Stand For Children is a group funded by corporate interests and certain wealthy individuals with high stakes in the education market. Since its inception in 1996 it has been active in a number of states lobbying and gathering support for certain K-12 education initiatives. In particular, the group supports the Obama administration’s drastic cuts to the quality of education, which is touted as “education reform”. Thus when the years 2009-2010 saw an unprecedented number of school closures, teacher layoffs, cutbacks on programs and services essential to students, Stand proudly claims in its 2009 annual report that “Stand made a BIG difference in 2009 and early 2010”.
The group has a charitable arm carrying the 501(3)(c) status known as the “Stand For Children Leadership Center” as well as a political arm called simply “Stand For Children” filed under 501(4)(c) status. The law prohibits a 501(3)(c) firm from substantial political activity. Stand For Children is quite clearly a group that aggressively lobbies for education initiatives in the legislative arena and as such requires a 501(4)(c) filing status to conduct such activities. As its 990 forms for 2009 show, the bulk of funding - $5,499,200 - is raised through the charitable arm which provides a tax deduction for donors, whereas a mere $546,095 is raised through the political arm. [You can find the 990 forms by querying:
In its 2009 annual report, Jonah Edelman, the CEO of the organization, identifies the lack of qualified teachers as the fundamental problem facing public schools. Mr. Edelman iterates the basic thrust of Stand to “getting great teachers and principals in our schools and ensuring that they have the support, the freedom, and the compensation they need to do their best work.” Clearly he is arguing that there are inadequate teachers in public schools, there is a lack of support for great teachers and finally that there is a need for greater compensation for the better teachers. He follows quickly that this would also require a commitment to apply “consequences for consistently ineffective teachers and principals”.
There is a system already in place to fire consistently ineffective teachers in the public school. A teacher is granted tenure only after three years. Before this time, a principal can fire a teacher without due process. About half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years showing the demanding nature of the job. Contrary to popular misconception spread by the mainstream media, tenured teachers can be fired but they are entitled to due process. It prevents an administrator from arbitrarily firing a teacher who has clearly shown a commitment to the public school for more than three years. Clearly Stand finds this setup less than adequate.
Stand For Children is lobbying to pass bills that would allow administrators to layoff the “least effective” teachers rather than the most junior teachers. It is a strong supporter of SB 5399 in the state of Washington. SB 5399 attacks seniority rights and allows for the firing of the higher paid, more senior teachers. It is – in Stand's own words - a “Great Schools Bill”.
In the state of Indiana, Stand supported a similar bill – SB 1 and conducted a carefully worded poll to get public support for its regressive measures.
How can the community refuse to lay off the least effective teachers instead of the more effective ones? Clearly the community wants the most effective teachers in the class room. As we have shown, it is highly likely that the demanding nature of the profession self-selects the best and most effective teachers in the first five years, if not sooner. Thus the demand now to insist that this is not enough and that the state must mount a further punishment on top of this is due to an altogether different reason. And that is the sustained drain on the education budget and the refusal of the Obama administration to fund public education as it allows the bankers and big corporations to loot the treasury.
It is a lot cheaper to fire the better paid more senior teachers. Regardless of how much more experienced they are, regardless of how much commitment they have shown to the public school, regardless of how much students have come to know and develop relationships with – they are just not “economical” in a system where labor is simply a commodity to be exploited to the maximum possible by the super rich. Insistence on the need to fire the less effective teachers is thus simply a ploy to fire the on-average more effective senior teachers.
Due to the ongoing economic recession resulting from the financial crisis of Nov 2008, there is a severe lack of funding for K-12 throughout the country making for a sustained effort in the part of the Obama administration to lower teacher salaries and further drive down the quality of life of teachers. Firing the teachers who are more expensive to keep is part and parcel of this strategy of underfunding public education. Stand For Children demonstrates its basic alignment with this cruel strategy that ultimately harms the students as teachers start leaving a profession where they cannot guarantee any sort of stability based on their demonstrated commitment to the profession.
Race To The Top program allows for the closing of schools, firing all or half of its staff, conversion to a charter school if a school does not meet Yearly Adequate Progress (AYP) criteria. Rather than address the vast social problems that confront the students in poor communities where these punitive measures have now become routine, RTTT removes even the highly limited resources provided thus delegating a large section of poor children and youth to a life of poverty and crime. Stand For Children is an ardent supporter of this despicable policy as evidenced by its ready embrace of the same. In its 2009 report, Stand highlights legislative victories in Massachusetts that give superintendents “targeted intervention powers to quickly turn around failing schools” as well as changes made in Washington legislature that enables it to punish struggling schools with this “turn around” model.
The evidence that underperformance in students/schools is tied largely to economic factors is undisputed. In a society rife with a despairing economic gulf between vast wealth and utter misery, the poor students of this country have almost insurmountable obstacles that they struggle to overcome every day. While the government-based social programs for the poor have continued to dwindle, the public school has over the years stepped up to provide a highly limited set of services – like free/cheaper lunch options, student counseling and other social services. Now with Race To The Top, the Obama administration prepares to remove even those highly limited functions of the school amounting to a naked attack on a most vulnerable section of our society – poor children. And Stand For Children stands in awe as can be seen by Jonah Edelman’s address on Stand’s 2008 Annual Report : “President Obama and the team he has assembled will lead well. Not perfectly, but well and certainly boldly. But whether this time of great peril becomes an era of vital progress depends as much on whether we step up, as our forebears did, as on President Obama’s leadership.”
Since then, Stand’s support for the Obama administration is less vocal, undoubtedly due to the growing community/teacher backlash on this reactionary agenda. However Stand’s support for “turnarounds”, increasing charter caps of key states, support for firing teachers without due process, attacking seniority, establishment of a steep pay hierarchy in schools make it all too evident that Stand is supportive of these policies that are unarguably harmful to the most vulnerable of the nation’s children.
Despite its claims to be a “grass-roots” organization, Stand does not have wide support in the communities it serves. As can be seen from its financial statements, the bulk of its funds comes from a few sources – and they are all organizations and individuals connected to wealth. Stand’s 2009 Annual Report shows that out of its total revenue of $5.5 M at least $1.5M (27%) came from three organizations and three individual families. This includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the ACCIO Education Grant setup by Helios Education Foundation which itself was formed in 2004 after the sale and acquisition of a student loan/services company by Sallie Mae – the student loan giant.
The organization is thus propped up because this wealthy elite recognizes the advantage in removing the input of teachers from the education process, which then allows this handful of key individuals to make decisions regarding education very simply, without consulting parents or teachers. This creates a vast opportunity for wealthy backers to invest and make substantial profits in the increasingly privatized education market place.
A key step in removing the voice of the teacher from the discussion around schools is the attack on the more experienced, senior and thus tenured teacher. If such a teacher can be made afraid of the prevailing political trend of “reform”, there will be a hesitancy to speak out when disastrous policies are suggested by the administration. This in fact is what the wealthy elite interested in the moneymaking possibilities of education is eying. Democracy and labor rights to them are mere trifles, needless obstructions to do away with as fast as possible.
But does all this help children? To think that doing away with democracy helps education is to give preference to elitist – even dictatorial – rule. And to say that business people - Big Business at that - know what works in the classroom better than teachers, is an insult not only to teachers, it is an insult to the intelligence of the American people.
The American people – contrary to what Stand may think– have not forgotten that Big Business not only does not know the next thing about education but that they are unable to save the economic system of their own creation without massive government subsidies and outright bailouts. We saw how these hedge funds and mega banks had no compunction in asking for taxpayer help after following decades of speculation and outright fraud, they brought ruin on themselves. We also saw how the government at that time did not insist on figuring out “what works” but scrambled to provide whatever was being demanded.
That reckless act of the government, quite predictably did not solve any of the contradictions that gave rise to the Nov 08 crash. The gigantic hedge funds, banks and the whole parasitic network of financial thiefdoms are increasingly unable to invest profitably due to these contradictions and thus large sections of them have turned to education as a reliable place to invest. Stand is simply a front organization that they fund in order to achieve these objectives on two fronts, first on education legislature, second on the minds of a community that is feeling the brunt of the economic crisis and increasingly looking for answers.
That the market for K-12 is sizable can be seen from reports published by various research firms. For example, Outsell Corporation came up with a report putting the K-12 market at $23.7 Billion in 2007, a 3.6% increase over 2006. The report states at the start: “The US K-12 Education segment, as defined in this report, grew 3.6% in 2007 to reach $23.7 billion. It was dominated by state, district, and school spending on assessment and enterprise software and technology services, as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) continued to leave its mark on the industry.”
Stand is fully supportive of the assessment (testing) infrastructure being expanded across all states, a key priority for them in 2010 being “Improved teacher and principal evaluation systems by using multiple measures to distinguish teachers and principals, a four-tier rating scale…”. In an open letter to Washington residents, Stand lists as its Number 3 priority - “Building 21st-Century Data Systems”.
In fact, the 2009 statistics at http://www.edreform.com/Fast_Facts/K12_Facts/ shows that only 28% of all K-12 education funding is expensed as teacher salaries. In the city of Bellevue, WA, the Capital Fund and Bond Payments both made up close to half of the 2010-11 budget. Both these funds are absorbed by the private sector for the many services rendered to the public school as a result of increasing privatization of the school. Only 34.74% of the district budget is being used for teacher salaries and benefits. A close study of school budgets throughout the state would show that a substantial amount of the budget is already diverted to private companies. Thus any "in-efficiency" touted by the reformers must first be addressed where the bulk of this funding is channeled to.
There is an urgent need to reevaluate if increasing privatization has helped the school or rather hastened its decay. This is all the more urgent as we clearly saw in Nov 2008 how inept the private sector has been with regard to preserving its capital. But Stand sees the subsequent economic devastation as an “opportunity” to further strengthen the privatization agenda, reduce teacher autonomy and move towards a dictatorial model in running our public schools. But opportunity for whom? – Clearly for whom Stand really stands for which are certainly not the children.