how schools should be designed and operated. And it has a completely different idea about what constitutes great teaching. It is so difficult to recruit, train and support teachers to teach in the organization’s unique project-based way that it had to begin credentialing its own teachers and ultimately opening and running its own graduate school of education …
… simply to muster the structural capacity needed to deliver instruction in High Tech High’s revolutionary, non-industry-standard way.
The organization’s commitment to doing things that are at odds with industry standards has led to High Tech High becoming one of the most renowned and influential schools in the world.
Now the California Teachers Association, which trumpets that its years of effort and untold gobs of money dedicated to unionizing High Tech High signals some renaissance of union strength …
… is now doing all it can to ensure that High Tech High returns to “an industry standard.”
Of course, by definition, when you are teaching in a manner that is greatly different from, and many would argue greatly superior to, what is happening in traditional public schools, the last thing you want is for forces aligned with the status quo outside the organization to be able to define what is and what is not acceptable instructional practice inside the organization.
The truth is that, of all the schools on the planet that we would not want returning to “industry standard,” of all schools on the planet we would not want a third party outside the school having anything to do with the defining of excellent and/or acceptable teaching practice, High Tech High would be at the very top of the list.
And yet, here they are, being ramrodded toward the miasmic oneness that Larry Rosenstock has always said was High Tech High’s greatest threat.
A oneness that reflects perhaps the most bitter irony of all, which is that, yes, in fact, everything that is industry standard in public education today …
… is not asking much.
Many traditional public schools, sadly, aren’t that great. Many others are abjectly terrible.
Most have cooked into their DNAs deeply ingrained inequities that allocate better opportunity to students and families with means and worse opportunity to those without.
And all of them are much more alike than any of us would want them to be.
Meaning the last thing we should be doing is holding up typical schools as some ideal standard toward which we hope all schools aspire.
And for an irony on top of irony, it’s difficult to believe that High Tech High teachers would have agreed to send a thousand dollars per year (plus) to the California Teachers Association, when just this last week (in a document labelled “For CTA Member Use Only”), the CTA Board of Directors confirmed …
… that it had actively supported legislation …
…that had it not been for the dedicated efforts of CCSA, CSDC and a host of other advocacy organizations …
… would have taken millions of dollars away from High Tech High annually and would have required the organization to cut the salary of every teacher by many thousands of dollars in perpetuity.
And yet, this is who represents High Tech High’s teachers these days.
An organization that sets an industry standard of its own.
A standard of using deception and outright lies and capitalizing upon unbelievable naïveté to advance a narrative that could not be further from the truth …
… and that ultimately ends up advancing an industry standard in public education that simply isn’t asking much of anyone …
… all to the detriment of students.
Documenting CTA “Salting” Strategies
Finally, I end today with something many of us have known to be true for a long time, which is that CTA/NEA and other teacher unions use “salting” strategies in the unionization efforts they direct toward charter schools.
A “salting” strategy is one where the union pays a person an organizer’s salary while he or she works to get hired by a non-union charter school, and then once the organizer gets hired, the union clandestinely pays the then-hired teacher more to lead unionization efforts.
Sadly, charter school teachers have no idea that they’re often being approached by “salted” colleagues. They naively think they’re chumming with someone who is authentically motivated by some noble purpose rather than someone who is concealing what their true motivation and what their true basis for additional compensation is.
And so, some of our teachers fall for it.
Just like some charter school teachers, like those at High Tech High, fall for the idea that teacher unions aren’t working behind the scenes to do massive harm to their schools, and by extension, to their very livelihoods, all while taking significant money out of teachers’ monthly paychecks in the process.
While we’ve known that salting is happening, it is very rare to find documentation confirming it. In reviewing the CTA Board of Directors Report from last month that I referenced above, I came across the following passage:
Check it out for yourself. You’ll find it on page 96.
Last week I shared an article from Politico describing how CTA has so much money these days that it doesn’t know what to do with it all.
Some of it, we now can confirm, will be going to salting activities. And given general funding dynamics at play in public education and within teacher unions generally, and given that the document referenced is a co-authored CTA/NEA report, it’s a safe bet that salt is being cast across the entire country right now.
Be forewarned, CharterFolk:
Attacks that found their origins in California, sadly, are now coming for us all.