Dear President Weingarten,
I am writing to open a dialogue about AFT’s secret plan to “kill” the parent empowerment movement and the Parent Trigger laws that are sweeping across the country.
Since passing the nation’s first ever Parent Trigger law in California in 2010, our organizers have worked with thousands of primarily low income parents of color in failing schools throughout our state. Many of these parents are trapped in failing schools, where their children have less than a 50 percent chance of graduating and, in some cases, less than a 2% chance of going to college. We organize to give these parents the real power they need to fight for a better education for their children. The parents we help organize are fighting for a wide variety of changes at their schools – some want to press the reset button and dramatically overhaul their school, while others want to work collaboratively with the existing school-site or district staff to make changes. In all cases, we help them to organize around the simple idea that every single decision at their school and in their district must be based on the needs of their children. What makes this organizing possible is the Parent Trigger law. Without it, parents – particularly those in underserved communities – would continue to be ignored and marginalized, asked to show up to bake sales and meetings but never actually given any power over the educational destiny of their children.
As you know, Parent Revolution strongly supports collective bargaining rights, teachers unions, and specifically many aspects of your work and leadership at AFT. When the governor of Wisconsin tried to strip teachers and public employees of their rights to bargain, we took a stand on day one and sent our organizing director to Wisconsin to help. When you took progressive stands in favor of teacher accountability and when you have negotiated contracts that were good for kids as well as good teachers in places like New Haven, CT and Washington, D.C. — we have publicly supported you.
We are a progressive organization working to make public education better for the parents and children it is supposed to serve. Many of us come out of Democratic, progressive and even union activism. Our organizing director, Pat DeTemple, learned the organizing approach we use today working for Cesar Chavez in the 1970s, and since then has worked for a plethora of progressive and labor causes including SEIU, Earth Day, and most recently served as a General Election Director on the Obama presidential campaign. I started my career working on the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign and in the Clinton White House. I have worked on five Democratic presidential campaigns, worked for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and have worked for progressive change in public education including a California ballot initiative to tax millionaires to pay for universal preschool (which both CFT and CTA endorsed). And as a member of the California State Board of Education, I authored and passed the first regulations in the history of California that help shut down the lowest performing charter schools in the state, because bad charter schools are just as harmful to kids as bad district schools.
As pro-union progressives, we support Card Check for every single worker in America. We also support Card Check for every single parent in America. Why don’t you?
While it appears from your secret document, that you view parental power as a threat to your own power, we believe that parents and teachers have a lot in common when it comes to a kids-first agenda. It is fundamentally good for kids if teachers get paid a lot more money, even if we have to raise taxes to do it. It’s good for kids if teachers are respected, empowered and not micromanaged by a bureaucrat who’s never met their kids and never set foot in their classroom. It’s also good for kids if teachers are unionized and have basic workplace protections. But we also believe that it’s good for kids if teachers — along with parents and all other adults — are held accountable for how our children perform. While we may differ on some elements of a kids-first agenda, we also very clearly have a lot in common.
Over the last year, we have requested on multiple occasions to meet with you and discuss our common agenda. Each time, you have refused to meet. Now, after reading your memo, it has become clear why. You seem to view parent empowerment as a zero-sum game: if parents win, teachers must lose. We see it differently: if parents win, it helps not only their children, but also the millions of hardworking, dedicated, effective teachers who go above and beyond every single day to help our children succeed.
I am writing to, yet again, request a meeting to discuss how we can collaborate in effectuating a kids-first agenda in public education. I am also writing to respectfully request an apology. Declaring that you regret the tone but stand behind the substance of a secret strategy detailing how to “kill” Parent Trigger is not an apology. As you know, the substance of your plan includes ensuring that parents are “not at the table” when real decisions are made, and creating fake “governance” committees that trick parents into thinking they have power when they actually do not. The fact that this memo has surfaced in the wake of the president of your California affiliate calling the Parent Trigger a “lynch mob” law – and then also refusing to apologize even after civil rights groups demanded it – makes your reaction to this incident all the more troubling.
As much as we have in the past viewed you as a progressive leader and potential partner in kids-first transformation, we cannot have a respectful dialogue with someone who cannot disavow those positions and tactics. If you view parental power as a threat to be “killed,” then we unfortunately don’t have much to talk about. But I hope that is not the case. We cannot have great schools without great teachers. Parents and teachers ultimately must march together in the struggle for kids-first transformation. I hope we can all find a way to march together.
I look forward to your response.